As summer comes to a close, recent high school grads return from trips abroad, put in those last hours at the local Dairy Queen and finish up their reading lists. They pack boxes and the trunks of SUVs, waiting for the stickiest weeks of the year to move into their new homes in their freshman dorm rooms. College is seemingly the next step for the American middle class, but with sky-high costs and a slow job market for graduates, it is arguable that college degrees are becoming obsolete. Is higher education to be valued for educational purposes alone or is the ending salary the only prize? Would you have gone to college if it meant sacrificing a lucrative career? Most, like young actresses, choose to forego school.

Natalie Portman notes her college years as the formative influence on her seamless transition from child actor to Oscar-winning leading lady. Why do more and more tend to opt for the Lindsay Lohan ("Hollywood is my college”) approach over Portman’s? Money, attention, fame, laziness, partying, whatever the reason, the young crowd is not flocking to freshman dorms. Emma Watson followed in the footsteps of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, leaving Brown as they left NYU before finishing. Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift both earned high school diplomas through home schooling. Kristen Stewart and Emma Stone never earned their GED, moving straight to Los Angeles to pursue their passion.

It is Dakota Fanning, who has an impressively cushioned resume and the most talent of the lot, who maintains an interest in education. She graduated from her North Hollywood high school in 2011 after being named Homecoming queen in the previous fall semester. She now attends NYU. Do we have the next Natalie Portman on our hands? Much like Portman, Fanning is a unique and highly skilled actress, exuding profound maturity at a young age (she was five when she improvised her role alongside Sean Penn in I Am Sam). If she manages to stay grounded by distancing herself from for a few years and still be able to work thanks to her New York base, Fanning will surely land her own Oscar-winning role before she’s 30. It will be interesting to see if Fanning makes it all four years and if it will ever be cool to stay in school.

Image: Casey Steele/ WireImage

Annie Howard (@RTNowRadio) for Cumulus Media © 2012

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