That, said UnCollege member Erica Goldson, is exactly why she left after one semester at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to go to school for,” said Goldson, 19. “I felt like I had been pressured into thinking college was my path, and I was going through all these majors but I couldn’t see myself being happy with whatever jobs I was researching.”

Now she’s living in New Jersey, working as a waitress and making plans to move to Argentina to learn Spanish. Goldson wants to support the UnCollege movement by helping other students persuade their parents that it’s OK to drop out.

Many of those arguing that college is unnecessary for success are like Stephens—technological whizzes who have taught themselves computer programming and other highly marketable skills. Some hope to follow in the footsteps of two famous college dropouts: Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg.

Those guys did not need a degree to make it big in the business world. But for the majority of Americans, piles of evidence show a college degree is increasingly valuable.

College graduates earn 65 percent more on average than high school graduates, according to a College Board report last year. And during the recession, employment rates have been far higher among college graduates than those with less education. Economists predict that the labor market of the future will demand even more college graduates than today—a million more in California alone.

“We are not saying that every single person has to go to college,” said Hans Johnson, a researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, which has determined that by 2025, 40 percent of the state’s jobs will require a college degree.

“But, by and large, when you look at the averages, you are much more advantaged and have more opportunities if you have more education.”

(c) 2011, The Sacramento Bee, with additional reporting by eSchool Media. Visit The Sacramento Bee online at Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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