I‘m about to make a controversial statement. Brace yourself. Here it goes:
Not everyone should go to college.
In this day and age it has almost become an untouchable gospel that everyone should go to college, and if you don't, there's no way that you can succeed in life. Without a 4 year degree, you might as well kiss your future life goodbye. You'll never amount to anything!
I on the other hand would like to offer a counter argument – that not everyone should go to college. For many it would just un-necessarily saddle them with huge mountains of debt, for a degree they aren't really going to use – or that doesn't have the value they expect it will.
Why Shouldn't Some People Go To College?
There are several reasons why I think college may not be the right choice for some people. I'll list them out below.
A Degree Isn't What It Used To Be
A college degree isn't as highly prized as it once was. It could almost be argued that a college degree is now worth about the same as a high school degree was in the past.
One big conclusion that can be drawn from the PayScale data is that college—and college alone—may not be the great investment it was once thought to be. Richard Vedder, director of the Center for College Affordability & Productivity in Washington, D.C., notes that with the college-educated accounting for a larger percentage of Americans, the bachelor’s degree has been devalued, and its ROI has taken a hit. “We have credential inflation in America. A college degree has become mundane and ordinary,” Vedder said. “We used to send kids to college to become lawyers and doctors. Now we send them to college to work at Walmart.”
The Return On Investment Isn't As Great As Some Would Have You Believe
The ROI that you'll get by graduating and getting your degree isn't as great as some might have you believe. In the past it was assumed that most people could expect to earn anywhere from $900,000-$1,600,000 more over a working lifetime just because they got a degree. A study released by Payscale.com found, however, that the return on investment for those who got a degree was much lower than that for most colleges and majors. The study found that the ROI for a college degree was anywhere from just under $400,000 to just over $600,000. That is still a substantial amount, and for many that will be enough, but remember to go in with eyes wide open, and realize that it may not be as great as you had hoped. The ROI will vary greatly by major and specialization as well.
Not Everyone Needs A 4 Year Degree
Far too often people that don't really even need to go to a 4 year school end up going and piling up a mountain of debt. Instead for many of them they could have attended a cheaper 2 year trade or vocational school, picked up a useful trade, and found a good paying job – without all of the hefty school loans. My wife is one example. