"What’s alarming is that many think that having a degree is an employment guarantee. Solely connecting higher education to career sustainability creates a false sense of security."
-Zakiya Akerele, Author of Dump Your Degree
Dr. Zakiya Akerele is an Atlanta-based educator, author, and speaker who found an early passion in academic pursuits hoping to use them to improve herself and the world around her.
She sought higher education with full force, obtaining degrees from Florida A&M University (B.A.), Columbia University (Ed.M.), and Fordham University (M.A. and Ph.D.) in International Education, Philosophy, and Religious Studies. Dr. Akerele has served in various capacities at higher education institutions and at social justice, political, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) both in the U.S. and abroad.
Her new book, Dump Your Degree, is a timely and invaluable resource for anyone seeking guidance on navigating higher education, developing their career, and having financial security.
In this episode, we talked about:
• Why a degree won't guarantee career success, and what can you do instead to have a successful career
• How you can repurpose your education to get the job you want and achieve financial freedom
• Why 'who you know' is as important as 'what you know' to have career success
Ryan and Zakiya also talked about how parents can help their children prepare for college and their careers.
Enjoy the episode!
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Ryan: Aloha folks and welcome back to degree free. I am your host Ryan Maruyama. On this podcast, we share fundamentals we've discovered and the mistakes we've made while self-educating getting work, building businesses and making money. We'll tell you how to make it happen. No degree needed. And before we get into today's episode, we did have a couple of asks for you.
If you'd like to hear from us every week and get a short email about how you can get degree, free jobs, degree free work, and different companies that are down credentialing and how you can upscale. Go to degreefree.co/newsletter to sign up and without further ado I'd like to introduce today's guests.
We have Dr. Zakiya Akerele on. She is an educator, author, and speaker. Most recently she is the author of Dump Your Degree, how to repurpose your education, control your career and gain financial freedom. We get into a lot of her background and her decisions to get the four degrees that she has and why she chose to write a book, Dump Your Degree.
If you like what we do here at degree free, you will definitely love this interview and you're definitely gonna love her book. Dump your degree without any further ado. Please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Zakiya Akerele or no rules, no rules.
Zakiya: You're listening to Degree Free on the Degree Free Network, where we talk about how to teach yourself, get work, and make money.
Aloha everybody and welcome back to Degree Free. I am super excited for today's guest today. We have Dr. Zakiya Akerele with us today.
Dr. Zakiya Akerele thank you very much for being here.
Zakiya: Thank you for having me.
Ryan: I definitely want to get to the book that you wrote and just to give the book title right up front, Dump Your Degree, how to repurpose your education, control your career and gain financial freedom just quickly for all the people that are listening.
If you guys are listening to this podcast. You guys are gonna love this book. So definitely get out there and read it as I did. One of the things that I wanted to mention was the way that I came about this book and the way that this ended up happening was a few weeks ago, podcast listener reached out via email and sent like the book title. I think it was a Yahoo news article that you were profiled in or something and they said, oh, this was interesting. I was like, okay, awesome, and I bought the book. Okay, and I read it and I loved it.
Zakiya: Oh, thank you.
Ryan: I had it on my list for weeks to reach out to you to reach out to your publicist to your team and to get you on the podcast.
But. I think, everybody knows how those, how that goes with the to-do list. It kept getting pushed down and pushed down, but luckily, your publicist reached out and I'm glad that we could make this happen.
Zakiya: Wow. I didn't know that backstory. Yeah.
Ryan: Yeah, it was amazing and it's good 'Cause I have a Kindle.
I bought it on Kindle and okay. So I could read it. I could read it before I go to sleep. And I had a bunch of highlights that I hope later on in the interview, we can kind of get to some of the things that kind of jog some thoughts for me.
Ryan: But at the beginning, I kind of wanted to just start off with a little bit of your background and what you currently do for work.
Zakiya: So I'm currently a full-time stay-at-home mom, but I'm also a full-time author. So I've pivoted from being in academician, being in higher education. I was a professor for I wouldn't say several years, but since about 2010 is when I started to get into higher education, as far as teaching and I took some breaks, went and moved to west Africa for a while, just randomly in between that time.
And then ended up getting back into the classroom but most recently after the pandemic, I enjoy teaching. I love higher education. I myself have four degrees, although I might not recommend that for most people but during the pandemic, the university I was teaching at, well, it was the state laws that I had to go back into the classroom pretty much immediately in the thick of things.
And I was like, oh no, not that's not gonna happen. And so I had to make a decision about where my career would head and I always wanted to write and be able to teach in a different way. And so that's what I'm doing now full time. Doing it on my own terms.
Ryan: I did want to kind of talk about, because this is the degree free podcast.
So we do talk about college a lot, and we talk about succeeding in your careers. If you wouldn't mind, you said that you had four degrees, would you mind kind of going over what degrees you have and which institutions they're from?
