College--not always the next step for some
April 26, 2005
"I think everybody finds a different way around the barn to the pasture," said Mark Biggs, associate professor of media, journalism and film at Southwest Missouri State University. He was referring to a recurring theme at a SMSU public affairs conference held recently--that of skipping college and the college experience to pursue a dream that does not necessarily require a college degree.

Living examples of this concept are Lucas Grabeel and Michael Anthony Brown, both 20 from Springfield, who relocated to Los Angeles after graduating from Kickapoo High School to pursue their dreams in the film industry. Two out of the more than 30 different presenters over a three day period, they led a discussion, "Young and in Hollywood: Road to Filmmaking Success."

“I basically turned high school into my own sort of college,” said Brown. “I would study at home, editing on my off time and even when I was supposed to be doing school work.”

Brown admitted that he didn't have anything against college but that he was willing to take the chance that he could become successful on his own. And he was willing to accept the fact that if things didn't work out that he could go back to college to prepare for something else.

"I think that any education, any place that you could ever go to school, you get a good foundation but that’s as far as you can get. It’s just a foundation; you can’t go straight out of school and then say, ‘Hi Warner Brothers, I want to cut your feature film.’ That doesn’t happen.”

Proving that specific education pays off, after attending a private editing school, Brown landed a job with a post-production company that works on cable channel documentaries.

Grabeel who knew in sixth grade that he wanted to be an actor agreed that college wasn't for him. "I think college is an important thing for most people, but, I think, for me college was something that was going to hold me back for four years,” he said.

The budding actor, who so far has been cast in three commercials, a Disney Channel movie and a pilot for the WB network, said, "I learned more in the first year that I was out there [Los Angeles] than I did in all my years of high school."

Grabeel also admitted that most people don't go out to Los Angeles and become successful in a matter of two years like they were.

When asked afterwards if they would advocate the “safer route” of earning a formal degree or just taking the plunge, Brown said that he thought it was more of a personal choice and that he spent a lot of time thinking about what he wanted before he made the decision to pass on a four-year program.

Biggs, who coordinates the electronic arts program at SMSU, took the more conservative route. “It is really unusual to just go out there as a college student or out of high school and find a job,” he said. “In my opinion the odds are greater if you have a degree and a basic understanding of the particular art form or trade, depending on what you want to do. A college degree gives you four additional years to network, four additional years to learn a skill, and it gives you four additional years to mature.”

Brown noted during his discussion that it is all about whom you know in the business. “You either know somebody or you have a certain skill that makes you employable,” Biggs conceded.

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