In 2011, Hendrix College student Dale J. Stephens started receiving a lot of unexpected press. His website, UnCollege.org, delivered a hypercritical cost-benefit analysis of college at a time when many parents and students were questioning their faith in higher education for the first time.
In one of the many interviews Stephens gave that year, he casually mentioned that he was working on a book. He now admits that he probably should have said “thinking about,” rather than “working on” his book, but the quote was published anyway and Stephens was soon approached by curious book agents.
Stephens got around to writing the book, and the result was released last week: “Hacking Your Education: Ditch the Lectures, Save Tens of Thousands, and Learn More Than Your Peers Ever Will.”
To be sure, Stephens approaches the issue from a unique perspective. With his family’s begrudging support, he left his California public school at 12 and developed his own curriculum right up until he took the ACT and applied to colleges.
“I spent a lot of my time in college wondering, ‘If I was able to get into college without going to high school, why is there any reason that I need to go to college to get into life?’” he says. “And why am I paying $40,000 a year for this, when I can figure out how to learn for free?”
This month, the 21-year-old Stephens is crisscrossing the country on a media blitz — From the “Today” show, to Katie Couric, to South by Southwest — preaching a vision of a free, unfiltered, self-generated education.
“It’s about taking ownership and realizing that no one is going to give you an education,” he says. “If you want to be successful, you’re going to have to go out and find it for yourself: live abroad, do internships, research, build your portfolio, feed your networking community. We think that a college is going to give us those things in one nice package, but the reality is that you’re going to have to do it on your own whether you’re in school or not.”