College degrees are a double-edged sword these days. Many jobs, even entry-level positions, require a college degree for applicants. Yet census data shows that only 27% of graduates work in a field related to their degree. With student debt reaching crisis levels in America, one CEO is throwing conventional wisdom out the window and achieving spectacular results along the way. Stefan Aarnio is a real estate investor, author, coach, and speaker. He swears by his unconventional approach to hiring as a key to the growth of his company.

Aarnio does indeed have a college degree. Like so many others he has found success in a field wholly outside of his degree. Once he graduated and was making $10 an hour, he experienced post-graduate depression regarding his seemingly worthless degree.
“I went to college just like everyone else because you’re told it’s the only path to success. I’m telling you that it’s not true. World-class talent comes from all walks of life and I want to find those people.”

At the age of 22, he realized that his music career might never pay off, so with only $1200 he started investing in real estate. He bought his first property in 2009, and in just six and a half years Stefan was able to become a self-made millionaire through raising capital for real estate by the age of 28. Now he’s fueling his company’s success by tossing out graduate’s resumes and investing in those with diverse educational backgrounds.

The Dwindling Benefits of a College Degree

Just a few short decades ago the college calculus was entirely different. In 1971, the average cost per year of a four-year college degree was $8,734 in today’s dollars, according to a study from the education nonprofit College Board. Today that figure has jumped a staggering 140% to $20,967 on average per year. This has created an epidemic of debt, with 44 million graduates owing almost $1.5 trillion in student loans. That’s over half a trillion dollars more than all U.S. credit card debt combined.

At the same time as rampant inflation in cost, college graduates are faced with the catch-22 of having a degree but no experience. Almost every job requires some form of a college degree, but they might also want a year or two of experience. Aarnio believes that there’s a better path to success. One that doesn’t incur tens of thousands of dollars of debt that keeps accruing interest long after you’ve moved on from the field.

Unorthodox Hiring Finds Top Talent

By not requiring a college degree Aarnio is able to find people who never would have applied otherwise. Because of this, he has an award-winning team, laser-focused on results and high accountability. College might be necessary for certain fields, like medicine. But when college is used to screen the workforce you end up wasting vast amounts of potential. Stefan taps into this pool to find the candidates he turns into real-estate millionaires themselves.  

If more industries had on-the-job training like the apprenticeships, we wouldn’t be facing the student debt crisis we have today. Investing in knowledge should take precedence over spending tens of thousands of dollars on a piece of paper. By embracing those who acquire knowledge over degrees, Aarnio is proving that you can thrive without a degree on your resume.

Jordan French is the managing editor of Grit Daily. He is a multi-media tech journalist on the editorial staff at TheStreet.com and a Fast 50 and Inc. 500-ranked entrepreneur. He is the founder of Notability Partners and the co-founder of BNB Shield, Lisbon Hill Farms, Status Labs, BeeHex, and Grit Daily. A biomedical engineer and intellectual-property attorney, French is the author of upcoming book, The Gritty Entrepreneur.