I Think College is a Rip-Off!

There!  I said it – I think college is a huge rip-off.  I know it’s supposed to be the American Dream, but I was skeptical of it when I was a kid.  If anything, I’ve gotten more skeptical as I’ve gotten older.
College tuition has skyrocketed FAR more than it should have.  The latest stat I’ve seen is that it has increased by 1,122% over the last 30 years.  During that time, medical costs have increased by only half of that and housing has increased by just one quarter.  If cable TV had increased that much, we would be spending a lot more time playing cards and listening to the radio!
Next to your house, probably the biggest expense you will have in your life is paying for a college education for your kids.  Therefore, it would only make sense to give it a LOT of thought.  However, most parents only give one thought to college.  HOW they are going to pay for it.  Maybe they should be asking IF they should be paying for it.

Admittedly, this is an unorthodox and probably controversial view.  But I really question if today’s college programs are worth these ridiculous prices.  Why do I say that?  Well, for one thing, I think most colleges are not only drastically overpriced, they offer a lot of irrelevant material that isn’t useful in the real world – things like French literature, Philosophy, and Western Civilization.  They are interesting and might have some small usefulness, but I would estimate that most kids won’t use half the classes they are taking.

I also think they do a terrible job of helping kids pick their major and stay focused in the right direction. I have known so many kids who waste a lot of time in college.  They change majors, drop out, or go into a totally unrelated field.  I think if we started them out knowing more about what they want, it’d be better.  Admittedly, kids change as they get older, but they could do a lot more to teach kids about realistic expectations in various job fields.  I think it would be smart to require short-term internships and job shadowing in 3 to 5 different fields before a student is allowed to select a major.

We need to do a better job of helping kids pick their majors.

Another problem is that parents have tremendous social pressure to put their kids through college.  Even if they can’t afford it.  It’s the ultimate “keeping up with the Joneses situation.  All the kid’s friends around the neighborhood are touring colleges and visiting financial aid offices. It’s embarrassing to admit that you just don’t have the cash to take that path.  Especially if you have more than one kid.

So parents end up mortgaging their homes, using their retirement savings, or going into huge amounts of debt to pay for college.  Or the kid takes on a huge burden of student loan debt without any clue of what a serious handicap that is going to be once they get out of school and trying to start their adult life.  Most 18-year-old kids just aren’t mature enough to make those decisions.

We had that with our oldest son, Ryan. He went through one of those pricey computer trade school programs, loved it, got great marks in it.  But he got frustrated with the lack of placement services at the end.  So he decided to go off and get a job as an exterminator with his best friend.  Yes, an exterminator – sigh.
He has a better job now, but it isn’t particularly computer-related.  And after nearly 10 years, a lot of his education, particularly in the fast-paced computer world, is thoroughly outdated.

And on the other hand, I see people all around me who have done quite well in the world without having that all-important college degree.  I don’t have any degree.  But, I’ve had a great career and never really had a problem with it.  I mean, I went to school in 1985 – what the heck would that have helped?

Lots of people do just fine without that all-important college degree.  Like me.

Same thing for my mother, sister, my nieces & nephews, and both of my older sons.  Yet they all have great jobs, pretty nice houses.  They aren’t rich, but they’re getting by OK.  And they have none of those huge debts for a college education.

Could they earn more if they had a diploma?  Possibly, but hard work and solid job experience are nothing to sneeze at.  And don’t forget how many kids do graduate with a degree – even an advanced degree, and still end up working at Starbucks or Target.

I have some friends who have kids in college who are in their early 20’s.  They never made them work a job because they were so worried about keeping their grades up for college.  So, these kids have never actually worked ever in their lives.  I keep wondering what is going to happen if they get out of college with that shiny new diploma and discover that they have no work ethic or ability to put up with a bullshit that is frequently a big part of life in the big city.  My son may not have a college degree in his back pocket.  But by 25, he has 10 years of solid job experience and a few good lessons from the school of hard knocks.

What if your kids have a degree, but no work ethic or stamina in the job market?  Those two don’t go hand in hand.

