College is undoubtedly a great thing. But successful entrepreneurs like Richard Branson prove that it's not the be all and end all.

Depending on what you want to do, a college education may not be necessary. Okay, if you want to be a doctor, for the love of God, go to college and learn everything you need to know before touching a patient! But if you want to be an entrepreneur, depending on your field, you may not need to go to college - it's more about your commitment to being a lifelong learner.

This notion was brought up by Paypal co-founder, Peter Thiel, a few years back, when he made a strong and controversial statement about our broken education system. He offered 20 high school students the sum of $100k to forgo college and work for him. In our country, there is a whopping $1 trillion dollars worth of student loan debt and while the economy is showing signs of recovery, according to the Economic Policy Institute, for the class of 2016, the labor market is still far from ideal.

Of those who successfully graduate, at least one in eight will be unemployed or underemployed - serving up coffee or answering phones while scraping to pay off their loans. Far from an enticing prospect when you consider that many entrepreneurial-minded individuals (without college educations) are able to make substantial livings, free from debt.

I've had some pretty interesting talks about education lately with some of the country's greatest experts, namely Idit Harel of Globaloria and Anant Agarwal of EdX. They feel that education is being re-developed in such a way that it empowers the masses, rather than remaining in the domain of a privileged few.

Harel's organization, for example, is bringing tech education to elementary schools around the country. They work to prepare our young people for tomorrow's jobs, which are currently being created by today's entrepreneurs. And when she says "creating jobs," she just doesn't just mean job positions, she means job titles that we never had before.

Case in point, Forbes recently announced that there are now a million and a half jobs in data science and there will be 6 million jobs in cyber security by the year 2019. None of these jobs even existed ten years ago but, because of how fast our world is changing, they've become absolutely integral. Multiply this scenario by a hundred in the coming years, and it's imperative that we become "real time learners" - as Harel puts it.

But educational entrepreneurs aren't simply focusing on "tomorrow's generation." There are plenty of us who need to further our education in order to succeed as well. Too many people who weren't able to go to college because of lack of money or other commitments, make this a roadblock to their success. After all, so many job openings have used college as a prerequisite. But in the years to come, lack of education will no longer be an excuse.

Anant Agarwal, the MIT Professor who founded EdX, believes in taking an entrepreneurial approach to education because, just like everything else, entrepreneurs are also changing the way we learn.

"What do entrepreneurs do? They take a look at the market and say hey, there's a big opportunity in this market, I'm going to create a product for that market and make a lot of money. We should do the same thing for education," he says.

Agarwal launched EdX five years ago to make an Ivy League education accessible to everyone. Learners can identify the area that they'd like to specialize in and take the free online courses, which are equivalent to a college education. Because no money is at stake, students are empowered to learn as much as they want; if they try out a certain direction and find it's not a good fit, they can turn to a new area of study.

"Entrepreneurism is about finding instant problems and challenges and finding a solution for that and being in the moment," explains Agarwal, who believes that we should approach our education and careers by identifying emerging jobs and designing our education system around them.

To date, Agarwal's organization has accommodated 10 million learners. In one of the organization's recent studies, they found that 43 percent of learners received advancement as a direct result of their EdX certificate. Making further education and training accessible to people countrywide, from all walks of life.


If the greatest entrepreneurs, like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, have taught us anything, it's that you can be successful in life without a college education. By changing your mindset and taking action, preparing yourself with the new skills required in a changing market, you can get a head start while your colleagues are stuck in the library studying for positions that may soon be redundant. Unless brain surgery is your thing. In that case, go back to your dorm room and study your text books!

Published on: Jan 25, 2017
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