I know you wanted a "quick" answer, so I rounded up as many pertinent
studies and articles as efficiently as I could find. I also found
pertinent profiles and articles about entrepreneurs and the benefits
they reaped from higher education.
As you suspected, there aren't any detailed numbers on U.S. education
levels among entrepreneurs/self-employed, but I did find some good
Very generally speaking, ambition, drive, determination -- those types
of characteristics -- may seem more important than a college degree.
The differentiating factor may well be the type of business the
entrepreneur wishes to establish.
For instance, a fledgling entrepreneur in the technology sector -- say
as a computer software consultant -- stands a much better chance of
success if he/she has built up an impressive resume within the
technology field -- which is a feat likely to have been accomplished
by first obtaining a college degree (even an associate's degree).
Or, if you'd like to become an independent financial planner, you're
likely to succeed on your own only if you have an applicable degree
(an MBA or a Master's in Finance) and/or proven expertise in the form
of a track record working in the finance industry.
Whereas, if you have a genius for, say, fashion design, and your
designs essentially sell themselves, then lack of a degree may not
even be a stumbling block on your road to success.
A person who wishes to buy into a franchise -- such as maid service,
or selling various types of products -- may need more ambition than
education, though understanding business/marketing strategies is
Here are some of the resources I found:
This 1999 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports
general education levels among entrepreneurs:
Among workers' whose "second job" was entrepreneurial in nature, most
had attended college: "About 70 percent of second job entrepreneurs in
1998 had at least some college. In comparison, 55 percent of all
workers had post-high-school education. Only 4 percent of second job
entrepreneurs in 1998 did not have a high school diploma . . . ."
The National Center for Education Statistics:
most recent report is "Beyond 9 to 5: The Diversity of Employment
Among 1992-93 College Graduates in 1997"
The cached link for that study is:
Although this study isn't exactly what you were seeking, it provides a
good "big picture" view:
"In 1997, about two-thirds (68 percent) of employed 1992?93 bachelor?s
degree recipients who were not enrolled for further study worked in
jobs considered traditional for college graduates? that is, they
worked full time for someone else in one professional job.
*Self-employment, working part time, and being employed in multiple
jobs were each relatively uncommon* among employed, nonenrolled
1992?93 bachelor?s degree recipients (*5 percent were self-employed* .
. . .)"
At the pdf link for that study, you can read the segment on
"Alternative Employment" (which includes self-employment):
More general information from the NCES:
A 2003 report "Occupation of employed persons 25 to 64 years old, by
educational attainment and sex"
Although there isn't a separate category for self-employed or
entrepreneurs, they would fall into "Professional specialty
occupations," Sales, and Service, so you can at least get some idea of
Here's the most detailed study I found:
"Setting up shop: Self-employment amongst Canadian college and
university graduates", by Ross Finnie, Christine Laporte,
Maud-Catherine Rivard, for Canada's Business and Labour Market
It may be easier to read the very detailed tables of statistics at the
cached link of the study:
(Note: I'm not certain what the word "cohort" means in the context of
this study; it may refer to "student" or "sampling" from those
specific years noted.)
"Nascent Entrepreneurs in Canada: An Empirical Study," a 2002 study
conducted by professors from several Canadian colleges, found that:
Among Canadians "more Nascent [beginning] Entrepreneurs had university
education than the general population."
This study from the U.S. Federal Reserve: "Do Liquidity Constraints
Matter for New Entrepreneurs?," prepared by Kevin Moore, published
repeatedly notes that "higher education levels have a strong positive
effect" for beginning entrepreneurs.
"IDENTIFICATION OF THE LINKS BETWEEN EDUCATION LEVEL, INCOME AND ECONOMIC
SITUATION OF THE MICRO-ENTERPRISES," s study conducted by J.B.
Consortes, S..A DE C.V., published October 2001:
(Note: micro-enterprises are very small businesses started by
individuals in poor countries, in the case of this study, South
More colleges are instituting courses in entrepreneurship, according
to this November 2004 "Entrepreneur" magazine article, "Students of
Enterprise," by April Y. Pennington and Devlin Smith:
"Dropping Back In" by Stacy Perman, Business Source Premier, June 2004:
"After dropping out of college to start businesses, some entrepreneurs
go back to school for a second chance at that first degree":
"School is in for entrepreneurs: continuing education courses abound.
Here's how to pick the right one," , by Bridget McCrea, from the
October 1, 2004 issue of "Black Enterprise":
"Can entrepreneurship be taught? You bet it can and in our 1st Annual
Top 100 Entrepreneurial Colleges and Universities, we reveal which
U.S. schools . . . ." by David Newton Mark Henricks, "Entrepreneur"
magazine, published April 1, 2003:
Also see "The Education of an Entrepreneur," by Judith Kautz, at
Small Business Notes:
From the January 2004 issue of "Ask" magazine, see these profiles of
several University Of Washington Liberal Arts graduates who found
success running their own businesses; in some cases, far afield from
their original course of study:
"Success Without College," by Terrance Malkinson, in the May 2004
issue of "Today's Engineer":
addresses entrepreneurship, among other topics, and provides a few
helpful links to entrepreneurial resources.
At Michael Cage's site: "Entrepreneurs' Life":
See a roundup of comments re: "Formal Education and Entrepreneurship -
Small Business Success, Marketing & Entrepreneurship" from
Some profiles of entrepreneurs who hit the big time can be found at e-gnorance:
You'll see that the two best known among those listed here, Sam Walton
(founder of Wal-Mart), and Jeff Bezos (founder of Amazon.com), both
graduated from college.
From the UK: "Case studies of graduate entrepreneurs":
read profiles of successful entrepreneurs who graduated from the
Higher Education Academy.
