Atlanta-Based Professor Wants Students to Think Twice Before Going to College

·3 min read
Photo:  Dr. Zakia Akerele
Photo: Dr. Zakia Akerele

Zakiya Akerele Ph.D. is an Atlanta-based educator, author and speaker who is on a mission to let people know that four-year college isn’t the only path to success. Her book, “Dump Your Degree: How to Repurpose Your Education, Control Your Career, and Gain Financial Freedom,” is intended to be a resource for people looking for guidance on navigating the educational landscape in a way that will prepare them for the career they want. We spoke with Dr. Akerele about why she felt her book was necessary and why a person with four degrees of her own would tell someone that they don’t need to go to college.

Akerele says she was inspired to write the book based on her own lived experience. After earning a Bachelor’s degree, two Master’s and a PhD, she found herself looking for work in the middle of a recession. “I was unemployed for a minute, and I had never faced challenges at that level before,” she said. Dr. Akerele took her unemployment personally, not considering that other students with advanced degrees were also jobless.

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She eventually found work as a professor, but found that her students were facing the same employment challenges she did after graduation. So she set out to raise awareness about unemployment and underemployment in the African American community. “That’s how I got the idea for the book,” she said. “It’s what I wished I knew before getting all of these degrees and how to help people not experience the same things I did.” With “Dump Your Degree,” Akerele hopes to reach families who think college is their children’s only path to success. She wants them to know that there are other great options that won’t leave them saddled with debt.

One of the biggest issues with four-year colleges, Dr. Akerele says, is that people study the wrong things. “I’m a person who got degrees in soft majors, so I wasn’t aware that some degrees have a better return on investment than others,” she said. “I was taught that if you go to school and get a degree, you’re good.” She points out that African Americans are less represented in areas like STEM and other fields that can give them more for their money.

Dr. Akerele says she doesn’t think colleges are preparing people for the workforce. “You can have knowledge, but you need to have transferable skills that allow you to think outside the box,” she said. In “Dump Your Degree,” she stresses the importance of repurposing your education rather than being limited by your given field of study. “I get so many students who limit themselves. They get a degree in psychology and think they have to be a psychologist. But they could find a job in marketing,” she said. Dr. Akerele suggests arming yourself transferable skills that prepare you for the real world. “Are you able to start a business?”

Up next, we talk to Dr. Akerele about what students should look for in a college before they commit and what you can do if a four-year degree just isn’t for you.