Zakiya: Yeah, so I did my undergrad at Florida A&M University. I originally aspired to become an attorney and I still thought I would even up until my senior year. Took the LSATs didn't do great. I basically thought I was gonna do amazing on the LSATs. I don't know how else to put it and it did about average or little below average. Right. So I was like, oh, what am I gonna do with my life? But interestingly enough, I got to undergrad on a music scholarship, vocal, but I didn't wanna major in music. I wanted to minor in it still be a part, you know, do creative things, but my aspirations would be to become an attorney. But I took some elective courses in like philosophy and religion and was fascinated by culture and just how to think critically and differently.
I decided to change my major to religion and philosophy because I was told, oh, you can go to law school with any undergrad. For the most part that's true. So when I didn't do well with the LSAT, I decided not to take it over. And I said, well, what about this thing you enjoy, which is learning about cultures teaching about it.
So I ended up getting a scholarship to Fordham University in New York city to do a master's in religion, focusing on peace and justice issues. So, during that time I taught more so on the secondary level education, doing conflict resolution between people from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, that kind of thing.
I was really passionate about it I ended up going to Columbia university, their teacher's college which I kind of pivoted away from religion, but. It still had some overlap, but I did another Master's in Education, International Educational Development. After that went back to Fordham for my doctorate in religion and religious education, but all of my focus mainly was on conflict resolution, interfaith, community issues and how religion kind of ties into that. And so when I was teaching, I was focused more so on African and African-American religious traditions, Eastern traditions, and things like that. So most of my students took my courses as an elective. So that's why I would get students from all kinds of academic backgrounds pursuing different academic routes would take my course and then subsequently they would try to switch their major to religion. And I would be like, please don't do you won't make any money.
So, I mean, a few of them, I could not convince them not to do it. They still changed their major. So that's kind of even where the idea of repurposing came from, cuz I'm like, okay, if you're gonna get this degree in something, that's not gonna give you a return on the investment, how can you flip it and do other things with your life so that you're not just looking for a job and hoping someone finds your degree in philosophy useful, which might not happen so.
Ryan: That's a great point because when we talk to young people and I'm talking 18 year olds, 17, 16 year olds about the decision to go to college, I'm talking to them and we're talking to them about seeing how that college degree and what you're gonna learn is gonna help and benefit you into the future.
Ryan: But a lot of our audience, majority of our audience to be honest, have some college or they have a degree like myself. I have a degree and I think. The statement, repurposing your education is fantastic insight because people look and say, well, I just got a psychology degree. I just got a religion degree.
And this is something that we talk about a lot here is that self doubt and talking about, well, those things are a dime, a dozen. I don't really stand out. Well, if you think about it in that perspective, then you're definitely not gonna stand out. But if you can think about exactly what you said, repurposing your education, thinking about, okay, these are the things I've done and I've done.
And here's where I want to go. How can I frame my experience creatively? And I think that was a brilliant statement, a real brilliant repurposing.
Zakiya: Thank you.
Ryan: The reason why I brought up your education and where you went to school, like I said, I had a lot of highlights from your book. And I kind of just wanted to read a passage if you wouldn't mind and we can kind of talk about it.
Zakiya: Oh, sure.
Ryan: One of the things that I was wondering about is because you went to an Ivy league school, one of the things that we hear all the time is how college is only worth it if you go to name brand universities, and the reason why is because you are gonna get the name brand network as somebody that's attended an Ivy league school, like the brand of the brand, I was wondering, does that hold any truth for you?
Is that a myth?
Zakiya: Well, so the network, to be honest, and this could just be positioning right. And who I communicate with on a regular basis but the network that I got the most value from happened to be my undergraduate institution, Florida A&M University, which happens to be, HBCU.
When I was unemployed for a while and this is after having gotten undergo Columbia degree. it was my Fam U network. That actually helped me, right. That opened opportunities for me through things that right, jobs, not necessarily in my field. Interestingly enough, the commencements, no, not the commencement maker, but the president at the time of Columbia during the year that I graduated.
They got on stage and said, you know, because you have a Columbia degree, basically you can go anywhere and be anything because of this name. So when you're mentioning the name, they kind of articulated that at graduation and you all hype, you're like, oh yeah, you know, I got this amazing degree that cost me a million dollars and everything.
So I should be able to make a million dollars. Right? No, I had. Friends, peers who graduated with me and after me .I did a master's at Columbia, a master's of education. I had friends who did PhDs there that were still having issues, finding employment, and they too had to repurpose their education. So yes, there were challenges even with that, but I also do recognize that tapping into networks at institutions.
Tapping into your alumni network do matter, but it also depends on what you get your degree in as well.
Ryan: And one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about was the networking within specifically alumni networks, because I'll be honest for myself. Although I graduated with a degree, as I said, I am the worst at networking with, especially within an alumni for me, my college experience, I went on campus.
I went to class and then I went home. I didn't meet anybody. I didn't, you know, talk to anybody. And so since I have you here, and it seems like you have networked within that alumni association, what are some tips for people that have already have that sunk cost? Like they went to school and they have that alumni network.
