It's a tenet of American culture: earn decent grades, get into a respectable college, land a good job, and live happily ever after. So, what happens when a promising career—not to mention a big paycheck—precedes a college degree?

The booming internet economy has altered the traditional tenet, as plenty of teen-agers with highly sought computer skills are skipping school altogether—or at least deferring it for a few years. The trend is forcing educators to rethink


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