Interesting summary by Inside Higher Ed regarding a recent Council of Christian Colleges and Universities meeting in Washington

Posted on February 14, 2019

Presidents of faith-based institutions of higher learning, including Mormon, Jewish and Muslim leaders, found they have common cause in defending the value and uniqueness of a faith-based environment and education. While I think their tone may have been a bit too defensive, the reality is that they have been under fire by many liberal organizations. The chief complaints by these outsiders, it seems, are the anti-gay attitudes (I won’t elaborate here) and limits on free-thinking by faculty imposed by many Christian colleges and universities. Stands taken by evangelical institutions especially tend to rouse the liberals. Requiring students to sign pledges that they will not have premarital-sex contradicts human biological tendencies, many argue. Maybe so, but here’s the rub: No one forces students to enroll in these institutions, and if they do enroll and soon feel out of step with progressive thinking – or their own sexuality – I am not aware of anyone being chained to their dorms or desks to assure their purity.

While it’s not Moses parting the Red Sea, the divide between traditional secular colleges and universities and those that are faith-based, appears to have widened over the past decade. Falling enrollment for many is a real threat as traditional feeder systems gradually diminish; Catholic prep schools, mostly in urban areas, for example, have all but disappeared. Much the same thing has happened to Presbyterian, Lutheran and other Protestant sects. Many of these schools are small – less than 10,000 students – and do not have the budget for modern marketing techniques, plus they tend to put people in charge of marketing that have little or no relevant experience. The result is falling enrollment and diminishing revenue while expenses keep increasing. The solution to this dilemma for many is to embrace proven digital marketing techniques; that’s one of the reasons my organization developed College Lead Exchange, an open, easy to use online platform where colleges have access to prospective enrollees whose profiles neatly fit with each school’s target student.

It should be of interest to faith-based schools that another component of my organization has for the last seven years examined over fourteen hundred colleges and universities while we looked for good, reasonably priced but little-known colleges and universities (www.bestvaluecolleges.org). For 2018-19 we selected thirty-eight faith-based schools as Best Value Colleges. Key to final selection is the requirement that more than sixty-five percent of a school’s students and alumni must have positive comments about the school, it’s environment, faculty and fellow students. As a result of our research, it is very obvious that there is a place for faith-based institutions in the American higher education landscape.  Families and students who feel comfortable in a God-centered environment should have places to go to further their education without feeling threatened or uncomfortable. Similarly, those who are part of the LGBTQ movement or mindset should be free to choose a college that supports their way of thinking. There are good reasons why faith-based schools are an important part of America’s higher education landscape. I only hope that their administrators open their eyes to proven digital marketing techniques in time to preserve their institutions.

Inside Higher Ed’s article can be found at https://bit.ly/2HPIJKo

College Lead Exchange can be accessed at www.collegeleadexchange.com

 

Anatomy of a Startup – My 13th – This One in Higher Education

Posted on November 9, 2018

When my wife is asked, “What does your husband do?” She always says “Ask him.” When they do ask me I reply by saying that I start or acquire companies. It’s a short conversation unless the person runs or invests in small to mid-sized companies (or wants to). Then the conversation generally segues to an oft-asked question, “Where do you get the ideas?” That is what this article is about – where the ideas come from. To answer that I will provide some detail regarding where the idea for my thirteenth startup came from, how it developed, and where it’s at now.

Most of my ideas have come from being immersed in a business or industry and becoming frustrated at what I perceive as shortfalls in either product or service quality in my daily dealings. We all from time to time think we can do things better and tend to complain, either silently or loudly, about something that falls below our expectations. That was the case when I was CEO of a small university that needed to increase enrollment so we bought leads from several marketing organizations. I had to sign a contract for a certain number of leads per month, which was okay, but I couldn’t choose the characteristics of the leads, which was not okay. But that’s the way things worked: buy leads and hope that two out of a hundred somehow ended up enrolling in our degree programs.

The calls from lead vendors came in every week and the vendors all said their leads were better than anyone else’s and would I give them a try. Sometimes I did, but it was always the same problem: the leads weren’t what I was looking for, which were people in their 30s who needed to start or finish a degree program. They were out there somewhere, but the vendors couldn’t pinpoint them for me. That bothered me and I kept saying to myself that if I were running a lead vendor I could do so much better.

