Friday, November 14, 2008

Do College Credentials Matter?

by Daniel Bennett

The WSJ this morning reports that,
"Inflated academic credentials in the nation's executive suites may be more common than generally thought."
Barry Minkow, head of the Fraud Discovery Institute and former prison inmate, recently released the results of a survey in which his organization investigated the validity of the college credentials of 358 senior executives and directors at 53 publicly traded companies. Mr. Minkow says that he cross-checked the public biographies of officials against a database of college degrees. Mr. Minkow reports several instances in which an official's biography lists having received a university degree that didn't quite check out. In many of the cases listed, the person in question attended the university, but did not complete a degree.

This raises the question: To what extent do college credentials matter?

No one is going to argue that Bill Gates, Michael Dell or Larry Ellison should have stayed in school to complete their degrees. They were all extremely bright, tech savvy and ambitious enough to drop out of college and build strong global corporations, without a degree. The difference between these men and the executives being exposed by Minkow is simple - the former never tried to mask the fact that they do not have a degree.

This brings up an ethical dilemma: if these officials are dishonest about college credentials, what else are they hiding? This is an important consideration in the age of corporate scandals and cover-ups, as we need to have ethical and trustworthy leaders at the helm.

While a college degree probably has little influence on the talent and hard work that got executives to the top, the question remains whether these same individuals would have ever got their foot in the door without claiming to have the college credential. In the current state of the economy, the answer is most likely no, as employers use the college degree as a screening device in lieu of the ban on intelligence tests that were formerly used. This is the topic of CCAP's latest report, Griggs v. Duke Power, which is available on our website.

1 comment:

capeman said...

Interesting that Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Larry Ellison, also Steve Jobs all started in college. It would be interesting to know to what extent they owe their success to the experiences they had and also, no so unimportantly perhaps, the contacts they made there.

I don't know of any examples of people who were successful in the high tech boom who did it straight out of high school. I'm sure there are some, but as the examples above show, they are the people who come to mind.

It's also hard to know what being a n exec in a typical corporation has to do with these guys who made fortunes in the early days of the computer boom. Gates, Dell, Jobs, etc. all came of age at just the right time. The flowering of a revolutionary new industry comes very rarely. At most times in history, there is probably nothing like that going on. Their success has limited lessons for the typical person starting out in life.