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.
The bottom line is that, in general, you will make a higher salary with a 4 year degree, but as you point out, that money will end up going straight back to the banks to pay off the loans. Most jobs that have a 4 yr degree as a requirement don’t care where it is from or what the subject area is, unless they need something trade specific.
Students need to take advantage of less expensive routes – starting off at a community college and transferring to a 4 year. So many choices at the beginning of college are ignorant ones, because we simply haven’t been exposed to enough information to know what appeals as a long term goal. Why pay high tuition for that?
This is a well-written, thought-provoking post. Thanks.
Thank you. I think your stats on income are always quoted, but no one runs the debt side. It doesn’t make sense to me that people require random university degrees–I understand about the analysis, the logic, and the dedication, but the ed world is changing as we encounter MOOCs and other free options. Heck, I want to take one of the MIT courses just so I can say I went to MIT. Actually, I did go, but that’s because I happened to be in Boston, not because they accepted me.
We’re going to need to validate and consider those paths, too. I’m learning stuff online that makes me more marketable–Rosetta Stone languages, coding… will someone invalidate these skills because I didn’t study in a class? Either I have the skill or I don’t.
We really are going to have to reexamine our thoughts on proficiency and the 21st century career.
Well said, cafecasey! — “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 simply enjoy some parties or am I ready to take full advantage of this opportunity? Where do I want to be in five or ten years? These are the tough questions that must be asked.” — we are discussing these questions with our son as he has started the college search/visit process this year in anticipation of the application process next year. I have provided him with the analogy of a car dealership — go knowing what it is you are looking for, and what you need, and don’t let the salesperson sell you something you don’t need, that you can’t afford. If that Subaru gets you to where you are going, no need for the Ferrari even though you might enjoy more telling people you’re driving the Ferrari 🙂 — this is a topic near and dear to my heart, one that deserves a sit-down with that cup of coffee for extensive discussion! ~ Kat
I’m willing to buy you that cup of coffee, Kat:) Hope he gets scholarships!
Interesting after all of these years of pursuing the concept that a university degree is (statistically) a ticket to higher pay, to see all the young people who get their degrees nowadays and then have to go to college to be trained for an actual JOB.
Not to ever diminish the value of a degree, but it’s still important to keep observing and to adapt you plans when times change but institutions selling education keep selling it!
…or at the very least really put some planning into what you hope to get out of that degree–take extra classes, cross train, intern… the more skills, the better.
Yes, absolutely. Skills are as crucial as intellectual development!
So, as possibly the only guy in the room without a college degree, and as the owner of a couple of businesses, here’s my two cents…..
I’m a college dropout. Two years and change in the hole, all $60-something-thousand+ in loans paid off (because I never had one of those shitty “college graduate” entry levels jobs), but basically all for nought outside of a couple of valuable life lessons. Although I do get to say that I “went” to college, with exactly zero people in the last decade actually asking if I “graduated” from college, because after awhile nobody really cares.
14+ years into my working life I can tell you that a college degree is not beneficial to me and it will not be beneficial to me in the future. I own two businesses (soon to be three, with a fourth in the oven) and nobody cares where I went to school as long as I can keep doing what I’m doing. College degrees are for people that want to work for other people and I don’t have much intention of doing so. (Resume? Yeah, I had one of those in 2001 or so.) I answer to myself and my customers, not a college loan bill to the tune of a quarter million dollars. If I want to make more money I just work more, and if I want to take a month off to row the Grand Canyon then I do that.
They don’t teach you how to do that in college.
And that all sounds great on paper. But. Did I have any idea that’s how this would turn out by the age of 32? No, of course not. At age 17 I started college with every intention of becoming an architect. Within a semester that flipped to Computer Engineering which soon flipped into a summer and then full time job working as a network guy at the credit union run by Cafe Casey’s Dad, which led to working for a building automation company which led to a failed family business which led to my own successful businesses.
Who plans for that path when they’re 16? Nobody, that’s who.
