As a new school year approaches, increases in student loan rates have again raised questions about the value of higher education. And on the heels of that conversation, comes another: How does higher-education relate to success in business?
Recent reports tell us that companies such as Google are placing less emphasis on college transcripts and giving more weight to real-world experience. Is the college degree a linchpin for hiring, or will the workforce of the future get picked for street smarts and life learning?
A new survey conducted by Manta shows that small-business owners' takes on the question can be complicated. It's more than just a yes or no on the education front. A lot of what these owners seem to be saying is tied to what they've done themselves, in or out of the classroom.
The Degree Equation
You don't have to look to giants of industry to examine the scenario.
Among small-business owners, a significant number say they will hire a non-degree holding applicant. What's more, 62 percent in the new poll said they see no difference in workplace performance, graduate vs. non-graduate.
"I’ve learned that you can’t teach someone how to work hard," says Gary Wheeler, owner of The Virtual HR Director. "While I value higher education, I know it’s only part of what makes someone a strong addition to my team. I focus on hiring people who understand my vision for the company, have the desire to be challenged, and the experience and drive to contribute to its overall success."
About half of small-business owners polled say that new employees don't need a diploma to get through their door. But the results aren't exactly as simple as that. Let's look at the way the numbers break out:
- 39 percent said they were either indifferent to the impact of a college education on business success, or thought it had no value.
- 31 percent of the respondents said they didn't have a college degree themselves. Of those, 77 percent said they were fine with sharing their level of education with others.
- 61 percent of the small-business owners said that having a college education was important or necessary to success in the business world.
- 69 percent of the polled owners held a degree, and, of them, 68 percent said it made a difference in their success.
What we see are some closely correlating numbers. The percentage of owners who don't have degrees is close to the percentage who don't put a great deal of value in college education when it comes to business success. Similarly, the numbers of owners with degrees is close to the number who find higher-ed valuable to the work of running a company.
This probably tells us something about another effect of having a college background, or lack thereof: The way business owners succeed and what tools they brought to the table in that journey can inform their impressions of what's needed to achieve success. Call it confirmation by experience. When we win, we tend to assess what we've done to get to that success.
Business Bottom Lines
Despite the differences, a significant number of the respondents agree on one thing: 35 percent said that a strong business plan—one with a long-term strategy as its key component—is the number-one factor when it comes to getting a small business off the ground and keeping it viable.
That's above education, above capital, networking and mentorship. Whether you can learn that in a classroom, or it's a factor of intuition and built-in savvy, it's certainly a valuable asset.
Read more articles on small-business hiring.
James O'Brien's work can be found at Mashable, Forbes.com and TheAtlantic.com. He writes about media, finance, business, travel, food, wine and tech.