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Tell Your Children Not to Go to College

Updated on February 6, 2014
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The Unseen Costs of School

TV celebrity Mike Rowe is a hero to hard-working folks everywhere. He rocked the boat in an interview when he said, “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist. That’s nuts!”

For several generations, people in America were told if you want a good job, you have to go to college. I heard the message loud and clear in my life. In fact, it was drilled into me by my parents, teachers, television, and even my friends. As a middle class kid from white suburbia, it is just what you do. Just about everyone I knew in the early 1990s decided to go to some sort of undergraduate school. It was normal operating procedure, and few people ever questioned that logic.

Times changed quickly and people found out that getting a degree did not guarantee a job like in the old days. Fast forward to the present day, and things have changed. People are now openly counter-recruiting the universities, telling kids not to go to school.

I ended up going through nine years of higher education to my doctorate, and now I look back and question if I made a big mistake. I have to say, I understand the anti-school message. The message is not anti-education, just a message of not going into formal schooling.

Take my own case as an example (1990-2000.) I went to five years of undergraduate school so I could pick up an extra certification to teach. That cost close to $40,000. Then I went on to another 4 years chiropractic school which cost $110,000. Setting up a practice was another $50,000. Remember these prices were from the 1990s, it’s probably double now. I had to sacrifice nine years and two hundred thousand dollars before I even made my first $1. That is a huge gamble of time, energy, sanity, and money.

Compare that to my friend who dropped out of high school as a sophomore, and instead went to a 2-month computer training class. He spent about $2,000 and got a job immediately. During the years I was in school, I was spending $200,000, and he was making about $30,000-$60,000 a year. I will average it out and say $40,000 a year. So by the time I graduated, he had already made $360,000 and was very well trained and established in his career. These days he makes way more money than that and is living happily and is comfortable.

I wish someone had explained how risky it was to go to school; if they had explained the numbers to me like this, no way would I have done it. "Don’t send your kids to college" has been echoing around the social media world hard for the last five years.

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Feelings Are Mixed

Media personality Johnson Rice said, “I think whatever is true about college now probably won't be true in 20 years, and I think most people make the exact same mistake baby boomers made by just following along with popular beliefs. They just did what they were told, and assumed that college was a good investment because that was the popular belief. If you do the same in assuming it's not in around 20 years when your kid might need it, then that is just as stupid of a mistake. Be prepared and do your own research; it may or may not make sense, but it's a lot of money, so the best advice is to really think it out and not make stupid assumptions based on popular conceptions.”

Although this anti-school sentiment is growing, there are still mixed feelings about it. Very few people were very pro-college, but the reasons they gave for liking college were mainly that they made great friends and business contacts. Other people I interviewed are still for attending undergraduate school, but are cautious about incurring a large debt load.

Alyssa Streller said, “I have earned my PhD, and the lessons from that education are innumerable. That being said, I do not think my kids should spend money on college right now. I would like them to get in a position that will pay for college so they are not saddled with debt, and so they are sure about where they want to go in their careers.”

Author C.C. Cole posted, “Unless the student has an academic drive that will lead to a realistic outcome that will get them out in 4 years (not "The Five Year Party"), and a job so they can pay off the debt, no. There was an article going around a couple of years ago: a student with a degree at NYU in "Religious and Women's Studies" owed over $100k, and came to the unsavory realization she couldn't get a job to pay the debt. I think those 'thinking degrees' are for the rich. If you work for a living, if you're going to use college, pick a field that will get you into the workplace.”

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Winona Morris stated, “I never went to college and I work in a retail job. You know, the kind that people say is not 'real' work whenever we feel like minimum wage should be raised. As if a piece of paper would magically find me a high-paying job. Several of the people I work with are in college with dreams of quitting as soon as they graduate. As it turns out, other people I work with have already graduated but are still there. My husband has a college degree as well, and he also works a retail job. If my sons want to go to college to actually learn something, I'm behind them 100%. If they want to go because they think a college degree will land them a better slot in life, I'll tell them I don't think it works that way anymore.”