In December 2010 I transferred control of the university to a venture capital-backed group, and semi-retired. But in the back of my mind, I still thought the higher education lead generation business needed to be brought into the twenty-first century by borrowing best practices from other industries. Those thoughts lay dormant until I met a gentleman with a strong background in digital marketing. He and I talked about what each perceived as unique opportunities. I mentioned the archaic state of lead generation and lead purchasing in higher education, and described the shortcomings as I saw them. He thought for a second and then asked me, “Are you familiar with programmatic exchanges?” I had no idea what he was talking about.

Programmatic exchanges are used in the advertising industry so publishers, for example, can post pages that are unsold and agencies bid on some or all of the unsold pages. Publishers fill their publication with advertisers and the advertisers get bargain prices on the page space. All this is done online in frictionless transactions. This was all new to me, but I could see what he was getting at. Instead of advertisers bidding on space in a magazine I could see college admissions departments bidding on the kind of leads they wanted. My digital expert friend and I said: “let’s do it!” And we started College Lead Exchange.

As you might imagine there’s a big gap between deciding to do something – start a company in this case – and launching the company’s product. As I didn’t want to start from scratch with technology the first thing we did was contact organizations in the advertising and investment industries about licensing or acquiring their technical platforms. We were met with a deer-in-the-headlights response. Every company we spoke with said, in essence, we’re not in the education lead business and we don’t have any interest in licensing or selling our technology. That was bad news. Now we would have to develop the technology ourselves, which would be expensive in both dollars and time. But we had no choice.

Eighteen months and about a million dollars later we had a platform that was pretty much what we wanted. The important differentiators, those that addressed issues I had identified as university CEO, were an integral part of the platform. These features included the ability of colleges to determine criteria for leads they wanted, for example,  a  thirty-year-old female RN interested in a bachelor’s degree in nursing that wanted to enroll in three months. The platform had to be self-serve and available 24/7. Contracts to purchase a minimum number of leads were not necessary. Automatic download of leads plus a credit line were must-haves. All this had to work seamlessly. It took time, it was expensive, and every bit necessary.

We learned that, in version one, we couldn’t offer bidding so that was tabled for v.2. And in beta testing we quickly learned that our proprietary lead generation source provided an inadequate number of leads. I told people that it was kind of like we had decided to get into the gold business and to do so had to find a vein of gold, sink a shaft, mine and then refine the gold. But our beta testers, college admissions departments, wanted gold immediately. So we decided to source additional leads from two trusted third parties, one generating leads just for us and the other a twenty-year-old lead generation organization. Supplies of leads were now assured.

Now we had to sell colleges on using the platform. For those of you used to dealing with administrators in higher education you will understand that new things are a tough sell. New things threaten the status quo; they make people take what they perceived as risks. Many higher-ed administrators, even those in the admissions (e.g., sales) departments are wary of anything new. They think they’ve heard and seen it all, and they have up until now as very little has changed in the way they market their schools or buy leads in decades. Now we had to address the challenge of convincing the old fuddy-duddies to take a look. Some did, and they were surprised that someone had come up with something like this. Asked to rate the platform on a one-to-ten scale the worst rating was an eight. That’s where we are now after about eighteen months of developing the technology and refining the way it works.

Lastly, there is always the challenge of finding some dollars to fund a new venture and, as important, finding a few good people to make it happen. Fortunately, I have been raising money for companies I start or acquire for over forty years so that was not a problem for us. We did not seek venture capital funding. The few outside investors we have are people who have invested in other companies I started or acquired. We kept the company lean and watched every dollar. People took less than market compensation which was offset by equity or options. I have always shared ownership with those who help get a company off the ground and this startup is no different.

Now that we have what we feel is a unique platform that we expect will revolutionize the way colleges obtain prospective enrollees the next challenge is gradually rolling it out, first in our primary target market of non-elite colleges, and then all across the spectrum of the nation’s eight thousand colleges, universities, career schools, apprenticeship programs, and executive education. The real work has just begun, but the startup phase is behind us. Number thirteen is not an unlucky number for me!

Select the college enrollee profiles that are most likely to convert to a start, then shop online for leads that match your selected profile. Do it when you need leads. No contracts and no minimum. No, we’re not kidding.

Posted on September 26, 2018

“After listening to lead vendors pitch to me several times a week for over five years, none of which converted as promised, I decided to create a lead source that I’d have given my right arm for back then,” said former private university CEO Joseph Schmoke. “Fortunately, I met a long time digital marketing executive, Barry Layne, who suggested we look at what was being done in other industries and adapt it for the higher education marketplace.” That led to the creation of higher ed’s first platform designed to effortlessly serve admissions departments at the thousands of US-based colleges and universities that want to increase enrollment and revenue.