So this is the important part when we talk about whether we need to send our kids to college or not – there’s no training for where I’ve been – life is your school and it happens in real time with real time consequences. If you suck at what you do you go hungry and you better come up with a plan B really effing fast. I’ve been there, it’s more than a little stressful. It’s the school of hard knocks and some people make it and some people don’t. You’re either built for it or you’re not. But it’s not something you can plan for when you’re a teenager and ignorant to the ways of the world, it’s something you’re prepped for through good parenting, good teachers, good friends, and good mentors. All of which I’ve been blessed to have.
So what do I tell kids now? I say that at the end of the day college isn’t for everybody but if you can go, go. Finish it and get it out of the way and you’ll have it forever. You’ll be done by the time you’re 22 and there is still plenty of time to start whatever brilliant business you’re thinking of. If you’re smart enough to start a successful business you’re smart enough to knock out a couple more years of school and then start a successful business. And if you’re thinking you’re going to go out into the traditional workforce straight from high school and make any kind of living wage, well, let’s be honest, you probably haven’t read this far anyway.
I don’t hire based on education – my interview process: you’re cool, I’m cool, let’s all be cool and make lots of money – but lots of people do. It’s a reality because people are a dime a dozen and businesses need to set people apart somehow without actually talking to them. Does that mean you need to spend a million bucks to go to school? No, of course not.. Go to community college and then go to your state school, whatever you can afford. But if you can go, go, because you might suck at running your own business and you’ll need to work for someone else. Or you might just like the job security of a “real” job – my wife does and I don’t fault her for a second for that.
Everybody is different and what works for me might not work for you and what works for you probably won’t work for me. So while I think there is a valid argument to have in regards to Ivy League vs. Non-Ivy League – my brother went to Harvard, do you really want to know how much I value his education? – I think in a general sense our youth probably cannot be educated enough, and we should encourage them to continue it as far as they reasonably can.
I have no idea how to close this rambling comment, possibly because I’m not that educated, but I feel it necessary to share this last little bit: once upon a time way back in the 1990’s Cafe Casey’s Dad told me “figure out what you love to do and then figure out how to get people to pay you to do it.” That advice has been worth more to me than any college education and I carry it with me daily. (Really. Your dad is awesome.)
And while that advice won’t get me a Ferrari, I expect it to get me a crew cab F350 in the very near future.
Well said, Tim (I identified you in paragraph one of this comment). Your comment is so much better than my original post that I want to erase mine and put yours in its place. But I can’t because it’s not “Cafe Tim.” So, I figure I can offer it as an op ed piece, but you actually agree with me… I think I’ll put a note up top! Thank you for investing your time in this issue–it’s a big one.
Incidentally, “Casey’s Dad” will be enjoying the fruits of his labor at some point in the future–when I say “fruits” I mean “fruits,” because once I get done planting all of them in my massive homesteading garden, I’m going to appoint him the CEO of it.
It’s an issue near and dear to my heart, and you’re welcome to plagiarize or quote me anytime. And I look forward to your dad enjoying the fruits of his labor and hanging out with me in my Ireland house sometime soon.
Yeah, if we can make that a trip that doesn’t conflict with teaching responsibilities, I’ll go with him to serve as his translator.
I enjoyed your comment, Tim — a reminder that “education” is more than just a piece of paper and should be sought through many paths and experiences. ~ Kat
Well said. Education isn’t necessarily college, or even school come to that. And we bestow huge amounts of debts on our kids if we insist they go. These days, paying it back is very hard at a time when they want to be settling down and have other reasons to find money.
And the payback isn’t all that brilliant. Some people will never earn back the deficit because getting a job in the first place is getting harder and getting well paid jobs is harder still. And well done to Tim for being his own person and making it work.
Like I said, I’ll delete my post and go with Tim’s.
I didn’t quite mean that! It was a great post and without it we wouldn’t have had Tim, so well done you. 🙂
No, Tim is awesome:) I’m willing to pass the statue when I’ve been defeated!!
For those who want to go to college, I hope they get scholarships! I got a scholarship for $1000 and it was great. Also, for everyone who’s interested in college but doesn’t want to pay of student loans for 10 years, here’s my blog which has a page with a ton of steps on graduating college, 100% DEBT FREE! http://victorialarochelle.wordpress.com/category/graduating-college-debt-free/