What's a good way to, for them to network?
Zakiya: You know, social media is big, linkedIn, right. Going into the alumni groups on LinkedIn, or even if you don't like post in them, seeing who's in there. Seeing what their job description and background is. If it aligns with something that you're interested in or you're interested in pivoting in, or you have a background or experience in send, 'em a message.
Hey, you know, I'm so, and so I see, we both went to X, Y, and Z university. I'm really interested in doing something and I would love some insights for you, but make it conversational, you know, don't just like spam people and, you know, I hate those messages on LinkedIn. I ignore them. But, when you're, when you're conversational, right, and you, and people can tell when you really wanna have that connection or add value to them, or would really benefit from their help.
So I am a advocate of using social media as much as possible, not the old school ways that we were taught, going to these events all the time. Do those even still exist? Really like those in person, alumni. . Everything is on social media now
Ryan: Everything is on social media and quick note on those, like any type of networking event I made the mistake one time too and I've only done it once and I told myself I'll never do it again.
I went to a legitimate networking event, like it was meant for people to network with each other. And that was one of the. Most useless three hours of my life. And exactly of what you said is because nobody was trying to really provide value for the other person. It was everybody was there including myself to get value, to be extractive.
And I was trying to expand my network by asking what you can do for me and I've found that doing exactly the opposite is the best way to network, as you said, bringing value to them.
Zakiya: Exactly. Yeah.
Ryan: Kind of switching gears here. I love this. I have this one starred as far as a passage in the book.
What I wanted to talk about to a little bit of backstory in my generation, or I'll just speak for myself personally, with a marketing message that I always saw with college was that when I get a degree, I will be qualified for a job. People are going to hire me because I have a degree. And it's something interesting in your book because for you to have four degrees, but then write this book, you know, the amount of I guess self-awareness is huge but I love this.
And if you, with your permission, I'll just read a little bit.
Ryan: I was taught. That the more degrees I had, the better off I would be in the job market. I did everything right, or so I thought I asked thousands of dollars in student loan debt, getting degree after degree, the highest being a PhD, even one from an Ivy league school.
And I still ended up having to move back into my mother's house and work dead end jobs for as little as $8 an hour. And I kind of wanted to go to your background there. When you finally got your PhD, could you talk a little bit about the process of what did you, what kind of jobs were you. Aspiring to?
And what led to moving back in with your mom and, and end ended up taking $8 an hour?
Zakiya: Throughout, since high school, 14 years old, I've been working like, you know, after school jobs or what have you college little jobs here and there. Even throughout grad school, I finished my doctorate, right as we were coming out of that recession, the 2007 to 2009 recession, I finished in 2010 right in the middle.
So we weren't out of it though. It might have been officially out of it on paper. So my job, what I studied was not in high demand, right. Even things that were in high demand, people weren't hiring for. So it was a big shock to me as someone who was used to working. Having to come out into an economy that was just not hiring someone with my background.
I had aspired at that time, as I mentioned before, I wanted to be an attorney, but I, decided I wanted to go into higher education. I wanted to teach there just weren't jobs available for me, even in higher education, which is a whole nother Joe. When you look at even higher education being, I don't wanna say a scam, but how they are you might have to edit that out.
But basically. They're hiring professors, right. Adjuncts. And they're paying them really. If you look at it, a lot of them are making below poverty wages, seriously. So you have all these degrees, the highest, probably being a PhD and you're still not being paid enough. So I had, I was applying for jobs to teach.
And just wasn't hearing back. , and I'm not the type of person that's just like, okay, I can't do anything. So I went back to Florida, which is where I was raised in North Florida and I was applying for jobs from my mom's house. Cause I didn't wanna stay in New York city. It's overpriced. If I'm not finding jobs, at least let me go back and kind of like regroup and think about what my next move is.
So I was applying for jobs and I just wasn't hearing back. So I was like, I have to do something. I tapped into my local network, my community and the jobs that were very low wage were kind of like one was working on a political campaign for the mayor. Right. They weren't paying anything, but I said, well, at least I'm doing something.
And at least I'm tapping into my local network. So if I do meet somebody while I'm here, it may benefit me. I think that was probably the lowest paid job. I'm trying to think of something else, but. Ironically, when I was working that job, $8 an hour, I met another professor working for the same amount.
And this was someone who was seasoned in higher education, but could not find work, had transitioned, maybe moved and just couldn't find work. So I wasn't alone. And that experience really opened my eyes. Okay. And I remember talking to the mayor. Whose campaign I worked on and I started talking to him about employment.
I said, you know, I know a lot of people are focused on like blue collar jobs, which is great. Right. But also like the intellectual capital that can come back from those who have left this city and maybe had, degrees or what have you, what type of jobs are available for us here? And they just weren't trying to hear me so I was like, okay, I gotta create my own opportunities because you know, they have people lining their pockets for particular things to develop in the city. What I was doing was not in alignment with that. So that's kind of what led me to also start to rethink how I would develop my career. So I think that was the lowest earning. I had, and then after that, the light bulb went off and I started to reinvent myself or repurpose my career and work in industries that were not related to my degree field.
