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Does a College Degree Really Matter?
Date:2008/1/18 11:29:39
Does a College Degree Really Matter?
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Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor 

If college drop-outs like Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Steve Jobs, Larry Ellison and Richard Branson all run wildly successful enterprises, why is Melissa Gerry,* a mid-level manager with years of experience -- but no college degree -- having such a hard time finding a job? 

Gerry joined a Fortune 100 company right out of high school starting out as a secretary and working her way up to marketing manager. Gerry performed well and was highly regarded. But when the company she worked for merged with a larger organization and moved its headquarters across the country, Gerry found herself looking for work for the first time in 15 years. Unfortunately, after months of searching, all she's been able to land are secretarial assignments. Why? Gerry believes it's because she didn't go to college. 

While in the past, a college degree may have been optional, these days it seems to have become the minimum requirement for getting a good job and succeeding in the workforce. 

Jeff Blass,* a 40 year old mid-level manager at a major food company, believes his lack of degree has stalled his advancement opportunities. "It didn't keep me from moving out of the mailroom," he says. "However, it seems to be holding me back now." 

Nicole McMillen, executive director for Pre-Paid Legal Services, left college to get married and start a family and just recently entered the workforce. Ostensibly, McMillen would have had several strikes against her: no degree, no experience and a late start to boot! Yet on the contrary, McMillen says she had no trouble finding work -- or getting promoted.

 "I suppose it depends on the type of position you're looking for," says McMillen, who represents her firm to large corporations and other employers. "For me, it's all been about performance and results."

 No one disputes that a college degree opens doors. 

"Most college degrees don't necessarily qualify the graduate for anything," says Charles Murray, co-author of "The Bell Curve," a book which explores the role of intelligence in American life. Murray contends that a college education need be no more important for most white collar professions as it is for, say, a basketball player. "Walk into Microsoft or Google with evidence that you're a brilliant hacker, and the job interviewer is not going to fret if you lack a college transcript," Murray says. 

Murray predicts that providing an employer with evidence that you are good at something without the benefit of a college degree is become more acceptable as companies become more sophisticated about what it takes to do the job and what a college education actually provides.

 For example: Terry Jones, CEO of Travelocity, was a history major at Denison University; Murry Gerber, President and CEO of Equitable Resources, was a geology major at Augustana College; Kay Krill, CEO of Ann Taylor, majored in psychology at Agnes Scott College, while Anne Sweeney, president of Disney-ABC Television Group was an education major at the University of Rochelle.


Then there are CEOs like Carly Fiorina (formerly of Hewlett Packard) who majored in medieval history and philosophy and Michael Eisner (formerly of Disney) who majored in English and never took a single business course.


Or as McMillen puts it, "I've found that knowing and believing in your abilities, presenting yourself in an articulate, polished manner, and making an effort to connect with others can overcome -- and even make the interviewer overlook -- that missing credential at the bottom of your resume."


*Last names changed.


Copyright 2007 CareerBuilder.com




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Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com Editor
Six Hot Shots Who Made It  

Many think the only way to succeed is through education. While piling on the degrees can earn you piles of dough -- and debt -- it's not the only option. 

Some of today's most successful people don't have a college degree. But what they lack in academic credentials, they make up for in tenacity, brains, guts and strong business sense. 

Richard Branson

In 1970, Richard Branson founded Virgin as a mail order record retailer, and not long afterward he opened a record shop in London. Two years later, the first Virgin artist, Mike Oldfield, recorded "Tubular Bells." Since then many household names, including Ben Harper, Fatboy Slim, Perry Farrell, Gorillaz, Lenny Kravitz, Janet Jackson and The Rolling Stones have helped to make Virgin Music one of the top record companies in the world.


Branson sold the equity of Virgin Music Group -- record labels, music publishing and recording studios -- in 1992 in a $1 billion deal, but he remains chairman of Virgin Group, which today includes Virgin Atlantic, Books, Games, LifeCare, Limousines, Megastores and Hotels.


