Top 10 Reasons College Education Is A Waste Of Money
The idea of a college education is as American as apple pie. We all grow up with the hope that we can have a college education and that one is necessary in order to succeed in life. Children of Ivy League graduates may grow up thinking that Harvard, Yale or other such institutions are their birthright, their parents instilling the expectation that they will go almost from the cradle.
Other children, particularly very intelligent ones, born to less wealthy families may be pushed by parents and teachers to see a route to college as the way to a better life. It is no surprise that sports scholarships are so heavily contested. We tell our children that if only they go to college they are set for life, they will earn a premium over and above what they could have earned without those extra years of study.
We have repeated this mantra to ourselves for so long that it has become accepted fact. What we have consistently failed to do, however, is to undertake reality checks to see whether the story we spin ourselves still has some basis in fact. Does college really confer a premium and if so is that premium worth it? Or, alternatively, is it all a big con? Is college an industry like any other that uses advertising (false or otherwise) to try to get us to part with our money in return for a dubious product?
Here are our top 10 reasons to save your money and stay away from college.
No one really knows what to do with their life age 18
When you are 18 years old it is easy to think that the world is your oyster. It is true that your whole life is before you and the directions it can take are limitless. You can, if you are lucky, do anything.
The vast majority of American children are not worldly wise, they know little of life outside their town or state. It is difficult to put an absolute figure on it but it seems that less than 5% of Americans like to travel abroad. This means that a child born in the US is far less likely to be aware of life in all its glory and complexity and their peers from Europe. They have a very sheltered and limited world view. Sure they may want to be a doctor or a lawyer but how many of them actually know what those jobs entail (glamorized Hollywood shows aside). They may want to be an architect but have they any experience of the type of environments they could be working in?
The sad truth is that unless children have really done their research (and be truthful how many really have) they may end up limiting their options by going to college and choosing the wrong course. Changing your major can be expensive and time-consuming. Taking the time out to do a gap year (a European concept that has been gaining popularity in the US) can help an 18 year old to figure out what they really want to do and to see whether or not college should be a part of that plan.
If everyone has something it becomes worth less in the real world
In 2009 President Obama said that his goal was that by 2020 America should have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. This would mean, in practice that significantly more than 50% of the school leaving population will need to be in college in 2020 to meet that ill thought out goal. At the present time around 35% of young Americans attend college. Increasing this percentage has a number of challenges not least requiring an expansion of infrastructure and finding lecturers for all those extra students.
Are those lecturers going to be any good? Are the buildings the students learn in going to be up to standard? Almost certainly not, this means that even if college is made affordable students will be paying for a lower class product.
Think also about the ramifications of mass enrolment on the ‘premium’ a college degree confers. Will having more college graduates magic the required graduate jobs out of thin air? No it won’t. All it will mean is that instead of your school bus being driven by someone with a K-12 education it will be driven by someone who has spent an extra 4 years in college.
If it is too easy to get a degree graduates will need something else to set them apart from the crowd. This will mean more time in college to get a Masters or a PhD. This in turn means more years out of the workplace and even more college debt to service. Enrolling more people in college is a lose-lose. Funds would be better spent ensuring that entrance tests are rigorous and that scholarships are available to ensure that there is equality of access to the opportunities a college education can offer for the right jobs.
It is possible to access high quality courses online
The internet has opened up a wide range of alternatives to a traditional college education. With platforms such as UDEMY and Coursera you can study what you want when you want, often through accredited institutions and gain credits at the same time.
This means that you can tailor your studies to your own needs. You can also study the courses at a time that is convenient for you, meaning that you have the opportunity to work and gain experience (and money) in the real world while still expanding your knowledge base. You will save a lot of money but still have access to a high quality qualification. The flexibility of an online course also means that it is easier to explore different areas of study to find out what is right for you without the negative consequences of changing a whole major.
Far more effectively than any Presidential announcement about mass participation in higher education, online courses have really made it possible for everyone to study to a level that they need to succeed and even excel in life.