So after that I remixed my CV or resume, I would apply for positions that had nothing to do with higher education. And I was able to get my foot in the door and get some pretty decent paying in fields that were, that I had no prior experience in.
Ryan: For what industries were you getting jobs in or what industries were you applying?
Zakiya: Everything , literally everything but to narrow it down, one of the first ones was and this is so back in the day I do not recommend anybody do this, but I went on Craigslist. I don't think does Craigslist still exist? I'm not sure.
Ryan: Craigslist still exists.
Zakiya: Okay. Maybe to purchase little stuff. I don't know, but I was actually on there looking for jobs.
I don't know if people still use that as a job searching tool. And there was one job that was posted and I was like, this can't be real. 'Cause this is a major research corporation. Right? I was like, these people are not on Craigslist, even though this was what, like 12 years ago or so I still had doubts, but I applied and the job, was related to doing, being a manager for their research study.
And I didn't have a background. They wanted somebody with that specific research background, they were doing a study on drug use. and clearly I don't have , you know, I'm a religion person. Like I don't know about that, but I had the research skills. Right. And that's what I focus on in my book is the skills.
I had the skills as a researcher, because I had a PhD.
You have to have research skills. So I applied for the job anyway, and I explained it and I led with the skills that I have, not the degrees that I had. I was able to get an interview. When I, got the interview, I asked them what they needed, like, because they were an outside cooperation coming into a city to do specific research.
They didn't have the community knowledge that I. So I said, well, Hey, because of previous employment that I've had and working in similar things that aligned, right. I can provide you with this. Should I be hired? Right. I didn't say anything about a degree but I can help you along the way. They needed someone also to develop the site as far as get everything situated for the site.
From ground from the ground up, even though that has nothing to do with my degree, I can get you everything you need for your location. Now I didn't do the work for them before they hired me. I'm just letting you know everything I can do. If you want me, you get all this with me then. So that's what I teach people.
It's not just degree. You don't just say, oh, I have a degree in X, Y, and Z. Let me submit an application and hope for the best. You're not gonna get hired. Right. Cause a million other people have that same degree and are playing for their job. You have to figure out ways that you can use your skills, your talents, your connections, and everything to package, market yourself, whether it's for a job or to put yourself out there so that people come to you to know, oh, this individual is unique and they have something unique to offer.
So I ended up getting, starting in research management, which I had no background in, but then that allowed me to develop my CV in a new way. Right. And so that's the whole repurposing aspect.
Ryan: That is amazing. And what we always say is thinking of your background in a creative way, right. That's kind of how we package it and thinking about how a common one that we hear is, oh, I am just a restaurant worker. I just work in retail and I say this all the time to my guests because we have very accomplished people, like you on and I know for me, if I was listening to this podcast, I would hear this and I would say, oh, Zaki has a PhD. She's obviously much smarter than I am.
And it was easy for her to do it. And I think that's wrong, whether regardless of whether or not you have a PhD or if you're just selling, you know, $10 hamburgers at your local restaurant. The key is to just thinking of your background in a creative way to provide value exactly, as you did. And that's brilliant asking them what you, what they needed and then leveraging like hyper, local, specific knowledge that they don't have.
Zakiya: Right. I wanna say something to that because like yourself, I hear people say, oh, it made me work. 'cause you went to Columbia. And like I said, it wasn't the Columbia degree. That did this, you know, I hear a lot of pessimism sometimes and rightfully so, understandably. You know, they see the outward side world is not necessarily being favorable to them in their current situation.
So automatically they think that's just the reality. Right. But that's just not it. And honestly, I've experienced people who I admire, who don't have any degree, maybe one degree, but they actually can do better because I tell people like myself, we get so stuck in oh, I have a PhD. I must now work in that I've invested so much time effort, money.
I have to do that. Whereas I would say someone without a degree or maybe with a trade or what have you probably would have a better, you know, opportunity because they're like, I can pretty much create anything I want. They don't have those blinders on or the tunnel vision that many people with multiple degrees have that get them stuck.
And only wanting to do what they have been, you know, trained or educated to do. So if, even if you don't have a degree, I'm telling you, you probably could even do far better.
Ryan: That's a perfect segue because I was wanted to circle back to kind of what you talked about with earning your PhD, and then now working on this political campaign for the least amount of money that you've ever made.
Especially with how many degrees you've had and how educated you are at that time. And exactly what you were saying. A lot of people, they get that sunk cost fallacy. I've dumped all this really it's money and time. And I'm tens of thousands. Most people are a hundred thousand dollars that with student loan and I guess what I'm asking is how did you get over that? And what was the mindset from the, like, from your perspective, cuz it takes a lot of guts. Maybe it was simple for you, the calculus I'm living in New York and it's too expensive, but I mean, for going to, I have a. Masters from, from Columbia.