I’m at a tough point, because my youngest is now a High School Junior.  So this question is about to get a lot more “real” for me over the next two years.  And I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do.  His grades in High School are just so-so.  He hasn’t got a lot of motivation or interest in going to college.  I keep trying to convince him that the scholarships mostly go to the kids with the A and B averages, but he doesn’t want to hear it.I don’t think we could afford a big-ticket college, but we have enough set aside for Community College if he decides he wants to go in that direction.  After that, he’s going to have to get very serious, about getting some scholarships, getting into a fast-track trade school program like his brothers.  Or else doing a half work/half school program and plan on living in our basement for the next four or five years.  Oh joy…

I think college probably IS the golden key. It definitely does open a lot of doors. But those same doors are still going to open for a silver key (trade school), a brass key (community college or night school, hopefully on the on-your-own-dime plan), or even the aluminum key (just skip college and work your butt off for your success).

College IS the golden key, but there’s also a silver key, a brass key, and an aluminum key.

Another thing to think about before you sign for those student loans.  There are college loans and all sorts of other loans, but there is no such thing as a retirement loan.  We all want to give everything we can to our kids, but you have to put that retirement first.  Or your brilliantly educated kids could end up with broke parents living in their basement.  Now, THAT’S a scary thought!

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Comments

  1. Totally agree. Have you read this: http://www.discoverpraxis.com/blog/future-of-school/? It came through my newsfeed this week and I think it is spot on. My kids are young (oldest is 9) so we have plenty of time to think about this. But, from my own experiences, college for me was largely an expensive waste of time. Yes, that piece of paper got me a few jobs down the road, but honestly, I was way to immature and indecisive when I started. I WISH someone had told me it was okay to wait, or try community college, or just (gasp) get a lower level job and gain some experience. It was definitely “sold” to me as the ONLY right answer, with huge expectations attached. I want my kids to be able to make a more informed decision when the time comes. Sorry, I’m rambling . . . I could go on and on about this . . .

    • I don’t blame you for being passionate about this. Next to our homes, a college education is probably the largest expense we will have in our lives and I think it deserves a LOT of serious thought and discussion. I’m glad that people are starting to be a bit more open minded about looking at their education in a different light. I think it’s too important to just do what the Joneses are doing and plunk down immense amounts of money for something that may or may not work in the end.

  2. I love this article. I am a 23 year old victim of the college hoax. It have a $20,000 piece of paper for a field I thought was cool at 18 and want nothing to do with now. It may have helped me getting a job or it may not have…no clue. But indo know the 4 years I spent in school working stupid side jobs could have been used got a 9 month degree program and then working in a trade immediately. I have 3 younger siblings that I preach at to strongly consider college because we are the ones taking on the debt. Love your article!!

    • Thank you for your comment. It is great to hear from someone who has been through this. I look at my friend’s kids who are going through all these expensive years of school and I wonder if they will have the slightest idea of how to actually manage in a real world job!

  3. I can totally agree because I went to college for pre-med, then psychology, then occupational therapy and then back to psychology. Graduated with a psychology degree, went to grad school for counseling and now I’m an interior designer.

    I worked so hard and ended up unhappy!! Waste of time for some of those classes – like Criminal justice when I’m pre-med made no sense.

    Great post!

    Keep in Touch(ed),
    KG
    http://www.touchedmagazine.com

  4. Absolutely agree with you. I went to college…and loved it. But now the thought of paying even current prices for colleges is daunting as a parent. At the very least, I wouldn’t advise anyone to take debt on for undergrad. Get your skills up, learn how to work in an office environment and see if you can negotiate your degree as part of an employment package.

  5. Dear Adrian,

    I wholeheartedly agree that a college education is becoming a rip off. There is so much peer pressure among kids and parents to send them to the “right” college, and when we were young you basically attended a college that was local, not a five hour drive or plane ride. In addition to the debt that kids and families are taking on, they don’t realize what a burden they are putting on themselves. Another key fact is that student loans are not forgivable if someone declares bankruptcy. Those loans follow you to the grave.

    Great post!
    Christine

  6. I think this topic is being discussed more and more with the incredibly high cost associated with a college education. The value proposition is really what has been called into question. I agree that not every young person likes “classroom” learning and should go to college. There are a lot of jobs requiring more hands on skill, and many young people would prefer that route. And I couldn’t agree more about the debt… most families underestimate the burden of school debt (and most colleges minimize it as well, saying they will meet the student’s need), but student loans do stay with you even through bankruptcy, so something to think about for sure!

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