College Degrees and Creativity

I am a college professor, and, so, far be it for me to deplore the college degree as the mark of civilization and/or individual accomplishment. That would be like Ford saying cars aren’t necessary for everyone. And yet, I worry when we establish these kinds of bench marks if we aren’t forgetting that the bench getting marked wasn’t that of the master craftsman who almost never had/has a college degree.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a terrific interactive website up that allows you not only to zoom in and out on parts of the U.S.A. but also break populations down by gender and “race.” I used the site to generate the following map (but we cold also call it a visualization or, more popularly, an infographic):

South Louisina Graduation Rates

I decided to zoom the map to the part of the world in which I live and work … and study. As you can see, Lafayette parish (parish = county), the somewhat triangular blue shape in the middle of the map, is the only parish in southwest Louisiana to be average. (It is above average for Asian Americans with degrees, and, sadly, below average for African Americans.) Lafayette is an island surrounded by a sea of under average parishes. Does that mean that intellectual capacity and/or engagement are under average? Clearly, my own research argues that this is not the case. In fact, of the boat makers and engine designers profiled in Genius Loci, only one has a college degree, and yet these are men responsible for the creation of industries and market capitalization in the millions of dollars. They have also created jobs on an unprecedented scale.

So, yes, tracking college degrees is important, but it is not as important, nor is it a good index, of intelligence and creativity.