I have a PhD and now I'm gonna move back in with my mom. Like what's the mindset and the perspective of that?
Zakiya: Yeah. I mean, I just had to do what I had to do. I wasn't gonna struggle and I'm not the type of person that likes, I don't say like handouts or feels like I have to rely on other people that, oh, that's like one of the worst things for me personally, I have to figure it out.
I'm very solution based and it took an emotional toll on me to have all of this accomplishment and then have to move back. And at the time though, to put it in perspective, a lot of people who have a PhD may be a little older. I was 27. So I think maybe it wasn't probably seen as bad because I was so young, you know, that's the norm, a lot of 27 year olds, still in, at bar or have to go back home in this day and age.
But it's still on a personal level. It didn't feel good because I had been away from my mom's house since I was 17. In college, it wasn't easy but I had to find something that was gonna gimme a solution. And I think I might have stayed. I'm trying to think of how long it was. It couldn't have been more than a year.
And really I'm big on like goal setting visualization, kind of like what we call mind science, like the power of your mind. And I basically mapped out and said, I'm going to do this. I don't know how, but I'm gonna do it. And because I said that I would. You know, I started to move towards that.
Right. And I ended up going back to New York, still struggling, but everything started to unfold and align. And I ended up moving back to Florida and ended up getting my dream job as a professor. Not too long. I don't think I was in the struggle too long, but you know, there were some ebbs and flows.
It wasn't like a linear route, but it all worked out in the end.
Awesome. Thank you for sharing that. When I was reading your book, you kind of spoke about in the book about you speaking to your mom and asking her whether or not it was a good idea for you to take out more student loans. And I think, I believe it was a master's degree.
I'm pretty sure it was one of your master's degrees. And she said, and I'll quote what you wrote here. "Yeah, go ahead. You'll get a job and pay them off when you graduate." and that is exactly the advice that we hear many, many, many parents give and I always say this it's always with the best intention,
100% you only want what's best for your kid, but I think as we're seeing now, For some people, for a lot of people that may be the wrong advice and because the parents might not be as educated or informed on the different opportunities that are out there today. And for those parents that are struggling 'cause because a lot of parents are a conversation that we have all the time is that I'm doing the calculus.
I'm doing the math on sending my kids. That's the words they use sending my kid to college, not my kid taking out the student loans, but us, them taking out student loans and us taking out student loans and I'm debating on, but I just don't know if it's worth it. And I'm wondering if you had any commentary one on whether or not that was good advice by your mom?
I don't mean to, I'm not trying to throw your mom under the bus.
Zakiya: Oh no. I threw in your bus in the book. She's read the book. She's all right.
Ryan: And then how does parent now kind of talk to their children about these difficult things?
Zakiya: So I get ironically, since the book has released. I have had more like podcasts that were related to like parenting.
And I was surprised. I'm like, why are these parents wanna hear from me? And I'm first chapter is don't listen to y'all. I don't want to you know, don't listen to your parents, but interestingly enough, you know, they want to know just that, like how do they prepare their child for college and the way things are going, it seems, and I could be very wrong, but it seems like there's going to be less of an emphasis on college degrees to get a job. You see these major tech companies, Tesla, iBM. I don't know if I think Microsoft's still on the list for requiring a degree, but Google they're saying no, we want skills. There's an emphasis on skills. So I would first, research, what does my child wanna do? And does it require a degree?
There are many jobs that don't require it. So if you don't have to invest or put out, take out student loans to send someone to college. I think a lot of times too, parents don't want, and individuals themselves don't want to be seen as less intelligent. Because they don't have a degree because we've tied that to like a social status.
If you have a degree, then you know, or if you don't you're here, you're be. And I can't stand that, right. Because there are some people who are way more intelligent that don't have degrees. It's just, you don't need it for every job. Right. I was doing, I was writing today about jobs that only require an associate's degree.
And I was looking at the salaries and I was like, whoa, these salaries pay more than I was making. With a PhD right in higher ed. And I'm like how, you know, but people tie the whole prestige with a university degree at minimum of bachelor's. And a lot of times people want you to go get a graduate degree because it gives a certain status.
So I would tell parents, look, You need to weigh the opportunity cost. Is it worth the investment? If not, I would not force a child to go to go to college just because. Now, some people think that it's a valuable experience. I've even heard many, higher education experts say that undergrad is not even for getting a job.
I wish that I got that memo and that most people got that memo, but they say no, actually a bachelor's degree was set up to teach knowledge. But not for you to say, oh, I'm going to get a job in connection with this degree. It's for the experience. Most people go because they want to get a job in because jobs require it.
But yeah, so my main thing would be look at it. Do your due diligence and research, whether or not what your child is aspiring to do requires a degree. And if it does, how do you make sure that they go and get the best return on their investment? I would not recommend going to. Hundreds and thousands of dollars of student loan debt for something that's gonna pay them less than they would be making if they worked a job that didn't require the degree.
