I’m irked every time I hear the phrase, “You just have to do it!” There’s no explanation, no reason, you just have to do. Everyone’s doing it! It’s an institution! You would be crazy not to do it! Well, excuse me for bucking the trends, but I think it’s crazy to do something without a good reason and that’s usually the type of thing preceded by, “You just have to do it!”
One of these things that you simply have to do—no ands, ifs or buts about it—is higher education. Of course, there are good reasons to go to college. A bachelor-level degree nowadays is vital to a successful career in just about any field, they will say. It’s easy to get, they’ll say. You can do accredited part time business degree courses over time, if you want, they say. It is “a career necessity in today’s business world,” says the redundant sounding University of Maryland University College. In my personal experience, there really was no question. My siblings and I were always destined to go to college, the only question was what school we were going to attend and what major. Why? Because you have to go to college to make something out of yourself.
Sure the major course of study is important, but I’ve heard from proponents of college that the coursework is secondary and, first and foremost, you learn “how to learn.” You learn how to interact with others and you learn how to live on your own. You also develop connections and networks that will last a lifetime. Plus, a university degree just looks good on a resume.
And the arguments for a college education aren’t strictly touchy-feely concepts. The higher education industry has tried to show how valuable their product is over and over again. Some studies show that a college graduate will earn $900,000 more over his life than a high school grad. That’s the equivalent of seven pre-owned Bentley automobiles, 300,000 bags of Doritos, or one ticket to a Barack Obama fundraiser. In other words, it’s not something to sneeze at.
But is it worth it? The proponents of college education remind me of proponents of government programs. They only talk about the good that comes from them—you get this that and the other thing—without describing the costs associated. Sure, government provides you with a road, but what you haven’t heard is that they pump up gas taxes and confiscated Aunt Mildred’s house in order to provide you with that road.
College is the same. Sure, a college-educated person is better suited for the job market than a high school-educated person, but what about the tens of thousands of dollars and four years (or six) that it took to get him to that position? Yes, there are benefits to going to college, but you can achieve those benefits without going to college and you can also avoid the heavy costs associated with the endeavor.
In 2010, college graduates made an average salary of $27,000, down 10 percent from the previous year. That may seem like a lot compared to the sub-$20,000 income of recent high school grads, but is that enough to make up for all the cost?
First and foremost is the cost of going to school. Tuition ranges from under ten grand a year to well over $30,000, but the average is about $20,000 per year. That puts the typical 4-year college bill at $80,000—a lot of turkey. And that’s just the real cost in going to school—not the opportunity costs. Since the students aren’t working for four years or more while they’re at school, that means that they’re missing out on around the same amount of money they spent coming back to them in the form of wages. So, after four years, the college grad is down 80 grand, while the high school grad is up $80,000 making the differential $160,000.
That’s not to mention the debt incurred over that time. A recent study showed that those college grads have incurred an average of $24,000 of debt. With interest, the total amount paid will typically exceed $30,000. High school grads typically don’t have that much debt weighing them down and if they took money that would otherwise have been spent paying down school loans, after the college kid finished paying off his loans in 11 years, the high school grad would have accumulated over $33,000, putting him in a much better position by the time the college student he gets back to debt-free. Plus, without school loans to pay off, high school students have a lot more freedom to get a job they enjoy in a promising field as opposed to something that will pay well immediately but may not lead to anything promising.
From a strictly financial standpoint, it makes more sense to skip school, but that assumes you can even get a job with just a high school diploma. Aren’t jobs in general hard to get? And aren’t the ones the high school grads can get the bottom of the barrel?
Freelance websites like 99 Designs and Elance provide forums in which you can provide your services and skills to the highest bidder regardless of your education. There, the customers focus on what’s in the designer/programmer’s portfolio, not what’s hanging up on his wall.
There are plenty of other professions that don’t require a college degree as well. You could get into sales (Median Salary $58,710), casino gaming (Median Salary $62,820), real estate (Median Salary $58,720), or the police (Median Salary $53,990). When all else fails, you can write like me and possibly bring home a median salary of $48,640. There are plenty of career paths that don’t require that initial 4-6 years of undergraduate education, you just need to deflect the constant browbeating by the populace portraying college as absolutely vital. Bill Gates, the world’s richest man, Steve Jobs, founder of Apple Electronics Company, actor Harrison Ford, architect and inventor Buckminster Fuller, and countless others didn’t let the pro-college drum beat intimidate them. They either left school before getting a degree or didn’t go at all and went on to change the world. That’s why Peter Thiel, founder of PayPal, encourages college-age students to skip the institution. He offers a $100,000 grant for entrepreneurial young people under one condition: they don’t go to college.
You can do some incredibly important things without a college degree and your personal finances will look better as well.
For ways to combat the madness, check out:
Here’s an interesting documentary regarding the higher education bubble and scam: