College is a bad idea for most young people. A half century ago this wasn’t the case. We had a great education system. College was affordable. The bright and passionate kids pursued higher education because they wanted to learn. They wanted to be exposed to new ideas. They wanted to understand the world they lived in. They wanted a true education and they had high hopes in taking lucrative and fulfilling positions in some of the most reputable businesses out there.
College had a good return on investment.
Today, the cost of college is outrageous. And graduating (if it happens) doesn’t come with the worthwhile rewards and benefits as it once did. In other words — the return on investment is awful.
Right now, college student loan debt has surpassed auto loan debt and credit card debt, becoming the second biggest source of personal debt. Now, couple this daunting reality with the fact that 85% of college grads will return home jobless or underemployed — I think it’s hard to deny the impending disaster, right?
Academia is in a massive bubble and it’s ready to bust.
Little Bobby gets accepted into one of these universities. First time on his own. He makes friends and hangs with other young people who are in the same boat. They party it up, drink themselves silly, go to class hungover. And maybe, overcoming the fact that nearly half of all college students drop out before graduating, little Bobby prevails and passes by the skin of his teeth.
He now enters the shitty job field. With little life or work experience, he has a hard time finding a quality job. And with $45,000 of debt lagging behind him, he is forced to take a step back and move back into his parent’s house. Bobby settles for an entry-level job that doesn’t require a college degree. Of course, this dilemma leaves him riddled with anxiety and stress and he falls into a state of hopelessness, leaving his dreams floundering in the abyss of despair.
This is the situation in today’s America.
Why is college tuition so expensive?
The average cost of tuition and fees at a private, non-profit, four-year university is around $32,400 — up sharply from $1,832 in 1971–1972 (in current dollars). Just in the last 5 years alone, tuition has jumped a whopping 24%.
If we look back in recent history we’d see that college tuition started its steep incline around the time that the federal government started meddling in higher education. Prices jumped drastically when the government started subsidizing universities via government loans.
As Mises Institute’s Ryan McMaken recently pointed out:
“ The government subsidies to students have lowered the perceived cost of attending college. This, in turn, allows a larger number of students to pay the ever-increasing tuition bills. Put another way, the inelasticity of demand for a college education has increased significantly thanks to the fact that students can now just go get a low-interest unsecured student loan rather than have to save the money to use a high-interest private-sector loan.
Without these loans, students would be far more sensitive to increases in the cost of education, and colleges would have to find ways to cut costs in order to remain competitive in terms of pricing. With a nearly endless stream of government loans, however, colleges need never have to worry about cutting costs. Government subsidies will simply make up the difference, and price-sensitive students will go to college anyway. The downside comes later when students must then pay off large loans.”
Does a college degree make you more successful?
Universities, with their extravagant marketing schemes, have peddled the misguided notion that those with a college degree make more money during their lifetime than those who don’t have a college degree. This statistic is misleading, to say the least. It’s based on looking back at a time when having a college degree was very rare and therefore more valuable.
Today, 70 percent of High School grads attend college, making it extremely difficult to differentiate oneself in the job field. Everyone has a degree. What makes you unique?
A lot of these students pursue a Master’s degree, thinking that’s the answer. Now they’re taking on more debt while delaying, yet again, the potential money and experience they could be earning in the real world.
Also, the flawed “have a college degree make more money” numbers are derived from surveying intelligent young people who yearn to go to college and really get an education. And it’s comparing these people to the sometimes homeless, drug addicts, and ones with little or no ambition to better their lives. It’s comparing Doctors and Lawyers to people who refuse to work or learn a trade, so of course the numbers are going to be skewed.
The folks who attend college and attain a degree would likely be financial winners with or without college. So it’s not necessarily that “college” is the reason for their financial success, it’s the fact they were motivated and more driven from the get go.
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs and artists out there, including Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Tom Hanks, James Cameron, Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, Zuckerberg and Oprah to name a few, are college dropouts. To these folks, college was an obstacle in the way of their future success. So they avoided it, pursued the unconventional route, took some risks and worked their ass off. The rest is history.
Is Higher Education really educational?
A recent book published called “Academy Adrift”, shockingly revealed that based on student surveys and transcript analysis, college kids are not being educated.