So be mindful of that.
Ryan: I wanted to kind of unpack a couple of things that you said there are at least touch on a few points with parents. You're absolutely right. They want their kids to be educated and every parent does. And what we find is that there is a major disconnect, or at least we feel at degree free.
We feel that there's a major disconnect somewhere in the past. I don't know, 50 years or so education has become synonymous with college and with the university. And it's our perspective that you can be educated without ever stepping foot on a university campus. You especially now, maybe back in the day and we're maybe a hundred years ago, the college was a place of information.
They had the most resources that you literally had to go and read books in their library. They had the laboratories, all of that. They had the infrastructure set up, but nowadays with the democratization of information, you can be an expert on anything by watching the billions of hours on YouTube and by reading, you know, and by reading books that cost $15, or I'm not suggesting this, I know that you're an author, but I'm not suggesting this, but even pirating books, like, you know, you can break the law and yeah,
I will do that.
Zakiya: Don't do that your degree.
Don't do that with your degree.
Zakiya: I feel you though. Yes.
And I think that's a big thing with parents and with the older generation we see with the younger people coming up, that they're getting that they've got that message.
Something happened where. There are like 20 year olds that we're talking to that are just like, yeah, I'm really educated. I'm making a hundred thousand dollars a year being a TikTok star. I don't need to go to college, but then their parents are like, well, You need to go to college?
I'll give you a, sorry, I don't need to go off on the rails here, but I'll give you an example. There was a professional gamer. I know his parent and the parent talks to me and we'll just call him Mike. Mike talks to me and he's like, my son, Joe is a professional gamer. He's 16 years old and he's making like $200,000 a year, but I want him to stop being so lazy and I want him to get off his butt and go to college, do something with his life.
And I looked at him and I was just like, Mike, what do you. Expect, like, why do you want him to go to college? You want him to go to college so that he can get educated and then get a good job afterwards where he makes a lot of money? Doesn't he already have that? And I think that's part of our mission is kind of just telling people that education doesn't necessarily mean college.
Zakiya: It definitely doesn't.
Ryan: And I didn't mean to hijack the conversation.
Zakiya: No, no, I totally agree. And like, I'm glad you mentioned it, you know, that's one of the first things in, my book, I talk about a guy who called into Dave Ramseys and had $300,000 in savings.
He's 16 years old and didn't wanna tell his parents because she didn't want to hear it. She wanted him to go to college. I'm like 300,000 in savings at succeed. Like I'm clearly he's doing better than his mom, but all she wanted was college. And again, I think it's tied to the social aspect. The, you know, they think that if you have a degree or if you don't have a degree, then you're not as intellectual or what have you.
And because we've looked down so long on just a high school diploma. That's meaningless, but it's definitely not. And like you said, we have information at our fingertips. I have learned more on YouTube. Then, I don't know. Now it's neck and neck with these degrees. I'm telling you, I probably learned more on YouTube than I have respectfully in each.
You know what I'm saying? Like, I don't know if maybe it combined all four of my degrees, but it's neck and neck. And the thing about it is you're learning from people and they're teaching you hands on, and then you're able to expand your knowledge in other areas too, which I love like learning from other people is just some beautiful stuff.
Like I recently, Where I live now in the Atlanta area, I saw this community that they're building, where it's entrepreneurs, artists, creatives, they're building houses and they want everybody to kind of live together. They're very pricey exp I mean, I'm sure you have to be pretty wealthy to live over there, but the whole thing is so that people can collaborate and learn from one another.
And that's the same thing. The internet, we can learn so much from each other. Like you said, we don't have to go to a university if we don't need to. Right. If you are going to be a doctor, please go to school. Okay. I need you to have certifications. Okay. But if it's something like creative or technical or things like that, we can learn from each other.
We can learn from the internet and still, you know, make a great living right. And contribute to society so.
Ryan: And I kind of wanted to switch gears here. With my job. I kind of view my job as being educated about every type of job out there from construction to tech, to independent contractors, doing you name it.
And that way I can educate other people. And so I wanted to talk about you being an author and kind of talking about your transition from, and then also a coach, your transition from academia to writing. And helping people and coaching. How did that transition take place? Was it that you were writing blog articles?
What did it look like?
Zakiya: Well, actually I'm starting to write blog articles. I. Didn't know people, like I read them, but I'm like such a person that goes to YouTube. I didn't think that they were so like still in such high demand, right. That people read them instead of going to like a YouTube, right. It's like, let me start putting information out on blogs.
But I had that transition when I was teaching. Right. So I went through that phase of not getting work, finding my dream job as a professor. And then I would see my students who were brilliant and they would go out and they would still have to work low wage jobs. So they were experiencing the same challenges I had and I was like, okay, this I can't.
So I started to do workshops with them. I said, look, I know I'm just your religion professor teaching you about Buddhism or Hinduism or whatever, but let me pull you to the side and ask you about your career aspirations. I would even start my classes off with, Hey, does anybody have their own like side hustle or business?
