Last week, my family and I celebrated three nephews who are all entering NCA&TSU as freshmen. Two are entering the School of Engineering and one will enter the School of Business. As a matter of fact, one is an honor student and so excited that he’s already on campus and taking classes! These are fine young men who, in addition to being stellar students, are outstanding athletes.  One is a golfer, one a quarterback (American football), and one a marching band member. Quite a year they each will have!

My family teaches that, in a world with constantly changing politics and economies, education is freedom.  We’ve been taught that for generations. Get that: Education is Freedom. Often, this translates into: Go to college. Yet, even more often these days, I’m asked if a college degree is really needed, or relevant, for success. This question is sometimes accompanied by stories of people we know who have enjoyed incredible successes or engaged in outstanding careers.

When I’m asked if college degrees are relevant today, I never generalize. Because I have not deliberately gathered the statistics/data on this, I do not offer generalizations. What I do answer is, “Relevant to what?” If your aspiration is to be a legally practicing physician, then you’d better get that degree AND internship. If you’re a tinkerer and inspired to invent, study what supports your curiosity and process. Community colleges remain strongholds for entrepreneurs and semi-professionals who become well paid trades-people. Imagine life without an electrician or a plumber! How about the many healthcare workers who support the ‘professionals’? Are they not professionals, as well…and would life be as good without them?

Growing up in the South during the 1950s, I was taught that being African American AND being female, I would have to work oftentimes harder than the professional men I would meet to get half as far as they did. Hence, I rushed to college, as did each of my siblings. While all of us did not graduate university, each of us took the road of education to ensure our freedom. Most as college degreed professionals, and others as skilled tradespeople and business owners. Each using education to assure freedom. Freedom from poverty, freedom of expression, and freedom to personal and family security.

Arriving in Los Angeles in the late 1970s I quickly realized that, depending on which industry one chooses, it is often as important who you know (contacts) as what you know (educational degrees). Mind you, everyone in La La Land is not in the ‘industry’ (entertainment). Still, no matter in what industry or which geography you explore your career options, who you know is vital. That is one reason employment agencies exist: to ensure you are represented in your best, truthful light to companies who you wish to be introduced to. The agencies, if you will, vet you, your background, education and experience…and….in the end, all of them matter!!!

Here are a couple of things to consider when deciding if a college degree is still relevant to, or for, you:

  • Many important networks are established for those who do attend college, join the professional organizations associated with their chosen professions, and share each other’s contacts and experiences.
  • Look at the profiles of key people who are enjoying career successes in the area or thing you wish to succeed in. Evaluate their known network, education and personal strengths and talents. Match those against your own best measure of yourself, and decide where the gaps are AND where the need for your growth exists most.

Sometimes, it’s true, that its the completion of a degree, to whatever level you endeavor, that is measured more for your ability to stick with a decision as much as to complete the course of study; especially if you are a generalist. Regardless, the sense of personal accomplishment is sure to accompany the path that is eased by your determination to study, learn and grow in your chosen career.