Is school worth it? Is your school worth it?

Fred Wilson recently wrote about whether or not entrepreneurs need a college education.  He wrote, "Education is critically important. But you don't have to go to school to be educated and if being an entrepreneur is your goal in life, that's even more true."

The other day I was having a discussion with a friend of mine who works in the food business.  She runs a cafe in a high-end, high-visabilty retail store--the flagship location for a very successful business.  I assumed she had a degree, but it turns out that she didn't.  She simply started cooking--went to Rhode Island and studied by working with some of Nantucket's most successful chefs.  She learned how to run a food business firsthand. 

Still, those stories are the exception.  People in most industries expect you to have a degree, and the stats show that you're more successful with that piece of paper than without.

However, the question gets a little trickier when it comes to whether or not you need that piece of paper from an Ivy League school or whether your local state school will do just as well.  Do you need an expensive degree?

Given the rising cost of a college degree and the current economy, more and more students are thinking about what the ROI of their education will be.  Does it really pay up to go to a "better" school?  And what does it even mean for a school to be better? 

If you're going to school with the goal of getting a good job, that would imply that graduates from better schools get better jobs--whether that means more responsibility, more pay, faster progression, or even more happiness.

Unfortunately, no one really tracks this.

US News & World Report tracks statistics like the percentage of professors with terminal degrees and what percent of the alumni base give back.  Given that we know that not all PhDs make the best teachers, and the alumni giving rate is a function of salesmanship of your alumni relations office more than anything else (or performance of your school's basketball team) then can we really count on these kinds of surveys to accurately measure the best schools?  They certainly aren't taking outcome--what happens to someone 1, 5, 10, 20 years after they graduate--into account.

So who knows that?  Anyone with a critical mass of resumes who understands different industries, job titles, etc. would know part of it--but you would also want more information.  Imagine if, after analyzing resumes, you could survey your alumni and ask them if their degree led to their success? 

Imagine students had that information even before they chose their college!

These are the kinds of things we're thinking about at Path 101 and we're looking to work with schools who want to get at the hard facts.  We're building a database of over a million resumes and analyzing careers.  We have a number of schools that have over a few thousand resumes represented in our database already and the results of how those resumes compare to their peers in the same industry are fascinating.

If you work for an alumni organization and you'd like to work with us to understand whether or not you are producing successful alumni, especially relative to your peer institutions, please contact me at

Check out our presentation on this topic: