Hard to believe, but just a few years ago commencement ceremonies were hot-ticket events for Hollywood paparazzi. Back then a cadre of studious starlets like Maggie Gyllenhaal (Columbia, Class of ’99), Natalie Portman (Harvard, Class of ’03) and Julia Stiles (Columbia, Class of ’05) put their careers on hold in pursuit of college degrees.
But young Hollywood’s newest crop of It Girls are a decidedly less academic crowd, fonder of hitting the clubs than hitting the books. Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson are both high school dropouts. Punky pop star Avril Lavigne ditched her Ontario high school in the 11 th grade after landing a recording contract with Arista Records, a subsidiary of Sony BMG.
Some celebrities withdraw from college as their careers heat up. That’s what American Idol finalist Katherine McPhee did in 2005 following 18 months studying at the Boston Conservatory. “As long as the entertainment business keeps calling, she will not be returning to college,” says her spokesman from RCA Records. 7th Heaven star Jessica Biel pulled out of Tufts University after just three semesters. And Nicole Richie left the University of Arizona after two years.
Celebrities skipping college is hardly a new phenomena in Hollywood. A-list kingpins like Cameron Diaz, Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise never attended college, and yet remain some of the industry’s highest-paid actors.
But for today’s celebrity twentysomethings, education, or lack thereof, seems to be symptomatic of a larger problem of responsibility and neglect. “We see them partying all the time and going to clubs, and it worries parents and educators,” observes Kerry Ferris, professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University.
Linday Lohan, 20, and Britney Spears, 25--both high school dropouts--have done time in rehab facilities for alcohol abuse. (Calls to both their publicists to find out whether GEDs were obtained went unreturned.) Hilton and her Simple Life co-star Nicole Richie were both busted for driving under the influence.
Last year, a joint poll between AOL and the Associated Press named Spears and Hilton the “Worst Celebrity Role Models”. In February, Newsweek ran a cover photo of Spears and Hilton headlined, “Girls Gone Wild.” “Are we raising a generation of prosti-tots?”