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The Great Generation Z Debate: To Go to College or Not?

Recent studies have shown that the biggest question plaguing most college-age students (and in fact, even younger high school students) is whether or not to attend a university after high school. The numbers of the non-college trend have increased exponentially since the advent of young success in social media. Studies have shown that since the success of Google, Facebook and subsequently, a number of apps, more and more young people have made the decision to forego a college education in favor of “chasing the dream now”.

Ryan Orbuch, 17 and a senior from Colorado for example, recently developed an app with a friend of his—the app is called Finish and helps people stop procrastinating. After graduation from high school, Ryan opted to move to Texas to pursue the development of the app.

Another extremely successful technological teenager is Louis Harboe, 18 and also a recent graduate from the same high school. Louis has been doing freelance jobs since he was 12—jobs which earned him an average of $20,000 per installment. When he was 16, he took a summer internship at Square, an online and mobile company in San Francisco where he earned $1000 a month with an additional $1000 housing stipend. Successes at such a young age, Ryan and Louis are both wondering the same thing: is college still important, at this point?

Statistics show that while parents would prefer that their children go to college, a lot of the time there isn’t much that they can do about it. The onset of early financial success has altered the status quo: whereas traditionally, parents had the option of cutting their children off financially should they refuse to go to school, nowadays parents’ money doesn’t mean much to the financially independent techie millenials.

Ms. Stern, Ryan Orbuch’s mother says that the entire situation confuses her—while she still wants her son to go to college, she isn’t sure if her way of thinking is old-fashioned or obsolete: she says that things used to be linear in that the only path to success was to go to college, get a degree and then get a good job. Nowadays, though she isn’t sure if this still applies. Ms. Stern graduated with an award in academic excellence from Duke University.

Dr. Becker, a leading figure in the study of microeconomics (and ironically, also Louis Harboe’s grandfather) presses the kids of Generation Z to please go to college. He says that college isn’t just an obstacle to overcome on the way to success—it also teaches young people how to handle success. Furthermore, he argues the numbers: it isn’t just about how much money you get but how you spend that money—he states that the evidence for a college education being a prerequisite to economic success is overwhelming. While he doesn’t mean to discredit his grandson’s (or any other millenials’) success, he says that it’s good to have a safety net and that it is never a bad thing to have a back up plan.

On the contrary, Jess Teutonico, who runs TEDxTeen, a branch of the popular TED talks which is aimed toward inspiring young people argues that college is definitely not a pre-requisite to success. She says that this generation is a now generation and if successful young people put everything on hold to get a degree first, things will be different after graduation—if they want to take over the world, they have to do it now. Ryan Orbuch spoke at TEDxTeen about his successes last week.

Michael Hansen, 17 is Ryan Orbuch’s business parter—he covers the programming part of Finish. He also argues for the no-college option: he argues using numbers which Finish has brought in. The app was no.1 on the Apple Store within 24 hours since its launch. The app was priced at 0.99 cents and attained a net worth of more than $30,000 in the short period that it’s been up.

Even more support for young people to pursue their passions are organizations like the Thiel Fellowship, which awards $100,000 a year each to 20 young people who pursue their innovations or businesses. Jonathan Cain, the president of the foundation (who himself is quite a young success) says that the traditional path to success is broken and oversaturated. He says that a lot of people who pursue that track aren’t successful—even lawyers get laid off. He also recounts having met a janitor at one of the institutions he visited who had a PhD. Mr. Cain says that a bigger determinant of success is having the guts to pursue what it is you want to do. He doesn’t mean that kids should be reckless—on the contrary, he means that kids should take great care when pursuing what they want to do. While going to college is often viewed as the “more mature” option, he (who himself didn’t go to college but was accepted into Yale upon his highschool graduation) says that really, college is more an extension of adolescence—an excuse to stay out of the real world.

Dr. Becker holds his ground on this argument, saying that while this trend may be true now, the value of a college degree has been proven over a spectrum of different cases, over a number of years that the new “young-tech” trend has yet to rival. Although he says that he does agree with Mr. Cain’s call for young people to be prudent, he also believes that a truly prudent student would choose to go to college.



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