What do Ty Warner, Bill Bartman, Ralph Lauren, Ray Kroc, Wally Amos, Steve Madden and Sim Abraham have in common? Besides being successful business men none of them have college degrees. If you have not heard of them you should google them. Their stories are impressive. We all know the stories of Mark Zuckerburg and Steve Jobs dropping out of school to found Facebook and Apple but there are thousands of examples of unbelievably successful individuals who did not graduate college.
As student loan debt has dramatically swelled to over $1.4 Trillion I have been forced to wonder if college is even worth it. Having almost paid off my student loan debt and preparing to have 3 kids that will reach college age over the next 7 years I have been wondering if college is truly worth the investment. I was the first male in my family to graduate from college. I was under the impression that getting a degree was the only way to have the type of success that I dreamed of as a kid. If I could go back in time would I make a different decision?
Before I get lots of hate mail let me say that I value and appreciate the educational experience and opportunity that I received and this is not meant to be a judgement for or against college. What I hope this will do is get people to think before they make the investment (ie student loan and subsequent payment) for something they may or may not need.
Let’s start by talking about costs!
Today in 2017 the average cost of a year of school at a private college is almost $50,000*. That means that it will cost you around $200,000 to receive your degree assuming you or your child finish school in 4 years. For some perspective the median price for a home in the United States this month is $228,400. So what you are going to pay for your child to go to college you could almost buy them a house.
For a child born this year they will pay almost $500,000 to go to a private college, assuming a 5% inflation rate on the costs of college. This is probably a conservative estimate but you get the point college is a very expensive investment. This isn’t a new phenomenon but in a world where peoples’ earnings have not grown at a very significant rate over the past 15 years it makes the ever increasing costs of college hard to keep up with. That leads to ever increasing amounts of student debts.
Now I know that there are cheaper options like starting in community college and then transferring or going to an in-state university. While those options are less expensive they have also seen, their costs increase significantly over the past 20 years. College is expensive and getting more expensive every year.
Who should go to college?
There are some obvious individuals that should attend college. High School students that want to become scientists, teachers, engineers, doctors, or any other profession that requires a significantly advanced understanding of a technical subject. I do not want the men building the bridges I drive over or the women operating on me and my loved ones learning on the job.
For far too many individuals though colleges are teaching much of the subject matter that should be covered in our high school curriculum. If you look at the educational system in many foreign nations, like South Korea for example, you will see that we are woefully behind in teaching and preparing our high school students. This leads to many of them having to spend much of their college years learning the stuff they should have been taught in high school.
The next group of people that should go to college are those that have been accepted into the “elite” Universities. The connections that a student garners at a school like Harvard cannot be matched at such a young age without being from a wealthy and well connected family. Also, being a student at an “elite” university has its advantages. Most of the early employees at Facebook came from being friends with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard. They just happened to be lucky enough to be in Zuckerberg’s dorm, class, or fraternity. That sort of thing happens regularly at elite Universities across the country. Doesn’t mean every idea or connection is going to turn into Facebook but the connections you make and education you receive there can help you rise the socio-economic ladder faster than if you went to whatever directional state university you may attend.
We as a society, for the last several generations have been brainwashed into thinking that going to college was the only way to be successful in this country. Decades ago the only people that went to college were scientists and the clergy. Now college diplomas have become the equivalency of a high school diploma. As by some miracle finishing college was going to open the doors to the world and hand you all the success you think you deserve. Entitlement is a completely different topic of conversation but not for this piece. College is not the end all and be all of success. In some professions, it is mandatory and in some cases, it is not worth the paper it is printed on. It is too bad that most young people are not able to walk into places with a high school diploma and get a good job.
Where do we go from here?
Before multiple generations become so saddled with an unmanageable burden of student debt for their art history or philosophy or business degrees that will not lead them to or truly prepare them for a job in the future we need to rethink the higher education process. I would love to see entrepreneurship and personal finance become a part of the national high school curriculum. I’d love to see a bigger focus on STEM and a trade development program with community colleges and high schools that prepare kids for the jobs of the future in robotics, Artificial Intelligence, and computer coding.
I had a wonderful college experience and am not saying people should not want to go to college to continue learning and improving themselves and the world around them. The college experience is one of the few places where the effort you put into it leads to results on the other side. That is why I am challenging the preconceived notion that everyone should go to college and that college is the only path to success in this country. Many people would be better served waiting or going to a technical school or learning a trade instead of taking on a $100,000 in debt to earn a degree they are ill prepared to receive.
This is the first in a series of pieces that I am writing about the issues facing parents and college students from cutting college costs to maximizing your financial aid.
*According to survey done by Collegedata.com
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.