Investing your college fees gives a better return
Americans have always known that it will cost them a lot of money to go to university. Grants are available but costs are not limited to tuition. Students also have to cover the cost of their accommodation, food, books, utilities etc. For 2012-13 these costs were over $22,000 a year for state university rising to over $40,000 for a private course. College costs have been rising, year on year, faster than inflation and look to continue to do so for some time to come.
Those costs are, quite simply eye watering. You will walk away from a basic state 4 year degree with nearly $90,000 debt and much, much more if you attended a private institution. The sobering fact is that college debt repayments are costing the under 30 over $43 billion a year in payments. Is it worth it? If you are studying a degree that is going to guarantee you a long term high earning job (see below) then yes it may well be. If, however, you are going to end up overqualified and under employed then it is not worth it.
For many professions you would be better served to start from the ground up and work in your chosen field, earning instead of getting into debt over 4 years. Alternatively if you or your parents have the money for you to pay for college fees up front think about the return you can get on investing it. Just investing your $22,000 college fees every year, compounded at 5% for the 4 years you would have been in college mean you would have earned more than $126,000 over that time, not including the money and experience you gained from working in the real world. Age 22 invest this 126,000 at 5% compound and even with no further additions you will have over $1million retirement fund when you are 65. Of course in that time you will have earned more in your day job.
College degrees rarely provide a decent level of education
You have already seen, in this article, although more people are going to college than ever before and paying more money for the privilege the high numbers of people attending college make these degrees worth less in the real world than those of our parents.
Not only do the degrees grant less competitive edge but they are lower in quality and require less academic rigor to complete. American degrees are, quite simply, suffering from grade inflation. Research has shown that less than 5% of the higher education institutions in the Unites States require their students to gain an understanding of economics. 43% of American college students did not show any improvement in learning over 2 years in college and a shocking 36% of students showed no progress over their entire 4 year course, probably because 35% of students in American universities spend less than 5 hours a week studying. No wonder then that 70% of graduates surveyed in 2011 felt they should have used college to prepare for work more effectively.
If you do want to go to college make sure that you research your course thoroughly. Find out exactly what the requirements are, what you will lean and what the career destinations of previous graduates have been. A course in zombies or Lady Gaga might sound like a lot of fun but is it worth taking on a mountain of debt or wasting your parents’ retirement income? Go to college to learn real, solid information, if you want to learn about Klingon get a job and read a book in the evening. You will be better off in the long run.
College is a good place to have fun and do very little (except get into debt)
As you have seen in the point above it is possible to go to college and learn absolutely nothing worthwhile. It is a chance to party for four years straight, drink a lot, make out, have sex. All these things are good fun but are they worth getting into debt for?
College is a parallel universe, if you miss a deadline you can usually wrangle an extension. There is very little that actually matters or causes you worry or stress and this absolutely and completely fails to prepare college graduates for the reality of the world at work. In the real working world you can’t coast along and then cram your work for the year into an all-night study session. You go to work from 9-5 (or more accurately 8am-9pm) and if you make a mistake it really matters.
Because college life is so easy it is easy for students to fall into bad habits such as binge drinking. These habits can last a lifetime and can lead to persistent alcoholism and contribute to other diseases such as heart disease and high blood pressure.
Many graduates fail to find work in their chosen field
Over one third of all graduates end up working in fields that do not require a degree. They will often start years behind people of the same age who entered the workforce straight from school. More than 300,000 of the waitresses that serve you in American restaurants have college degrees as do over 100,000 janitors and nearly 60,000 laborers. All told there are approximately 17 million Americans with college degrees who are under employed. These people will not be benefitting from an education premium; instead they have been saddled with 4 years less experience, 4 years lower on the career ladder and a mountain of debt that their earnings just cannot service. The only benefit to these 17 million attending college was to the institutions they attended and the people employed there. They themselves will see nothing.
Even studying a ‘premium’ degree like law is no guarantee of success. Research in 2012 showed that 44% of law school graduates were either unemployed (over 27% of all law school graduates) or working in jobs that did not require a law degree.
