by Paul Schmitz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Paul Schmitz is the author of “Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up” and CEO of Public Allies, a nonprofit that advances new leadership to strengthen communities and encourage civic participation.
(CNN) – A college degree can be an important gateway to employment, a career and a better standard of living. But a college degree does not equate to someone’s level of intelligence or talent. For those seeking the best workers or leaders, there is a plethora of intelligent, inventive people without degrees who should not be overlooked.
Recognizing this does not negate the importance of a college education – the intellectual knowledge, access to a wide array of subjects and experience gained on a college campus can be transformative. Studies demonstrate clearly that without a college degree, you will likely earn less, be more liable to be unemployed and have fewer opportunities for career advancement.
The challenge is that access to college has become more limited. At a time when degrees are so important to income potential, they are going increasingly to privileged and affluent young people. As the 2010 book “Rewarding Strivers” points out, among those who scored in the highest quartile of a national standardized test, those from affluent families were twice as likely to attend college as those from poorer families.