A study showed that 45% of students showed no real improvement in learning after 2 years of college. 36% of students showed no real improvement in learning after 4 years in college. And the ones who did show a slight improvement wasn’t significant enough to write home about.
Another contributing factor could be that professors at these universities aren’t hired based on their teaching abilities. They’re hired based on how much research dollars they can bring in to the school.
The staff is not teaching like they used to.
An article published today at the Foundation of Economic Education noted that “44% of faculty spend nine hours or more per week teaching, down from 63% twenty years ago.”
In other words, you’re learning less and paying more.
Most students are just going through the motions, drifting around academia, green to the world, unable to find their true calling. And unfortunately, they’re not that much smarter after they graduate.
What’s the Alternative?
It’s a new world. It’s a new economy. Great companies are looking for people with world experience. They’re looking for people who have a record of success, ones who took it on the chin a few times and are up still battling, ready to go.
Companies are looking for individuals who have people skills and who can persuasively and intelligently interact with their fellow man. These are the things not taught in colleges across the land. This is learned by getting out there and getting your hands dirty. It’s cultivated from being out on your own and failing a few times and still having the guts to push through.
As pointed out in a great article over at startupcamp.com, many of today’s great companies are hiring off of 3 important variables:
1. Experience — How long have they been in the business? Who do they know? What companies have they worked for? And most importantly, how much success have they had? Which leads us into number #2.
2. Portfolio — What proof of results can they show? Do they have solid endorsements or references from the past? What are their previous projects or successes and why? Who have they worked with and how did that turn out?
3. Personal — Do they fit the culture of the company? Are they approachable, responsible, punctual, and have integrity? Can they communicate well? Is their appearance and personal brand mesh with the company’s environment?
One of the most prolific things young people can do as an effective alternative to college is volunteering as an apprentice in one of the many brilliant start-up companies out there. Find a mentor, learn the business by showing up everyday and throwing yourself into it. Find the best creators and leaders out there and shadow them.
Entrepreneurship is learned by utilizing what you love, taking risks and failing a lot. College does not teach this. Practicality is key for future success. Having a little skin in the game earlier will have long term benefits. It’ll also build the confidence that is needed to achieve future success in whatever field you choose to go after.
Another good idea for young people is to learn a trade. America’s infrastructure needs a lot of work. The demand for Healthcare will be there for decades. The trucking industry is always looking for drivers.
The demand for high paying trade jobs are there. Even if you don’t want one of these trades as a lifelong career, it’s a good way to get a well-paid job while still searching for your calling. And if you decide later on that college is the way to go you’ll be able to pluck away at with the money you’ve made instead of going into soul-sucking debt. It’ll give you a little experience, a little know-how, and some loot to give you a comfortable stepping stone for the future.
Another great alternative to college is becoming an autodictate. Learning on your own. Being a self-taught, highly educated person. With the miracle of the internet and the virtues of the free-market, you can now obtain an education — matching that of any university — for almost free. You can find a lecture or an explanation on almost any subject out there on Youtube. Khan Academy offers incredible classes on a vast array of subjects for free. The Great Courses offers brilliant lectures taught by some of the best professors out there on damn near anything you want to learn about. And it’s only $20 a month.
Or maybe you’re a creator and your passion is art. With Social Media in the palm of your hands, it’s never been easier to promote or share your creative works. In an instance, your paintings or photography or whatever, can be seen by thousands if not millions in one day. Build a brand, hone your craft, learn everything about it, and pursue it like you’d pursue a lake if your hair was on fire. It’s the greatest era ever to be an artist, to offer unique ideas, to create beauty, to showcase things unseen and share it with the world.
I’m not saying everyone should skip college. A college degree is a “must have” for some people. Of course, there are instances where your career specialty absolutely needs a college degree. Go for it. But for the great many, it’s just not a good idea. At least right out of High-School. Too many good-intentioned young folks are starting the prime of their lives drowning in a sea of debt with little hopes for a fulfilling career.
The educational system has screwed them.
What we must realize is that in today’s world, successful people are those who bring value to other people’s lives. Before you can add value to society, you have to be aware of who you are and what your potentials are. These things aren’t found in the parochial halls of academia. They’re found in going toe-to-toe with the real world.
As the great Einstein reminds us, “Try not to become a man of success. Rather become a man of value.”
Find what you love and get a head start.