Monday, June 15, 2009

Credibility When You Don't Have the Right College Degree

I've heard that many public universities are cutting back on their 2009-2010 course offerings in response to deep budget cuts. That means it will take a lot of students longer to graduate. While that's not what the parents of students and students themselves want to hear, it does represent a great opportunity to rethink ways of building your expertise and credibility.

It's surprising how many people see their lack of a degree in the field of work they wish to pursue as a handicap.

Let me remind you that my sister, who studied Painting, for goodness sake, at the University of Georgia, enjoys (most of the time) a productive executive career working with marketing of software to the healthcare industry. I don't think color coordination was a requirement for that job, but her company loves her multidisciplinarian approach to her work. Clients love her non-geeky way of explaining how the software works.

Here are two really important facts to keep in mind:

1. College degrees are overrated. Lot's of really smart people who make tons of money didn't get one at all: Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are just two of the most famous examples.

2. There are so many gazillion ways of getting the expertise you want.

I like to tell my students that everything I teach them they can learn other places as well. I never did see the point of paying $120 for a "required" public speaking textbook when there are hundreds of excellent books on the subject at the local bookstore that sell for less than $20 each. (The collusion of universities with college textbook industry is subject for another post.)

BTW, I wrote this post on Saturday and Sunday morning Seth Godin sent out his take on the textbook charade. Click here to read it.

Books are one great source. Mentors may be even better. Especially if you read the books they recommend.

Ali Brown, owner of a multimillion dollar Internet marketing company recently contracted a woman executive to be her mentor. This woman is head of a multibillion dollar empire, and Ali pays her a cool half million for a year's worth of mentoring.

You could probably find a local expert for a fraction of that -- in almost any field that interests you.

Whether you support homeschooling or not, that movement has resulted in significant, though far from sufficient, changes in our public elementary education system: charter schools, magnet schools, vouchers, etc.

Maybe it's time to recognize the value of tested expertise from non-university sources. Your own experience counts!