Borrowing ideas from the likes of match.com, eBay and other online transaction and matching services, Schmoke and Layne developed College Lead Exchange. This pioneering service does away with some of the irritating requirements set by traditional lead vendors. Layne says schools are not required to sign contracts. A college does not have to buy a minimum number of leads each month. “Buy what you want when you want. Buy one, none or a hundred. Once a day, once a month, or a few times a year. It’s up to the admissions team,” Schmoke said.

Maybe the best feature, according to Layne, is the ability to determine an admission team’s ideal enrollee profile, see if there are lead files in College Lead Exchange’s dynamic database that match the profile. The admissions officer can buy whatever number, at the stated prices, that the team needs to meet its enrollment goals. “The admissions team can change their criteria at will, online, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week,” Layne commented. He also said that to simplify financial arrangements, College Lead Exchange will offer automatic credit terms and bill the school on a net-30 basis.

The objective is to make it easy, simple and fast to obtain good leads at a fair price when you need them, said the College Lead Exchange founders. Schmoke uses an analogy that most people quickly grasp. He says “Say you are at home and you’re hungry. You know there’s nothing in the fridge or the cupboard, or what’s there you don’t want, so what do you do? You probably go to the grocery store, pick exactly what you want, buy it, and make something that satisfies your hunger. Same thing with College Lead Exchange. Only with the kind of leads you want instead of food.”

Schmoke and Layne know that this new service will take some time to be fully accepted by college and university admissions staffs. It’s very different from what these staffs have worked with for decades, and to many in higher education change is threatening if not frightening. “But there will be those who immediately see the advantage of this new platform and will step forward and incorporate it into their operations,” Schmoke suggested, “and we will do everything possible to help them benefit from its use.”

College Lead Exchange can be browsed for free, and admissions staffers are encouraged to register and see how many leads currently meet their criteria. Beginning in October lead inventory will change daily. There’s no cost or obligation to check it out, and Layne says “Come on, tell the platform what kind of leads you’re looking for. You don’t have to buy any.” www.collegeleadexchange.com

College Lead Exchange is part of the WhatsBestforMe, Inc. group of companies, which includes www.whatsbestforme.com and www.bestvaluecolleges.org and is headquartered in Boca Raton, Florida in the Research & Development Park at Florida Atlantic University. They can be reached at 561-877-0071 or info@collegeleadexchange.com

Sixth Year Selecting Best Value Colleges; Only 56 Made the Grade

Posted on September 10, 2018

In 2013 a small group of former college and university presidents, CEOs and executives decided they had enough of the various rankings published every year by “the usual suspects.”  Forming an organization called University Research & Review, they set out to ferret out good, reasonably priced but lesser-known institutions. Many of the thousand-plus schools were eliminated because of their high cost to attend; others because their students and alumni had less than complimentary things to say about their school.

The first year twenty-one colleges were awarded the University Research & Review Best Value School designation. For 2018-2019 there are fifty-six colleges and universities that withstood rigorous examinations and earned the Best Value designation. Further, the award branding was changed to WhatsBestforMe’s Best Value Colleges to more accurately reflect the Award’s original goal.  The goal was to offer suggestions to individuals of all ages interested in college that there are very good schools where students are happy and costs are reasonable.

Examples of 2018-2019 Best Value Awardees are two Saint Marys, one a college in Omaha, Nebraska one a university in Leavenworth, Kansas. They are both Catholic institutions but don’t want to be labeled “religious” as all faiths and ages are welcome at both schools. The College of Saint Mary is for women only. The University of Saint Mary is coed. Both institutions have an annual cost to attend in the $20,000 range, and our research indicates a great majority of students and alumni love the schools.

The full list of fifty-six colleges and universities can be found at www.bestvaluecolleges.org and there is no cost to use the site and each institution selected does not pay for their selection or inclusion on the site..

Thousands of college freshmen drop out ever year. So what!

Posted on July 23, 2018

I am so tired of hearing “…55 percent who started (college) were gone the following year.” The college referred to is Texas A&M-Texarkana but could be any one of the thousand of non-elite colleges and universities in America.  I am also sick of hearing about strong recruiting efforts but weak retention efforts. Recruiting, on one hand, generates revenue and it is apparently a bit easier than retention, which takes the kind of effort few institutions are willing – or able – to muster.

Since it’s not in cricket to complain absent a solution, I’m going to suggest a solution or two in honor of my cricket-playing buddy now traveling the world, Kurt the Canadian.