Barry Diller

Barry Diller started his career in the mail room of the William Morris Agency after dropping out of UCLA after one semester. He was hired by ABC in 1966 where he created the ABC Movie of the Week, pioneering the concept of the made-for-television movie.


At age 32, he became president of Paramount Pictures, which produced a string of successful television shows (Laverne and Shirley, Taxi, Cheers) and feature films (Saturday Night Fever, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Beverly Hills Cop) under his helm. From 1984 to 1992, he was chairman and CEO of Fox Studios and was responsible for creating the Fox Broadcasting Company. Today, Diller is the chairman of Expedia and the chairman and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp, which includes Citysearch, Evite, Home Shopping Network, Lending Tree, Match.com and Ticketmaster .


Matt Drudge

Pundit, blogger and radio personality Matt Drudge is best known as the proprietor of the Drudge Report Web site. "The only good grades I got in school were for current events," he has said of his education. Drudge opted out of college and floated among a number of odd jobs including convenience store clerk, book salesman and grocery store sales assistant.


In 1989, he moved to Los Angeles and took a job in the gift shop of CBS studios, eventually working his way up to manager. The inside scoop he learned while in this position was allegedly part of the inspiration for founding his gossip rag The Drudge Report. The tabloid made gained notoriety when it was the first to break the news of a relationship between White House intern Monica Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton in 1998.


Janus Friis

Named to Time Magazine's 2006 list of 100 most influential people, Janus Friis holds no formal education. He worked at the help desk of CyberCity, one of Denmark's first ISPs and later worked at Tele2, the leading alternative consumer oriented pan-European telecom operator. It was at Tele2 where Friis met Niklas Zennstr?m, with whom he co-founded the file-sharing application KaZaA and Skype, the peer-to-peer telephony application. In early 2006, Friis and Zennstr?m sold Skype to eBay for $2.6 billion.


Rachael Ray

Rachael Ray's career started at Macy's department store, first at the candy counter and then as the manager of the fresh foods department. Ray quickly followed with stints in gourmet markets and restaurants in New York. At gourmet food market Cowan & Lobel, she began a series of cooking classes -- 30 Minute Meals. Those classes became so popular that she was soon doing weekly segments for the evening news.


Today, Ray is an Emmy-winning television personality who hosts a nationally syndicated talk show and four different programs the Food Network, publishes her own magazine, and has written multiple cookbooks.


Jeff Valdez

Named one of AdAge's Marketing 50 in 2005, Jeff Valdez grew up the youngest of nine children in a housing project in Pueblo, Colorado. As a young adult, he moved through several jobs and ended up as a drummer with a lounge band called Wildfire. Valdez later returned to Colorado after about 10 years of touring and opened a comedy club where he did stand-up. In 1990, he threw his hat into the political ring and made a failed bid for mayor of Colorado Springs. But in 2004, he launched Si TV, the first all-English language network targeting a Hispanic audience.


Anna Wintour

Best identified by her trademark sunglasses and pageboy hairstyle, Anna Wintour is an icon of the fashion world. She reportedly attended North London Collegiate School, but never graduated. She started in 1970 working in the fashion department of Harpers and Queen in London. In 1976, she was named fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar, followed by a brief stint at New York Magazine, three years as creative director of American Vogue, and finally named editor of British Vogue in 1986.


In 1998, she became editor-in-chief of American Vogue. Wintour's work style is so notorious, the novel "The Devil Wears Prada" and its subsequent motion picture are said to be based on her. In recent years, she's focused on many philanthropic endeavors including raising more than $10 million for AIDS, putting Vogue's support behind women-owned businesses in Kabul, Afganistan, and promoting various post-9/11 campaigns.


Sources: Virgin Group Web site, "Tavis Smiley" on PBS, FoodTV.com, Washington Post Company Web site, Museum of Broadcast Communications, Time.com, BusinessWeek.com, Hispanictrends.com, Skype.com, Vogue.com


Copyright 2007 CareerBuilder.com.

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