Image by Alexandra Gamarra

My car died again.  This time, I had a baby along with me.  I’d had enough.

“You sure you were shifting right?” asked the mechanic.  I hate getting the girl treatment with car people.  Yes, I can drive a stick.

Time to buy a new car.

My friend loved his Ferrari, I thought it might be a great choice for me, too.

I’d look awesome.  I’d make cool friends.  I could put the baby in the trunk since there was no seat for him.  He was still small, he’d fit.  He’d forgive me when he hit kindergarten and I dropped him at school in front of all the little ladies.

I looked at my bank account.  I was slammed back to reality.

Besides, Rhode Island’s the Pothole State.  Rhode Island won’t fix them.  They’re our state symbol, right there on the official state seal.

In addition to the potholes, it snows here–Ferraris are rear wheel drive.  I’d have to garage it in the winter and cycle to school.

Maybe a Ferrari wasn’t in my future.  I got a Subaru instead.  Subarus are cult classics.  Other Subaru drivers wave and let me into traffic.  It’s not a sporty little stick shift like my old Beetle which entertained me by making teens whack each other, “Punch buggy! Silver,” when I drove by, but it laughed at snow and obstructions.

That’s how I got Forrester Gump.

I didn’t want to write about cars today, I wanted to write about college.  A friend of mine said he’s ready for his son to go to college.  He needs just $55K a year.  That’s insane. That, my friends, is a Ferrari.

It’s college season at school.

I ask, “What are you doing next year?” Many students don’t know and aren’t aware of the deadlines and expenses.

In many communities, kids pick an alma mater by age five and get Yale sweatshirts as a toddler.

College is never question for these students.

Education reform’s pushing college, and pushing it hard. I’d love for all my students to be able to go to college, but sometimes I feel we’re not respecting their goals and passions.

In his article, “A Nagging Doubt about Common Core Standards,” Dr. Grant Wiggins argued the current system of standards is failing to consider many students with alternative aspirations.  A great many schools are hard-selling college prep tracts and failing to listen to their customers–students.

Author, investor, and commentator James Altucher gives 40 Alternatives to College stating the cost of college is outpacing the benefit.  He says what he learned in life, on the job, and playing chess was more valuable than college.

To be fair, James has a good education, as do I.  Can we speak to this with authority?

Yes.  I might have made different decisions if I knew I’d be paying off college in my mid 40s.

The point is that schools must listen to students and help them analyze their goal in regards to the return on investment of attending a certain school to reach that goal.

I’m grateful for my education. I studied under notable historians and learned that any passion can be translated into any career with proper motivation. When I tell students my graduate advisor wrote about baseball–and got paid–they begin to see how passion can pay off with proper execution… with or without college.

College is expensive.  I see students looking at schools that will put them in debt forever.  Forever. With a capital EVER.

The emotion of choosing a college makes it difficult to say no.  Getting into college isn’t only about brains, it strikes the ego as well.

We need to step back and help students make decisions based on the full picture.  If it was a business decision and you were spending the company’s money, would this purchase make sense?

You must ask these questions.

What is the return on investment?  Will this college get me where I need to go?  Is there another school that is more affordable and will advance me toward my goal equally well?  Do I have a goal?  Will I take full advantage of this opportunity or will I party?  Where do I want to be in five or ten years?

I know someone who went to Yale for social work.  Tuition in the day was $58,600 x 4 years–approximately $234,400, assuming that it takes 4 years to graduate. It usually takes more these days.  High school reform tracks graduation rates.  College does not.  You can stay forever switching majors as long as you paying the bill.  Add on the cost of beer, ramen, and pizza, and you’re looking at a debt that can easily eclipse the national deficit or certainly buy you a house.

I’m not even going to get into the interest on that loan or the repayment schedule.  Assuming you graduate with a degree in social work, you will be making $30-$40K a year.  You will not pay off that debt, even if someone creates a treatment that doubles the hunan life expectancy.

College admissions banks emotion.  It’s hard to say no to Brown, Harvard, Georgetown, or Yale.  Many students feel family pressures to attend good colleges if they get in even though the budget might not agree.  I had a student who started pushing lawnmowers at age twelve, bought better equipment when he could drive, and by junior year–the height of the Great Recession, he was telling me he thought he should sell one of his three power boats.  He had a full business, made more money than me, and had several employees.

Not everyone should skip college and start a business, but for my students who go, I’m rooting for scholarships and hoping they buy the Subaru instead of the Ferrari.