If one of the big worries in higher education is the loss of a large percentage of college freshmen before they start their second year, and it apparently is, I suggest everyone involved look at this for what it is. It’s a naturally recurring event, folks.  Lots of first-year students leave college after experiencing – and paying for – something that for whatever reason is not right for them.

When I come across situations like this I am reminded of the dilemma McDonald’s franchisees faced once they opened their new restaurants. These franchisees, most of whom were responsible businesspeople, were appalled at the turnover they experienced with their young help. They tried hiring smarter, whatever that means, but that didn’t solve the problem. Eventually, the headquarters field managers convinced the franchisees that turnover was always was going to be part of an operator’s challenge.  Accept that as a fact and deal with it, the managers said. The fact that lots of first-year college students do not become second-year college students is a fact of life; accept it and deal with it.

I know you’re thinking, Thanks, Joe, but my institution is not ready to accept that as we want students to continue with their education – that’s why we’re here at good old EDU.  Let me point out that Texas A&M-Texarkana’s 55 percent loss increased from 44 percent two years prior. The trend, I suspect, is real. Reject this reality at your peril, or maybe just stick your head in the sand.

But I think these dropouts, who collectively are an annual experience that will not go away, can be helped and at the same time be of help to the institution itself.  Here’s what I would do if all it took was a magic wand and the word Shazaam to make things better for everybody involved. I would create an environment that, first, acknowledged college isn’t for everyone, and second, that there are alternatives to a college degree. I would present those alternatives, including career-oriented certificate programs, in a non-judgmental manner.  In other words, allow that it is okay if you feel your choice to enroll in college might have been premature or even a mistake.  I would arrange articulation agreements with community colleges with career-oriented programs. I would invite outside career advisors to speak to the group who might be wavering in the commitment to a college degree. In doing so, I would expect two things to happen. One would be a great public relations coup, especially when testimonials come in from individuals helped by this unique approach. The second positive result, I would expect, would be some actual guidance and help for those students who will inevitably choose to drop out.

Of course, I do not expect even one college or university to adopt this approach.  I just hope that my somewhat unique observations and unusual suggestions will spark other, better ideas.  But whatever the reaction, I advise those of you in higher-ed decision-making positions to accept the reality of annual shrinkage between freshman and sophomore classes. It is inevitable.

Is your institution acting like an old-time used car salesman when sending financial aid letters?

Posted on June 29, 2018

The Wall Street Journal’s recent article titled “Financial Games Colleges Play” exposed the flim-flam approach used by many colleges and universities when composing financial aid award letters to prospective students. The Journal concludes that it’s shameful students are confused at best and misled at worst by these befuddling financial aid award letters. Your institution can stand out by providing easy to understand language and concise numbers when sending your award letters to those you have accepted as enrollees.

There is little long-term advantage to misleading or confusing your students.  Word gets around when a student feels suckered into paying – or owing – far more than expected.  Institutions wonder why they lose so many students when that second or third enrollment period rolls around.  No one really knows how many transfers or dropouts leave their college because of unexpected costs that smack them in the pocketbook.

You can avoid being penalized with withdrawals, transfers and dropouts if you make sure your institution doesn’t play the game of “get them in now, worry about dealing with the shocked student later.” Do not lump grants and loans together as seventy percent of colleges did in the study noted by The Wall Street Journal.  And don’t do what Northern Arizona University did when it sent a letter stating that their aid offer resulted in “Total Unmet Need: $0” implying that loans included in the aid package were somehow free.

You can differentiate your institution in two ways. One is to create a marketing message that says your school is different because you clearly spell out actual costs and whether financial aid is a gift or has to be paid back. The other way is to use the aid letter version created in 2012 by the Education Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Most colleges don’t use this version and it might be concluded that the reason is that it does not provide room for their usual obfuscation tactics.

Our organization, CollegeLeadExchange.com, soon to introduce what we’re calling the “eBay of prospective enrollee leads,” will blacklist any college or university whose financial aid letters to enrollees sourced from us are misleading or deceitful. Should we be made aware of such practices by a school we will prohibit that school from using our platform. Ever.

 

 

How smaller colleges can find leads that convert to enrollments

Posted on June 18, 2018

The big challenge for many colleges and universities that don’t have a widely recognized brand name and elite reputation is finding enough qualified prospective students to meet their enrollment goals. Marketing budgets – and maybe expertise – are in many cases insufficient to generate the number of leads required to fill seats or online courses. Recruiting students is never easy nor inexpensive, but there are some best practices that have evolved, using new technology, that are proving to be a lifeline for admissions officers and representatives.

