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Art Willner: Two Not-So-Usual Reasons for Getting a College Degree

There are many good reasons for getting a college education. Greater earnings potential, the opportunity for interesting and challenging work, and the possibility of significant achievements are often cited as key reasons.

Art Willner
Art Willner

However, I’ve observed two other benefits, not commonly mentioned, that are valuable and useful throughout our lives: knowing how to think, and experiencing completion.

Knowing How to Think

Many years ago when computing was a young industry and I was a new computer programmer, I noticed that I could typically tell and predict who had a degree and who didn’t. It wasn’t that the college graduates were smarter or more productive, because they weren’t; programming was relatively new and we all started without training on a level playing field.

Things changed as the need for systems analysis and project planning arose in addition to the mostly technical aspects of programming. What I saw was that the college grads were the more thoughtful and analytical ones. They knew how to think, were trained and accustomed to doing it, and did it well.

Thinking in a structured, rigorous way is vital in all professional work. In my area of systems development, it included problem solving, analysis, planning, design and, of course, programming, then moving on to testing, estimating, scheduling, contingency planning and implementing.

Thinking is critical in all these areas, and one could see the merits of a college education because those with a degree had been trained to think.

Experiencing Completion

Years later as a vice president of a startup company hiring many programmers, I struggled with the decision of whether to interview non-college-grads. I chose not to, not only because of the lack of formal thinking skills, but I was also bothered by the lack of a degree — it was something incomplete.

You see, my view of college was that few liked it, but those who wanted to get ahead knew that they needed to complete their degree. They had the pride and accomplishment of finishing something started. They had experienced completion.

Completion goes by many names — getting things done, being goal oriented and being productive, and they all reflect professionalism. I wanted people who had a proven track record of being able to put dislikes and distractions aside and be able to finish a project. Those who had a college degree had demonstrated their perseverance to do just that — to complete.

Knowing how to think and completing work are important to managers and valuable to a college graduate in the work world. Those values of thinking and completing remain with me today and they pay dividends not only from wages on the job, but in all areas of life.

— Art Willner of Carpinteria is a management consultant.

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