By Brian Winch

41 years ago, my parents happily looked on as I ceremoniously donned a black mortarboard cap, walked the stage at The Jubilee Auditorium and earned my high school degree. Incredibly proud, neither of my parents had accomplished this milestone. My father was a refugee who fled Poland when Nazi’s invaded, later enlisting in the army. My mother took an equivalency test which allowed her to enroll in Nurse’s Aide training. For both, career opportunities were limited as a result – which meant that they both felt very strongly that my brothers and I graduate from high school at the very least!

For many, your higher education story is much like mine.

My parents didn’t graduate high school, so they made sure I did!

My parents couldn’t afford college, so they wanted me to go.

My parents didn’t attend graduate school, so I will.

We exhibit a drive to do better than the generation before us. To accomplish more that our parents and move the goal post further down the line for our own children to eventually strive to pass.

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” — Maya Angelou

Ingrained in our belief systems is that in order to have a successful career we need to hold a degree from an institute of higher learning. You’ve been there. It may not even be something you took note of consciously, but educators have been prepping you throughout your elementary education so you will excel on state standardized tests.  Your parents have likely told you from a young age how important your primary education was for attending a good university. Career Counselors have reinforced the concept that with an advanced degree you will make more money. You’ve also heard that a college degree (better yet a Master’s or PhD) affords better career opportunities, better job security and increased job satisfaction. You’ve been told that a degree is an investment in your future, a critical time for personal development, rites of passage and networking that will set you up for a successful future.

Even Former President Obama has said, “Higher education is not a luxury. Earning a post-secondary degree or credential is a prerequisite for 21st century jobs, and one that everyone should be able to afford.”

But is all this true? Do you need to hold a higher degree in order to be successful?

Mike Rowe, TV personality and former ‘Dirty Jobs’ host doesn’t think so. He sees the push for a college education in America as contributing to a wide skills gap leaving many manufacturing jobs unfilled.

In an interview with Fox Business, Rowe states,  “The cost of college has just gone through the roof, and yet, we still talk about it as if it is truly the best way for the most people, $1.3 trillion in student loans, it’s not a mystery.” Rowe says putting an emphasis on college education sends many graduates into the work force saddled with high debt–and without skills that could have been acquired more affordably at vocational schools.

America is feeling the pinch. A 2011 study by the Pew Research Center reports that a majority of Americans (57%) say the higher education system in the United States fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend. An even larger majority—75%—says college is too expensive for most Americans to afford. Going into debt before you’ve even started on a career path? Ouch.

Opens a New Window.Game of Life: Entrepreneur Edition

And what about all those techies who dropped out of college only to catapult themselves onto Forbes’ list of Billionaire’s? Is it possible that if you embody certain work ethics and nurture ingrained traits that you can forgo a degree and still have a future to look forward to?

Entrepreneur Magazine recently reported on ten traits all successful entrepreneurs share. While a craving for learning makes the list, so does determination, confidence and passion. In my opinion, those can’t be taught in a traditional school setting.

Serial Entrepreneur Patrick Hull believes it’s a myth that you need a business degree in order to be a successful entrepreneur. Inherent risk aside, Patrick concludes that “an innovative idea, a thorough business plan and good amount of self-awareness”, are the foundation of success.

Multiple Pathways to Success

When I earned my high school diploma it was a huge accomplishment. My parents made it clear that schooling was important- believing that the better educated I was, the more options I would have in life. As hard-working blue-collar adults, they would have supported me if college was something I wanted to pursue, but I also knew they wouldn’t have been able to assist me financially. Ultimately, I entered the workforce without an advanced degree. But that was just the start of my journey. What lie ahead was an entrepreneurial adventure that I’ve sustained for 38 years.

What do you think? Do you believe you need to hold a degree in order to be successful? An advanced degree may increase the odds of future success, but if you cannot afford to, or can but choose not to, know that there isn’t only one clear path towards success.

Brian Winch is the owner and manager of a successful parking lot litter removal business and author of Cleanlots – America’s Simplest Business. A $200 initial investment has grown over 38 years into a $650,000+ per year business- one which Brian started as a side hustle while working full time at his retail job. Entrepreneur Magazine reported that parking lot litter cleanup is “a simple, inexpensive and potentially lucrative business to get into, and the market is growing.” @cleanlots

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