The cost of tertiary education has increased over time, be it Business, Computer Science, Medical, Engineering, or other schools. IN 2021, the average cost of tuition per academic year per person in the U.S. was $35,720. Expect to pay twice that for tuition in an Ivy League college such as Harvard, Columbia, or Yale. Unsurprisingly, attending a college or university these days is becoming less attractive to students who need to get into debt to fund it. Students and parents are doubting the worth of tertiary education in the light of its returns on investment when compared to starting a business with the money saved.
So, why attend college if you are not going to apply for a job upon graduation? Isn’t it true that, for an entrepreneur, a prestigious degree from Harvard matters little as he/she is the one providing jobs? However, for a person starting a business, the key ingredients needed go beyond mere business knowledge; today, if you only want knowledge, you can get it online at a far-lower cost. The key ingredient is face-to-face networking and knowing people so that you know whom to trust as team members and partners.
While good ideas are vital to start-ups, the team behind the ideas are equally, if not more, important. Many start-up investors value people more than ideas because a company with the right people brings about effective leadership, teamwork, creativity, abilities and skills, work experience, and character, all of which are needed to pivot a start-up in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world.
Where can you find the right people? Institutions of higher learning are the best. You may say that social media and networking sites are popular to meet people. However, would you trust someone you met online to be your business partner? Other alternative spheres for networking are social organisations such as Rotary International. But, while the people you meet in such organisations may have integrity, they may not have the same motivation or creativity to start a business.
Nevertheless, in colleges, especially in a B-school, it should not be difficult to find motivated, creative and intelligent people who have the passion to start a business. Moreover, you can gauge their character, personality, and integrity while studying with them in classes, working with them on assignments and projects, or even living with them as a house/room mate. Over a period of four years, the level of trust and friendship is higher than what you would get with someone you just met online. Many successful companies of today such as Google, Facebook, WordPress were formed by teams of students who met each other in college.
Therefore, what you are really paying for when you attend a B-school is not just your degree or knowledge and skills. You are paying for the best environment to learn about your future teammates and business partners. College education for future entrepreneurs is more about building a start-up team of trusted individuals with whom they have socialised and worked with for four years.
The writer is Director (Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center) and Assistant Professor at SP Jain School of Global Management, Singapore.