Make no mistake, the very best enrollment leads are the ones that call you. Conversion rates for leads you develop through your website, your publicity, and especially your happy students and alumni, are the highest of any lead source. But sometimes you can’t get enough of these calls to meet your enrollment goal. So what’s next best?

Many large institutions contract with third-party marketers to originate leads. Some score these leads and only pass on the ones that are likely, or somewhat likely, to enroll. The problem with this process is that it is expensive and priced out of reach for most colleges, especially those schools that are discounting tuition to be competitive in costs to attend.

There are other marketers who will handle generating leads, calling them, and processing enrollments. But you pay dearly for this service, many times a large portion of the tuition generated. This, by the way, works best for those institutions that don’t understand how to market themselves and “close the sale” with prospective enrollees. Many of us think this is a “fool’s game” that increases enrollment but decreases bottom line for the institution.

Of course, there are the standard lead generators like ClassesUSA. Many of you have used them or their competitors paid about $40 per lead and experienced a conversation (enrollment) rate approaching 2%. You have also experienced responses from these leads like “How did you get my name?” and “I’m not interested in college.” For the two-out-of-one hundred that enrolls your admissions team have been frustrated by the ninety-eight that proved to be a waste of time. And there are no refunds for the ninety-eight that didn’t pan out.

We think there’s a better way. An answer to locating prequalified prospective enrollees that is inexpensive, easy to use – it’s self-serve – and works somewhat like an eBay for college enrollees leads. It’s an online platform where admissions managers can list their criteria for “ideal” leads and quickly find out how many are immediately available.  They can then check the cost and, with no contract, download some, all or none. These leads originate from several sources, among them purpose-built and promoted websites like www.WhatsBestforMe.com as well as established marketing organizations specializing in higher education leads.

This online source is found at www.CollegeLeadExchange.com. Like shopping online, it doesn’t cost anything to browse, and no contracts are required. Purchases of leads, for those who choose to acquire them, are billed at the posted price on a net-30 basis. But here’s the problem: the site won’t be transactional until around August 1, 2018. You can browse now, establish your custom criteria for leads, and see how it all works, but you won’t be able to buy anything until early August. So take a peek now…

Is Higher Education in a Death Spiral?

Posted on June 12, 2018

Are you in the business of higher education? If so, a June 5, 2018 article in The Atlantic (link below) will surely interest you. The message is that higher education has reached its peak and is in an irreversible decline.

A self-declared futurist and former professor, Bryan Alexander, says he started paying attention to higher ed in 2013 and coined the phrase “peak higher education.”  Alexander compared higher ed to other “peaks” like cars, oil and other massive industries that had probably seen growth top out and begun to fade. Five years ago he noted enrollment dropping, the number of adjuncts growing, skyrocketing costs of college, and concerns regarding the actual value of getting a degree.

Now he says his hypothesis is gradually becoming reality. Aiding the decline is fewer people being born and recent barriers to foreign students entering the U.S. to attend college. He makes some interesting points, most of which are based on raw metrics. But is he right?

The article touches on all the “usual suspects,” including reduced state funding and the polarized views around the purpose and value of higher education.  And the recently popular common-sense trend of focusing recruitment efforts on adults, not just high schoolers.

What do I think about all this? Alexander hits on some good points, especially suggesting colleges add online programs – duh – and begin targeting those 24 and older, not just 17-year-olds. But his doomsday message is perhaps a bit misdirected. Maybe the reason for this is the fact that his background, according to the article, is that of a former English professor who calls himself a higher education futurist. That narrow level of experience, at least in my eyes, isn’t broad enough to allow him to see the much broader picture, especially the “business side” of education.  My own view is that of an entrepreneur who happened to spend the last fifteen years in and around the periphery of higher education. And as a non-academic, the challenges seem to be quite clear and eminently addressable.

The way the vast majority of colleges and universities run their “business” – and many will cringe at the term business – is outdated, myopic and as a result is in desperate need of change. Many of these schools refuse to reconsider their mission or, especially, their marketing message even in view of the massive changes that have taken place since 1999.

An extremely important change is the digitization of our world, including the easy availability of information, the result of which is expanded choice. No longer can a college expect a stream of automatic enrollees sent from their feeders, like churches and alumni. People comparison shop online with ease; choosing a college is now very much determined by a school’s marketing message and web presence. Nearly 90% of colleges are non-elite institutions and as such do not have an overabundance of people wanting to enroll. Complicating things for thousands of schools is their inability to attract enough prospective enrollees to increase, or maintain, enrollment and revenue levels. They can’t seem to find enough of the “right” prospective enrollees as they try to compete with hundreds and thousands of marketing messages.

