With the cost of college on the rise and the student debt crisis in full swing, young people (and their parents) are naturally second-guessing the value of a five-figure degree.
One college-dropout-turned-entrepreneur is determined to prove you can lead a full career without a degree at all.
Dale Stephens, 21, is all about taking the "unschooled" approach to learning, emphasizing learning through experience, internships, travel, and mentorships in lieu of textbooks and exams.
It worked for him, anyway. Stephens, 21, was home-schooled at the age of 12. And a semester after enrolling at Hendrix College in Conway, Ark., he dropped out, completely disenchanted with the lecture-heavy environment. That's when he decided to launch UnCollege.org, a site dedicated to proving college is not the only path to success. Since then, he landed a coveted position as a Thiel Fellow and w rote a book (" Hacking Your Education") to help other students follow in his footsteps.
We spoke with Stephens about his book, his approach to learning and how it will affect his future.
Business Insider: What is UnCollege?
Dale Stephens: It is an organization that presents workshops [on professional growth outside of college]. We offer gap year programs, we do work with colleges and universities, and we provide resources outside of the traditional [college] system.
BI: Why did you decide to drop out of college?
DS: It wasn’t a place that was intellectually stimulating. I didn’t feel supported or nurtured. I didn’t have the patience to stay in a place where I wasn’t being appreciated or respected.
So, I left and started UnCollege and it really took off. We got a lot of attention with online and print media, but I didn’t really know what I was going to do, so I said I was going to write a book. That got the attention of a publisher and for the past year and a half I have been writing my book.
BI: Tell us about your earlier education.
DS: I left school when I was 12 years old for "unschooling." I am grateful that my parents believed in me and let me step outside the system. Instead of going to middle school and high school, I found mentors, did internships, and generally used the resources in the world around me.
BI:What is the reaction you get when you tell people you were unschooled?
DS: Today, people are more aware of the cost of college. Now, people say 'Oh, how can I learn more about [UnCollege]?' People are being forced to make decisions about time and money, and trying to think actively about how to make the most of it.
BI: Tell us about your Gap Year program.
DS: The program [$13,000 per year] is intended for people who are self-directed but want some structure and community. One thing we find is it can be an isolated process so we offer some structure.
It is four parts, each about three months long. First, you share a house in San Fransisco and learn skills and tools for self-directed learning. Then, you go abroad for three months to a country you have never been to and don’t speak the language. Next, is an internship and last is a creative project.
BI: What is the difference between a college education and an “Uncollege” one?
DS: We aren’t focusing on subject level skills. We aren’t teaching math and history. We are giving people tools and challenges. They are learning what they want, not focusing on content but the skills that are one level up from there.
BI: You can't deny the fact that it's been proven that holding a college degree leads to higher income. How does your plan help to factor in any income lost by skipping college?
DS: You can’t compare two people of similar ability. There is no control experiment. We don’t know the alternative. I don’t think that there is any real danger in sending someone to UnCollege. If they want a college education, it will always be there. And if people decide to go [to UnCollege], they have a better set of tools to become a learner.
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