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Conventional wisdom says that if you want to be successful in the U.S. today (if you want to "be somebody"), you need a college degree. College education is widely considered both necessary and sufficient for financial security.

People believe this in spite of the fact that most of us know, or know of, someone who has built a rewarding career—and even made a lot of money—without a traditional college degree. Such successes are built on creative intelligence, vision, and initiative—qualities that traditional education increasingly does not nurture or reward.

Instead of leading to success, the yellow brick road of education in the U.S. leads too many people into a yellow block wall. They did what conventional wisdom told them to do. So why aren't they financially secure and happy with their work?

The higher education system is not working for the overall economy, either. Study after study claims that the need for college—educated workers exceeds the number available. Meanwhile, large numbers of college graduates do not have the technical skills that many jobs require. So even the people who are getting degrees don't seem to be coming out with the right education.

There's no question that the U.S. needs a skilled work force. But is pushing young people toward a traditional college education, especially right out of high school, the best way to achieve that?

This is not an argument against people getting college educations. It is not an agenda for limiting college access for people of a particular race or economic class. It is an attempt to make education better, to make it more effective at producing thoughtful U.S. citizens who are financially secure, productive, and satisfied with their work.

When it comes to higher education, America needs better—informed consumers.