There are plenty of good jobs that do not require a college degree
If the work situation is so bad for graduates (see point 4 above) it is tempting to think that things would be even worse for those who fail to go to college and make the same investment in themselves and their education as their peers. After all if you now need a college degree to be a waitress what don’t you need it for!
But this is, thankfully, not the case. There is an awful lot you can do to make a success of your life without going anywhere near college and long term debt that it brings. Many careers offer good wages combined with the opportunity for excellent career progression.
For decades the United States has fallen behind European countries such as Germany in the attention paid to vocational training and courses. In many European countries college is not seen as the be all and end all – many students are encouraged to work towards apprenticeships in their chosen careers instead. These apprenticeships are highly sought after and those who work in them gain valuable qualifications while earning good money. Apprenticeship programs are not as popular in the US but some do exist and, if they are available in your area are a good alternative. Alternatively, if you are that way inclined joining the military can prove a valuable career choice. Specialists are often highly trained at the nation’s expense and veterans are often very much sought after by civilian companies.
Only the hard degrees pay off long term
We do not deny that there are some jobs for which you need a college degree. In fact for many of them you might need several. You are not going to be a high flying lawyer or an excellent doctor without one nor are your chances of getting far in experimental research chemistry good unless you have the degree to back it up.
Even then it is probably only worth investing in these hard degrees at a top flight school. With all the graduate competition out there a degree from Hicksville University, Hickstate is probably not going to get you very far (except into debt). The figures are striking, mid-career an average engineering graduate from MIT can expect to earn about $126,000 a year compared to $73,000 if she went to Florida State and just under $44,000 if he went to Black Hills State. As seen in the previous point you would be better off becoming a respiratory therapist or a dietician straight out of school than investing your money in a mediocre college.
Those frightening figures are for engineering, now consider what the benefits of an arts degree are compared with spending time in the world of work – it is starting to look like one big con. This is even more so when you consider how many people are duped into spending even longer at college studying for a graduate degree, precisely because there are no jobs for them in the real world. A master of fine arts is one of the five worst value for money degrees you can take together with PR or advertising (you can learn those skills organically), computer engineering (your knowledge will be out of date before you finish the degree) and meteorology.
College is expensive
You will have gathered from this article that college is not only expensive, it is very expensive. Consider point 7 above, unless your college fees are going to give you a better long term financial and career opportunity return than taking the same money and investing it then you may want to consider skipping the college experience. Everyone talks about the college premium, the higher earning potential that students with a degree will enjoy over their lifetime. The trouble is that for most of these students that premium is elusive. They may indeed be earning higher salaries (but not always, see point 2 above) but they will be saddled with debt repayments for many years to come. These debt repayments will impact on their ability to get a home, to start a family and to save for their children to go to college.
College can pay off and pay off big time but only if you go to the right school and then on into the right field. Do your research carefully, check what your college actually requires you to do for your degree. Is the college you are hoping to attend an Ivy League or highly rated university? If not even the most challenging of degrees may not be worth the paper it is written on. College degrees exist, with a few notable exceptions, for the benefit of the organizations that run them and the staff that work there. Most institutions do not care if students study only 5 hours a week, do not care that their staff are substandard because they know that there will be an endless supply of applicants convinced that they need their service just to get ahead in life.
For students in high school at the present time and their parents there are hard decisions ahead. It may seem that going to college and staying in education are the best things to do, the aspirational thing to do, the next step in the American dream
As far as college is concerned, however, the American dream is broken and going to study at university can mean setting yourself up for decades of debt servicing rather than a high flying career.
The reality has been slow to materialize and hard to face. Parents of children today grew up either expecting to go to university or hoping that if they worked hard enough their children would have that opportunity. The costs of college have, however, risen by 1200% in the past 30 years. That means that in a time of shrinking incomes a university degree costs more and is worth less. That increase will buy you limited study time with indifferent teachers. If you are financing your child’s education you are more likely to be throwing them one four year party than giving them a competitive advantage in the world of work.
With a very few notable exceptions a college degree is, these days, nothing more than a waste of money. Why fall for the con?