The other day I had ANOTHER conversation about the merits of college.
I was riding in a car with a group of friends on our way to a BBQ when one of them brought up college debt. It seems you can’t go far these days without finding someone struggling to make student loan payments.
They mentioned how one of their buddies is in a really bad spot – loaded with debt and in a bad job that doesn’t pay much.
He then mentioned two other people he knows that went to high-end private universities. They earned degrees in different concentrations, but neither continued to pursue those career tracks. They are both working as a nanny.
Not exactly making use of that highly sought-after college degree…
As we continued this conversation I had the realization that I’ve been having this conversation more and more. People are waking up to the idea that the value of a college education is diminishing.
It doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable at all. For some careers it’s an absolute necessity. But for many, it doesn’t have to be the way to a better life.
CALLING FOR CHANGE TO EDUCATION
There are a lot of top minds currently calling for major reform to the American educational system.
Names like Elon Musk, Peter Diamandis, Gary Vaynerchuk, Seth Godin, Bill Gates, and more are calling for major reform, and some have begun to take matters into their own hands.
Elon Musk started his own private school for gifted kids called Ad Astra (X-Men reference? Haha), where they help to cultivate the brightest minds. It’s pretty amazing.
Peter Diamandis wrote an in-depth article called “Reinventing How We Teach Our Kids” about the coming changes that are happening (not fast enough) to the educational system. Anyone with children should read it.
One of the main reasons these individuals believe change is needed is because we are still sending kids through a system that was predominantly created in order to generate factory workers, developed during the industrial-age. The system does little to breed creativity, innovation, or foster entrepreneurship.
Seth Godin gave an incredible Ted Talk about this.
REASONS NOT TO SEND YOUR KIDS TO COLLEGE
So, as I sat there discussing this with my friends, I found myself rattling off reasons why people should consider NOT going to college. Or, at least delay starting your advanced education until you have a better grip on what you are planning to do.
Here is that list of thoughts and ideas around this.
One of the biggest issues with going to college is the rising tuition costs that are causing millions of graduates to take out massive amounts of debt.
Because of issues with job placement and the labor market, the default rates on student loans is climbing. More than 1 Million borrowers per year go into default. And it is estimated that by 2023, nearly 40 percent of borrowers are expected to default on their student loans.
Clearly, people are having difficulties paying for their dead loads.
I know, everyone’s kids are different and would never fall into this category. But for nearly a third of those entering into college, they will never finish their degree.
But they still are stuck with the debt they built up in the years they were going.
So, big debt load and still no diploma to increase your human capital. Not a very good equation…
KIDS DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY WANT TO DO
This isn’t exactly a reason not to go at all, but it is definitely a strong reason to delay going into college – or, at least begin at a community college where you can get a lot of prerequisites out of the way at a much lower cost.
In my opinion, it just isn’t reasonable to expect an 18-year-old kid to know what they want to do for the rest of their life.
Things have changed with the advent of the internet, but most kids at such a young age don’t even know what career opportunities are available to them.
If your kid rushes off to college without have a strong conviction about a particular major, they could spend a lot of time and money studying one subject matter only to find out they have little-to-no interest in it.
80% of American college students change their major at least once, and the average for all students is 3 times during a 4-year degree.
NO MEANINGFUL PROGRESS IN FIRST 2 YEARS
In a book titled “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roska documented studies they performed on the advancement of students in the first two years of college.
What they found was that for “At least 45% of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) performance during the first two years of college.”
They also noted that in further studies, they found that 36% of students did not show any significant improvement over four years.
What this study shows us is that there is a legitimate chance your child won’t even make any true advancement in their education while attending college, especially in the first 2 years.
This ties back to my earlier point about attending community colleges to start.
TRADE/VOCATIONAL SCHOOL OPTION
There is a big demand for skilled workers in good-paying jobs like Electricians, Carpenters/Joiners, Welders, and more. Estimates as high as 3 Million+ jobs are available, and these aren’t low-paying jobs. People can make a good living in these industries.
And you can go through the training in a fraction of the time, and for a fraction of the cost of a college degree.
Also, let’s be real – some people are just better suited for these types of jobs. I know plenty of friends from HS who had ZERO interest in their studies, going to college, or anything similar. But, they really enjoyed learning about different trades. So, that’s what they did, and they’re in great shape, financially!
LOST YEARS OF WORK EXPERIENCE & EARNING POTENTIAL
If we look at my electrician friend, or anyone else who immediately goes into work – they are not only avoiding debt, but they begin earning income a lot sooner than those going to a 4-year school.
An extra 2+ years of income can be a real boost to your wealth-building if you are smart about what you do with that money!
Another issue is the outsized expectation that a college degree guarantees you anything.
Yes, the average lifetime earnings of a college graduate far outweigh that of someone with a High School diploma. But that is an average.
A good number of college graduates struggle to find jobs after graduating. And many can only find jobs in industries not related to their degrees.
Everyone talks about the unemployment number, but what they don’t know is that this is a poor barometer of the labor market. It doesn’t factor in people who have stopped looking for jobs, or those who are underemployed.
What does it mean to be underemployed? Ask any college graduate with a high-priced diploma who is working at a Starbucks.
For those who fall into this category and get trapped, going to college clearly wasn’t worth it. And it’s more common than you think.
FINANCIAL RISK TO PARENTS
Guardian Life Insurance Co. put out a report about “College Debt in America.” They found that Baby Boomers are the fastest growing category of student loan debtors, and that over half of those between the ages of 54- to 60-years-old say that student debt is preventing them from meeting financial goals, including retirement.
Some of this debt burden is from loans taken out by these individuals. But a good portion is the consequence of cosigning loans for children or grandchildren.
It can feel good to help someone realize their dream. But you should think twice about cosigning a loan for someone.
THERE IS STILL VALUE IN A DEGREE
Now, of course there is still tons of value in earning a college degree.
For any career that mandates it, you don’t even have a choice.
And as I mentioned earlier, the lifetime earnings of someone with a college education is still much higher than those without one. But this is based on averages. I’ve outline plenty of examples of how people can fall way outside of the average…
My point isn’t that there is no value in going to college, it’s just that it doesn’t need to be for everyone.
And to be blunt, earning a degree isn’t the differentiator it was 20-30 years ago. Back in the 80’s, if you had a college degree, you were in a small minority of the population. Now, they pump them out like a factory… Get it? 😉
So, before you send your kids off to college, take some time to think about if it truly is the best route for them. If you decide it is, take some time to think about how you can do it most effectively. Not just to save money, but also to make sure you are truly increasing their chances of success in life.
College is certainly a great life experience, but the experience should come with a great education and a high probability of success after you graduate; not a huge ball & chain known as student debt.