And if you do come up to the whiteboard and put your social media on there, or how can we, you know, cuz I wanted people to really start thinking about what a career looks like and how to develop it while you're still learning. Right? Don't just think that because you have this degree, when you graduate, it's gonna be, you know, you gonna get a job.
How can you start building that now? So with the I was doing one on one and I would have like mentees, but not officially. Right. I would just work with a few that kind of stuck out to me or would connect with me, you know, how you were in college. Well, you said you just went to school and went home, but some students , you know, develop relationships with their professors if they, help 'em out.
So I had a few that would just be like Dr. Z, you know, can I help you with anything? Or what have you? I had some business majors different that had different backgrounds. And we would talk about career paths. And my mom would joke with me because I'm be honest. Some of them were graduating with an undergrad degree and getting higher job, higher paying jobs than I was making as a professor.
And my mom was like, how you, your mentees are making more to you, you know? But I loved that. Right. I wasn't hating, I loved it. I loved that they were able to do something I wish I could have done, which. Not get all these degrees and accumulate all this student loan debt and still work and earn a great living.
So that's kind of where it unfold us. Like, okay, let me write this down. So that's where the book came from with me, just wanting to give basic advice that people can digest. Or initially, before I started writing this version, I had another version. When I read it back to myself, I felt like I was talking to other academics, right?
Like professors PhD. And I didn't want to have my tone come across that way. I wanted it to be relatable where a current college student, or even a high school student or a recent grad could pick it up and they could understand that I'm just giving you advice on how to kind of navigate higher education or your career and rethink some things.
So that's where I am now. And like I told you before, because I love. I kind of look at the coaching, like teaching, just sharing information, helping you develop, helping you, map out the career path and see what you're passionate about, how you can make money from it. So that's pretty much how I transition into it.
Ryan: You kind of mentioned about not wishing that you went back. I didn wanna formally ask if you had to do it over again, the same way would you? Or what would you do different?
Zakiya: No, I probably would not. No, I definitely wouldn't if I did go back because I am, I don't know why I'm just so intrigued by culture and like different understanding different people's religious or spiritual traditions.
But again, you can learn that on YouTube, you can read books you can actually travel the world, the money that you spend in student loans to go get those degrees. You can travel the world and live with those cultures and learn hands on . So that's what I would do differently. I probably would've stopped at undergrad degree.
I do see some value in my undergrad more, so not the degree itself, but the experience that I had. I did enjoy that and I'm gonna be honest, the experiences I had in grad school, at Columbia, the kind of network that I built, not necessarily through the school, but just the friends that I had living in New York.
I think going to grad school helped me do something that I had long dream to do, which was to live in New York and all that kind of stuff. Again, you could do that without having to go to grad school. So I would probably just shift those things, shift my mindset to, you don't need all of these degrees. If you do at least have the money to pay for them cash.
'Cause I did get scholarships, but they weren't enough to cover New York City living expenses. So I would not have gotten it or I would have waited to where I could afford it. I would not recommend anybody get student loans, unless it's for something that, you know you need it for like medical school, maybe law school, but just to get it to go major in basket weaving.
No, it's not worth it. don't do that. And so that's what I would do differently.
Ryan: I don't mean to laugh at those basket weave majors out there, people. Sorry. And, it makes me think of an extra neighbor I had at one time she was an equestrian major. Riding horses.
Zakiya: Wait, I'm sorry that's my ignorance. They have equestrian majors?
Ryan: They have equestrian majors and I, I was just like you girl. you are in a world. You are gonna be in a world of hurt and, Long story short. If few, I can tell you how it ended, cuz she's not riding horses for a living
Zakiya: and you don't have to pay to do that. I just went riding horses a month ago and where I live, there are many horses. I love horses. I would not spend money. And I don't mean to talk, I don't laugh at your neighbor, but seriously. And I I'm saying this to say, people don't realize college is a business. I don't wanna say they don't care, but they're in it for the money.
You know, so they can create these bogus majors that will not give you a return on investment, and they're still gonna get paid. You have to do your homework and no don't waste your time, your money in something that's not gonna give you a return.
Ryan: Yeah. And that's something that we get a lot of pushback on.
We say that all the time, that college is a business, even though, and people get caught up in the nonprofit status, that like they're no and they think that it's all. They're there to basically, I don't know, administer rainbows and, unicorn horns and everything like that but at the end of the day, it's the one of the biggest business.
It is the largest business student loan debt is the largest business in the United States and when you view it in that scope when you view it like that, it's very obvious, but it's just that they're protected with their 501 C3 Status or whatever, you know, the nonprofit status is. And the last question that I wanted to ask you, just because you are so accomplished and you are so credentialed. I did wanna say, ask if somebody wanted to be a professor without a degree, they wanted to, we get this a lot. People want to teach at universities. They want to go the academic route, but they don't want to go into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt.
They see the road laid out before them and they're just like, that's not for me. Is there a way. That you could become a professor without a college degree. Are you that you're aware of?
