Ivy League or Bust? The Value of a College Degree

Today CNBC featured Gurbaksh Chahal, who has founded several successful startups. At only age 18, he sold his first company, ValueClick, for $40 million. A few years later, he sold his second company, BlueLithium for $300 million to Yahoo. Despite this success, Gurbaksh never received a college degree.

We’ve written before about the debate around the value of higher education, including Peter Thiel’s program, which offers young entrepreneurs $100,000 to drop out of college and focus on an innovative idea instead. The subject continues to attract attention, especially as tuition rises and as more students graduate college with debt and slim employment opportunities. Several startups have tried to address the issue of growing student debt: DegreeCast, lets students better weigh college costs before it’s too late and ZeroBound, lets students repay loans with volunteer work.

Despite growing concerns that a college degree is not worth as much as it used to be, CNBC’s Ellen Lee noted that top-tier schools may be overrepresented in the tech startup scene, according to a study by the Kauffman Foundation. The results found that 8 percent were from an Ivy League background and nearly 20 percent from a top 10 university such as UC Berkeley, Stanford or MIT. Furthermore, founders from Ivy League schools were more likely to produce higher revenue and employ more workers.

The article noted that the value of an Ivy League education may not lie in the classes themselves, but in the network students build while at school:

Entrepreneurs hailing from top-tier universities can easily tap a pool of similarly driven individuals to build their business. Particularly in the early days of a startup, the quality of the first few employees could make or break its future.

Take Mark Zuckerberg, for instance. He founded Facebook with his Harvard roommates. Yelp’s Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons and YouTube’s Chad Hurley and Steve Chen were among the entrepreneurs who came out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and PayPal.

Some may argue that while the value of a college degree is declining, it remains valuable if you are at the top universities across the country. What do you think? Should it really be Ivy League or bust?