As a former CEO of a little-known university, I experienced these challenges myself. As a result, hands-on experience as both a businessman and a college executive I decided to address one of the challenges facing non-elite institutions:  finding the best prospects for enrolling in a specific institution.

My team developed an online easy-to-use platform and, importantly, a “wish list” of characteristics, which taken together describes the kind of person an admissions team wishes they could have access to. It has been eighteen months in development and will be released to colleges and universities in late summer 2018. We call it the Future of Student Recruitment.  Tell the online system your optimal student profile is, for example, a female 24-35 years old, with some college, who’s interested in a bachelor’s in nursing and wants to start a part-time program in 3-6 months. Voila! There might be over 100 people with these characteristics in the system. The system asks How many do you want? Or are you “just looking?” We think this soon-to-be-introduced service will help solve major student recruitment issues for many colleges and universities.

Want a sneak preview? Email js@collegeleadexchange.com

Here’s the link to The Atlantic article:

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/06/heres-how-higher-education-dies/561995/

Will A College Degree Matter In 2020?

Posted on May 22, 2018

Of course, a college degree will matter! But the real question should be “Should everyone get a college degree?” The obvious – and the real world – answer to this question is “Of course not.” Far too many people hear the someone in authority say we need more college graduates and they automatically nod their heads in agreement. No deep critical thinking occurs. The word “lemmings” comes to mind. For the most part the media fuels this thinking. It’s an easy story for the sound bite crowd. College degrees for everyone, rah-rah. It has a nice ring to it. But there’s more to the story. And those commentators who say degrees don’t really matter are as bad as the college-for-everyone crowd. We need to come to our senses, look at what’s happening in the real world with real people and real jobs.

A successful high-profile investor like Pete Thiel says drop out of or don’t go to college and I’ll spot you a hundred grand to start a business. Other dropout stories abound and we hear them repeatedly. Zuckerberg, Gates, Jobs, et al. Did they need a college degree? Obviously not. But there are a lot of people like that who have made millions starting a company. There are also a lot of people who have made millions playing lotto. These rare birds are poor role models and like the lotto winners, a bit of luck surely played a part in the success stories. For you and I, these folks are bad examples even though the media love them.

But a college degree certainly matters if you want to be an accountant, or a nurse, or a teacher. If you think a liberal arts degree doesn’t matter much there are a lot of people who will agree with you, this writer among them.

Too many high school kids, and let’s not forget their parents, grow up with the thought ingrained in their head that they have to go to college. Everyone who wants to be successful goes to college, or that’s what these kids and parents delude themselves with. Bunk. There are, in this writer’s experience, two key elements of success, neither of which is a college degree, although a degree will probably not hurt. The first element is the makeup of the individual. If they’re lazy, inconsiderate, lack curiosity or persistence, or have no empathy they are likely to have a miserable life and be unhappy and probably fail in their career. On the other hand, if they have these qualities and are blessed with even average intelligence, they will be much more likely to be successful. And happy. The other key element, I think, is being “aware.” Aware of things that lurk beneath the surface, like trends, opportunities, intangibles, and importantly, warning signs. This is the opposite of taking a passive role in life, allowing things to affect you that shouldn’t, or shouldn’t for very long anyway. College degrees are not part of this secret sauce at all.

Practically speaking, a kid – or adult – who discovers what they are good at, hopefully leading to satisfaction and contentment, need not obsess with college. That person might have a talent for things mechanical or may have a unique spatial aptitude. There are thousands of well-paying jobs – or companies waiting to be started – where a person can, as the human culture expert Joseph Campbell explains, “follow their bliss.” That bliss may or may not include college and the guesswork selection of a degree program. Statistics show at least half of all college students change their field of study at least once before graduation, and that’s only for those who graduate. But there are those who select a field of study and stick with it. Hopefully, life proves they made the right choice. For them a degree is important. Even though it might take them six or more years to get one. Six or more years of forsaking income and probably accumulating debt.

So who’s right? Depends on whether we’re talking generalities or examining a specific person and his or her unique situation. Generalities are great if you’re a statistician but not so much if you’re an individual. So let’s not follow the lemmings and generalize but look at each situation for what it is. Then, all things considered, decide whether or not a college degree matters to you.