Zakiya: So interesting I mentioned, I'm a homeschool mom. My son just picked a book. I loved the library. First of all, please, you all go to your local library, support them, check out books or whatever.
You can learn everything there too. He just picked out a book about a children's book, but it was about a now I hope I'm saying it properly now, who a woman from the background who wanted to preserve her culture and because of the Spanish and the whole history, whatever she wanted to kind of like be in opposition to the westernization of her culture.
So she made it, made an effort to keep the language intact, the clothing, the food and everything. And then eventually she got asked to work in the universities as a teacher with the anthropologist. So is it possible? Sure. Very hard, very rare. It would be some unique circumstance, like maybe a creative, right?
Like an artist, musician, acting. I've seen it more so in those things, but then also in the areas of like anthropology where someone might- like that example that I just gave related to culture where that is something that is can only be taught by individuals. Who've had that life experience, but just basic, oh, I wanna be a mathematician.
Can I go or medical? Like those things? No, that's so hard to do. I'm not gonna say's holy impossible. I would probably say less than 1% chance. I don't know but those are the only things that I've seen where it's been more so related to culture or art, and then that person is probably well within their, like art many years, they're older, you know, that type of thing so.
Ryan: So just kind of synthesize or summarize that, I guess it would just be whatever it is that you would like to teach. Whether, and especially in the culture \ or anthropology go and do it and be the best of the world at it.
Zakiya: Yeah. And then I don't even like with anthropology, like I said, it's been so rare and I haven't seen it where they're like a full time professor.
They're usually like some type of guest lecturer that comes and teaches a specific course or something. The red tape that comes with getting into higher education and teaching, getting tenure and actually earning a good living. Even with those, with PhDs, still find it very challenging. So I'm not to be pessimistic, and also I've seen people teach, make more money and have a wider audience teaching what they know on YouTube or a blog then in a classroom.
Ryan: And two final questions that we ask everybody. The first one is. Do you, with your coaching business and with resources to be an author, are there any like books or resources out there that you suggest that people read a lot? Obviously Dump Your Degree. That's number one on the list. number one, obviously.
And then after that,
Zakiya: so I would say, and actually someone just had me, I don't know if I'm advertising for them. Shepherd.com just had me create a list of the top five books that I would recommend for, to manage, your or to navigate higher education and manage your finances after you graduate. So, one of the books on my list is you are a badass at making money.
That's just a personal favorite of mine because I like the approach. I'm big on mindset. I know that book is more so I guess, marketed towards maybe millennial women or a little bit, older or whatever women, but I find, I think it's valuable. You said, what else any books or resources related to what now?
Ryan: Any books or, resources related to anything that you do really, whether it's furthering your career or whether it's being, how you could get, be a better author, anything like that.
Zakiya: So I do that and then I take courses I'm big on taking like courses from individuals. So what I did to, I guess, develop my skills as an author, I took courses by Dave Chilton, I think that's his name, on how to basically brand and market yourself as an author and just joining organizations. Actually, I am a member of the independent book, publishers association, connecting with other independent authors. I'm a part of the writer's group at my library. I'm big on like tapping into resources, local resources at your library because they have a wealth of resources and knowledge there.
And just I'm an avid reader. Primarily, I would say this is for not just being an author but in general, I love to read books on like mindset and the power of the mind. So, anything from like Joseph Murphy and, who else? I read things like on with, from Neville Goddard just like the power of like Shaping Your Mind.
Right. And so that you can be encouraged to do and go after anything you set your mind to.
Ryan: Awesome. Excellent. Excellent.
Zakiya: Thank you very much. And for everybody listening, we'll have all of that in the show notes degree, free.co/podcast, and last but not least. Zakiya, where can I send people to find more out about you?
Yeah. So you can go to Zakiyaakerele.com I also have dumpyourdegree.com which I'm developing and expanding or initially it was more so just to sell the book, but I'm putting more on content and information there and TikTok. I hope they fixed this algorithm situation everybody's been complaining about, but I'm new on TikTok.
So if you would like to join, I do give information about like what I talk about in my book and other insights. I'm Zakiya Akerele there. So Zakiya Akerele on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. I have an author page there.
Ryan: Excellent. Excellent. And once again, everybody will have links to all of that in the show notes.
Thank you so much. Zaki for making the time. This was, very actionable. And I think a lot of people are gonna get a lot of advice out of this.
Zakiya: Thank you. I appreciate it. And I enjoyed our conversation. Yeah.
Ryan: And if you ever want, there's a lot more that I haven't asked you about, and if we ever, wanna do a round two, you're definitely welcome.
Zakiya: Oh, thank you.
Ryan: Alright, until next time. Bye. Bye.
How was that guys? I hope you got as much out of it as I did. Hopefully you got a lot of actionable advice that you can use on your own career path. As I said, at the end, there you can find links to everything that we're talking about at degreefree.co/podcast links to everything will be there.
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