According to a new commercial for Strayer University, one of Queen Latifah’s “biggest regrets” is that she never finished college. It was always one of her parents’ dreams that she would go. (You can view the commercial here.)
But did Queen Latifah make the wrong decision by dropping out? Evidence points to “no.” Queen Latifah has had an enormously successful career as a rapper, songwriter, singer, actress, and producer. According to Wikipedia, her work has earned many accolades:
She has long been considered one of hip-hop’s pioneer feminists. Queen Latifah received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. Latifah’s work in music, film, and television has earned her a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, an Academy Award nomination and sales of over two million records.
She became successful by leveraging her significant talents—her voice, her comedic timing, and her acting ability—in a field where academic learning would have contributed very little. Queen Latifah didn’t achieve success despite dropping out of college. Her chosen path simply had very little to do with the skills and programs that college has to offer.
And now, what’s to stop her from pursuing the best of what college has to offer: the life of the mind? Nothing.
It’s true that for the average graduate, college pays off. But that’s no reason to assume that every successful career path leads through college. (Many do not.) Or that every person who starts college will finish. (More than a third won’t.) Or that graduates will use the skills they learn in college. (Far too many never do.)
Performing arts is just one example of a field that doesn’t require a degree. Technology is quickly becoming another; Google, Apple, and IBM no longer require employees to have college degrees.
Of course, it’s clear why Strayer would run an ad starring Queen Latifah. Celebrity sells. I’m sure that Queen Latifah’s partnership with Strayer will yield benefits for the school.
But those of us who aren’t in the business of recruiting students and boosting enrollment should embrace a different message: there are multiple pathways to career success. Becoming an apprentice, joining the military, starting a business, getting a certificate, and receiving on-the-job training should all be a part of the conversation. Would-be students should follow the path that’s right for them, not the path that the conventional wisdom seems to expect.
Queen Latifah shouldn’t have any regrets. She followed her own path to success. And that’s worth celebrating.