Thursday, November 03, 2011

The Reckless Folly of Ellsberg's "Will Dropouts Save America?"

Here's a good rebuttal:


In a reckless opinion piece in this Sunday's New York Times entitled "Will Dropouts Save America?" Michael Ellsberg argues that higher education robs students of crucial skills that promote success in entrepreneurship -- skills like networking, marketing, and comfort with failure -- and therefore, that job-creation efforts should stop incentivizing post-secondary education. He writes,

"I'd put my money on the kids who are dropping out of college to start new businesses. If we want to get out of the jobs mess we're in, we should hope that more will follow in their footsteps."

While there are several problems with this position, let's consider three particularly questionable assumptions implicit in this line of reasoning: that education actually deteriorates entrepreneurial skills; that formal post-secondary education is categorically incapable of improving entrepreneurial capacity; and that the only value of post-secondary education is financial.

To demonstrate that college has a negative effect on entrepreneurial skills, Ellsberg points to the fact that many of the most famous startup founders in our society, including Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Windows), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), all dropped out of college. Implicit in this argument is that if Jobs, Gates or Zuckerberg had actually completed college, we wouldn't have Apple, Windows, or Facebook -- which is a sham argument.

The flaw in Ellsberg's reasoning, termed "selection bias" in statistical circles, is that he assumes that the startup founders he named are similar to their peers who chose to stay in college in all categories except their choice to leave college, and therefore, that leaving college itself was the cause for their success. Rather, these highly talented individuals likely differed from their peers on the exact characteristics Ellsberg thinks education erodes -- networking capacity, marketing, comfort with failure, and of course, innate creative talent -- well before they ever chose to leave college.


The Reckless Folly of Ellsberg's "Will Dropouts Save America?"

Abdulrahman El-Sayed | 3 hours ago

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