"Entrepreneurs in Action - Case Studies, Success Stories" at About.com:
These links will take you to profiles of, and interviews with,
The Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Clearinghouse on
Entrepreneurship Education (CELCEE):
has abstracts for numerous articles about entrepreneurship, but I had
a hard time accessing the full articles. You may have to contact
CELCEE directly to inquire about obtaining the full text of articles
that interest you.
For instance, at:
Try typing in key search terms, such as "college education" and you'll
bring up a list of abstracts, such as "The Tyranny of the Diploma;
Lack of a College Diploma not a Setback for Many Successful Business
Abstract: "This article presents evidence that some people can start
and run successful business ventures even without a high school or
college diploma. The author cites successful entrepreneurs such as
Bill Gates who believes that finishing college would have led to lost
time and lost success."
I also found a reference to this article via EBSCO library search
(but couldn't locate the article online):
"Earnings Growth Among Young Less-Educated Business Owners," by Robert
W. Fairlie, published in Industrial Relations, July 2004, Vol. 43.
Abstract: "Using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth
(NLSY), I examine the earnings patterns of young less-educated
business owners and make comparisons with young less-educated
wage/salary workers. Estimates from fixed-effects earnings regressions
indicate that the self-employed experience faster earnings growth on
average than wage/salary workers after a few initial years of slower
growth. I also find some evidence suggesting that a relatively high
percentage of less-educated business owners, especially men,
experience either rapid earnings growth or large annual losses."
You may want to consider joining NASE, the National Association for
Which may be able to provide you with some additional resources.
entrepreneurs AND "formal education"
"study of entrepreneurs" AND education
"successful entrepreneurs" AND "formal education"
entrepreneurship AND education AND relationship OR correlation
"education statistics" +occupation
"successful entrepreneurs" AND college
entrepreneurs college waste of time
I hope my research is of help to you. If you require any
clarification, or assistance navigating any of the above links, please
post a "Request For Clarification" prior to rating my answer, and I
will assist you.
Google Answers Researcher
Clarification of Answer by
09 Dec 2004 07:17 PST
I decided to try a few more search terms and I came up with some more
information for you, including some more recent statistics:
Posted October 25, 2004 at Re: Invention Blog: "RE: Entrepreneurs +
College...By The #s, Women Entrepreneurs Appear More Educated."
(Scroll about halfway down the page to find this blog.)
"What's fascinating? The number of entrepreneurs without a degree. The
National Federation of Independent Business reports that only 60% of all
entrepreneurs (men and women combined) have at least some college education
[actually, "only 60%" constitutes a majority!]. Only a tenth of this group
(12.6%) has graduate or professional school degrees. A full 40% have but a
high school degree or less.
"Some notable inventors and entrepreneurs who bailed on college or high
school? Bill Gates (who hoisted blue-peter from Harvard during junior year),
Michael Dell (who took flight from Texas), Ted Turner (expelled from Brown
for having a girl in his room), Barry Diller (who sprang from UCLA), Chef
Wolfgang Puck, Robert Redford, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Nathan
Pritikin (Pritikin diet), Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Ray Kroc, Carl Lindler,
David Murdock, Vidal Sassoon, Richard Branson, Jim Clark (founder of
Netscape), Kemmons Wilson (founder of Holiday Inn), Jimmy Dean, the Wright
"Although this statistic surprised even me, according to the Center for
Women's Business Research, 75% of all women entrepreneurs have a college
You may want to explore the archives (see search box at top left) at
The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB):
using search strings like "entrepreneurs and college" and
"entrepreneurs and education."
Using the search term "women entrepreneurs," I found this 2002 study,
"The Entrepreneur Next Door," issued by the Ewing Marion Kauffman
Scroll down, then click on "Nascent Entrepreneur Prevalence Rates by
Education, Gender, and Ethnic Identity."
"A Profile of America's Entrepreneurs: Who are America's self-employed?
Here are some interesting qualities of the men and women who venture on
their own," by Nach Maravilla, published in 2000 at PowerHomeBiz, reviews stats
from the Bureau of Census' Consumer Population Survey:
"Most of those who started their own businesses are well educated. About
59.7 percent have received at least some college education, and more than a
tenth of this group (12.6 percent) has graduate school and professional
school degrees. A little less than two fifths have reached high school level
"The Quality of Self-Employment Jobs in the United States," by Jon C.
Messenger and Andrew Stettner, published by the
U.S. Department of Labor:
"However, most studies indicate that education carries a high financial
value in self-employment; so it appears that the returns to education may
well be higher for self-employment than wage and salary jobs--making
self-employment relatively more attractive financially for individuals with
higher levels of education."
"The Role of Education in Self-Employment Success" -- which examines the
self-employed in Finland -- by Aki Kangasharju and Sari Pekkala, from the
University of Kent, England. See abstract:
"Finally, we find that regardless of the state of the aggregate economy,
firms run by the highly educated have higher growth probabilities than those
run by less educated ones."
To read the entire paper go to the right side of the page and click
"Do new tech entrepreneurs need an MBA?," by Molly Joss, from the 7/16/03
edition of "TechRepublic":
From "The Entrepreneurs' Chronicle,"
See interviews with entrepreneurs published by this e-zine here:
Several of the interview subjects discuss the pros and cons of higher
This article, "The Mistake of Generation Y: Lessons Learned by a Young
by Ryan P. Allis, founder of Zero Million:
discusses the importance of a college education.
From the Oct. 2003 issue of "Ask Inc.," see the article "Do I Have to Go to
You may also be interested in this discussion group, "How much does college
matter?," at SitePoint:
education AND self-employment OR entrepreneur AND statistics
Do entrepreneurs need college degree
If you need more resources, just repeat my search strings.
Google Answers Researcher