“I wouldn't go just go to. I have a friend who got one of those multidisciplinary degrees, where you take mostly basic courses, just to say she has a degree. I respect my friend all day long but wouldn't do that. I recommend only getting a degree if you have a specific field or job in mind. I know I want to work in the media, so I got a Bachelor's in Electronic Media and am starting to turn the wheels towards a Master's in Communication with a focus in P.R. College is too huge a cost to go in without a set path in mind,” Jackie Fiest cautioned.

Lorri Rodier shared this: “I have a daughter and she refuses to go to college. Once she works and knows the field she wants to work in, she may further her education, but will not go into debt for it. That’s a direct quote from her.”

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Many Said Don't Go

Many people I interviewed were openly hostile about getting higher education. They either regret going or feel lied to. Most people support learning a trade instead or starting a business.

Ben Allen Bucchioni posted, “Dropped out of high school and never went to college; funny thing is it hasn't held me back much at all. My friend's got a degree in creative writing; he works at a rock quarry weighing trucks to pay off his loans. Waste of time is a understatement.”

“I'd encourage my kids to pursue a trade; they are always in demand, and a much better skill than test-taking. But I try not to be biased, given my utter contempt for traditional 'education' models. If one decided to go to college, I'd support him (not financially), and hope the major was in something lucrative,” said Melissa Moran.

Joshua Joscelyn pointed out, “What may have been true for the last generation is simply no longer true. I have 3 degrees and find myself wondering if I should go to a vocational school to learn an actual skill. We have far too many PhDs in this country, and not enough heavy equipment operators.”

The High Cost of College

"My daughter refuses to go to college. She is a very talented, respectable, straight A, marching band student, and she is going to beauty school. She has a whole business plan figured out and we have enough money to pay for this choice. She has told me that she wants a real career and no debt. I agree with her 100%. My twelve-year-old son wants to go to culinary school and open his own restaurant. Again, he will graduate with no debt. Both of my kids, as young as they are, recognize the slavery of debt. I'm proud of them both,” said Holly Christopher.

Mary Pomeroy posted, “I can't even get that job! Got my college degree and have been unable to find a job; apparently I'm 'over qualified,' while at the same time I seem to be lacking the necessary skills. So glad I went into debt getting that piece of paper that is now preventing me from finding the employment I was told I would find with it! I’m currently taking graduate classes in the hopes that I will be able to find a job in the next couple of years. I almost wish I had never gone to college: I would have a job andwouldn't have the debt."

Tracy Diaz thought of her own creative solution: “I am going to be taking an interesting route with my kids. Out of high school they are going to pick four fields that they think they want to pursue as a career. They will then get internships in each of those fields, 3 months a piece, or whatever they feel necessary, paid or unpaid. They will live with me rent-free during this process. When they find something they love, they will either stay there and have their employer invest in their education, start their own company, or decide to go to school. As long as it takes.”

Would You Still Encourage Your Kid to Attend a University?

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Would You Drop Out?

M.K. Lord summarizes, “Dropping out of college was one of the best decisions of my life. I was pursuing an English degree because I wanted to be a writer, but was forced to take and pay for so many other useless classes that were a waste of my time and money, and of course for a degree that wouldn't guarantee me job security. Having to choose between a job, or school that was funded by my mediocre job, became stressful considering the direction of the economy. I didn't have the luxury of my parents paying for my education, so I made the choice to work and expand my knowledge in a larger variety of fields through using the awesome instructional tools on the internet.

In the past three years since I dropped out, the quantity and quality of my writing has increased, and opportunities have been opened up to me that I never dreamed of before. Many college degrees are worthless and most liberal arts degrees especially are, and college also inflates the cost of education for the poor. You can learn just about anything for free nowadays, and I believe paying exorbitant amounts of money our generation doesn't have for an education we can't use will go the way of the dinosaurs eventually.”

If I could do my life over I would not have gone to nine years of extra school. Instead I would have poured that time and energy into starting my own business. I am not the only one who feels that way; the knee-jerk reaction of “just go to college” is quickly eroding. Universities are responding to their dropping numbers by raising prices. Society is set up to train good employees, not to create entrepreneurs. The American machine needs people in high amounts of debt so they can’t afford to work for themselves. This is not an accident; the system is designed this way on purpose.

