The Successful College Dropout is Rare: Majority of Startup Executives Have Advanced Degrees

Summary of Study

Bottom Line: Kauffman Fellows Research Center explored the link between education and startups to conclude that the Mark Zuckerberg college dropout stereotype for startup executives is rare. In fact, most startup executives have advanced degrees. Advanced degrees are even more pronounced in specific industries and when broadened to include C-level positions. These findings suggest that companies continue to seek graduate-level education as part of the hiring evaluation process; therefore, graduate degree holders may have a larger opportunity set of startups to join. 

When looking at U.S. startup executives, the majority have pursued advanced degrees: 44 percent have a bachelor’s degree or below, while 56 percent have a master’s degree or above. Specific industries are even more heavily weighted toward advanced degrees. For example, as many as 67 percent of healthcare executives hold graduate degrees.

When this analysis is broadened from executives to all C-level positions, 70 percent of startups have at least one C-level person with an advanced degree. In healthcare, 79 percent of startups have at least one C-level person with an advanced degree, mirroring the higher percentages among healthcare executives as a whole. 

Examing the education breakdown for companies that raised their first round of capital between the years 2000 and 2018 demonstrates that graduate education has been important for a long time. In 2000, 38 percent of startup executives had an undergraduate degree or lower while 62 percent had advanced degrees. Although the percentage has been generally declining over time, the majority still have advance degrees.  

These findings run counter to the prevailing norm that startups devalue advanced education. Advanced education still influences a startup executive’s job prospects—even in early-stage startups.

Beyond technical and business skills, there are numerous other potential benefits to an advanced degree. Two that stand out are networking and peer learning, which may be even more impactful to a startup’s bottom line than the skills learned in classrooms. For example, those who attend top business schools may be more likely to be able to tap into venture capital networks.

Read the full study HERE

Feature Charticle

Percent of Startup Executive Roles By Degree Type

Kauffman Currents

Findings:

  • In contrast to the stereotype that startup executives are college dropouts, 56 percent of executives hold advanced degrees and 70 percent of U.S. startups have at least one C-level person with an advanced degree.

  • Specific industries like healthcare have an even greater share of advanced degree holders with as many as 67% of healthcare executives hold graduate degrees.

  • Companies continue to seek graduate-level education as part of the hiring evaluation process; therefore, graduate degree holders may have a larger opportunity set of startups to join.  

Read the full study HERE