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Busting the Myth of Bill Gates

  • 3 Min Read

When parents tell their kids to stay in school, they’ll sometimes hear: “Yeah, well, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of school and they did okay. So why not me?”

The problem with what I call “the myth of the billionaire dropout” is that not even the billionaire dropouts believe it’s true.

A few weeks ago, Bill Gates himself wrote an editorial on the subject. He said:

“Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much surer path to success. College graduates are more likely to find a rewarding job, earn higher income, and even, evidence shows, live healthier lives than if they didn’t have degrees. They also bring training and skills into America’s workforce, helping our economy grow and stay competitive. That benefits everyone.”

It seems like everyone — even innovators who didn’t finish university — agree that closing the attainment gap has to be a priority.

At Fusion 2015 this week, we’ve been wrestling with some of the big questions facing educators in America and around the world. In my opening address at the conference, I raised five of those questions and I’ve been writing about them here on my blog.

First, we asked: does education need to change? Next, we asked: how can we help more people graduate? That brings us to our third question: what role do educational leaders play in closing the attainment gap?

The answer isn’t so much about the “educational” part of that role so much as the “leadership” part. I think before we can discuss how we close the gap, we leaders need to do our part to help people understand why we need to close the gap.

In yesterday’s post I cited some Pew survey stats that talk about the income difference between people who don’t attend college or university and students who complete postsecondary.

While stats are important, they don’t tell the full story. Because a gap in income is more than just an economic difference — it represents a significant difference in opportunity and social mobility.

So making an economic argument for education isn’t enough. I think you and I also need to make the social and moral case for completing higher education.

Because in a high-tech, knowledge-based economy…what happens to someone who doesn’t graduate from high school or college or university?

What kind of future will they have?

What kinds of opportunities will their children have?

If you’ve spent some time in the trenches of education, you’ll see pretty quickly that decreased economic opportunity leads to a cycle of decreased income and diminishing prospects. There’s no magic wand we can wave to make those disadvantages disappear.

The only way to break that cycle is through education. Bill Gates knows it. We know it.

We need to make sure others know it, too.

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