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    • profile image

      Greg Lard 3 years ago

      Robert T. Kiyosaki wrote a book several years ago entitled "If you want to be Rich and Happy don't go to School." It's along the same lines; I look back and while I acquired no debt while in college I didn't really get those "business contacts" and "friends" that everyone always boasts about. I went to college 10 hours away from where I live now and even if I had got those contacts I doubt they would do my any good here. If that is your reason for going to college then be sure to go to a very prestigious, possibly even Ivy League school, otherwise I think you will be sorely disappointed. I have made many more Business contacts and friends through networking events and civic organizations and not once have I been asked about my major or college degree. That being said, I still believe that most of the major companies out there today do require some sort of a degree, probably just because it's the norm and partially to see if you have to ability to start and finish something major like getting a college education. I think it also tests your resolve and ability to manage time, especially if you worked while getting that degree. My most successful employees, of which I have several, have no formal college education whatsoever, but instead they have social and people skills and common sense, which isn't that common anymore. All too often today I see young professionals graduating with degrees in vague subjects only to be amazed that they can't find a job making the income their parents make. I see them job jump from one thing to another with no real skills or ambition, only the desire to make more money doing whatever it is they think they can do. I have people apply and interview with me that have no practical experience in anything with a meaningless college degree and try to demand major salaries for what most would consider entry level positions. I think college degrees often give students a false sense of accomplishment and even more often a false sense of entitlement.

    • erinshelby profile image

      erinshelby 3 years ago from United States

      I really like Tracy Diaz's idea of doing exploratory apprenticeships until a great match is found. College isn't just a learning playground but a business, and the product sold isn't a job, but a degree. I think the US would be better off, as you said, giving high school kids the option to explore the trades again. Plumbing and carpentry can't be outsourced!

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      C4LCNCPLs 3 years ago

      The governments college loan program is a scam set up by higher education universities to soak the tax payers. It will soon collapse under the weight of defaults. Kids only need to make Google their best friend. All the answers are already out there.

    • TarrinLupo profile image
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      Tarrin Lupo 3 years ago from Peterborough NH

      Thanks for the great comments folk.

    • Jeannieinabottle profile image

      Jeannie InABottle 3 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      I enjoyed college, but I like learning. Most of all, I really enjoyed not having to work a full-time job while I was there. Actually, that was probably what I liked best about it. ;-) I worked several part-time jobs and had health insurance through the university.

      Now I work full-time and I have to pay back student loans. Reality stinks. If I were to advise someone considering going to college now, I would tell them go to community college and get an education they can use. I went to community college, learned a lot, got an AA degree, and I walked away without debt. It was a good learning experience and all I needed for a good job. Unfortunately, I got into it a little too much and decided to get a Bachelor's degree. That is when the debt rolled in and I probably did not the additional years of schooling. Was it fun? Sure. Am I paying for now? Oh, yes. Yes, I am. They don't call it a BS degree for nothing!

    • EricDockett profile image

      Eric Dockett 3 years ago from USA

      This is a great article. I've been arguing (mostly with my wife because she is the only one who will listen) that college has become a business that no longer meets the needs for which it was initially designed. When we took my step-son around looking at schools a few years back they were like resorts. Colleges are competing for kids, which are essentially customers. The more they can push 24-hour pizza delivered to your dorm, state-of-the-art student centers, workout facilities better than any commercial gym, etc, the more kids will want to go to their school. Way different than 20 years ago when I was in school, and it seems it's become more about the experience than the education. And colleges, in the name of giving students a more well-rounded education, make them take all kinds of classes that they'll never need, and will probably forget as soon as they are over. We used to call them the Jeopardy classes, because all they did was prepare you to do well on Jeopardy. Those credits cost the same as the rest, though.

      I think Rowe is on the right track. There needs to be a concerted effort to prepare people for careers by offering them usable, affordable education. I often think the apprenticeship model might be a good thing to bring back.

      Of course, I wish I'd come to that conclusion before I went through 4 years of college to earn a degree I've yet to find useful. If I ever get onto Jeopardy though . . .

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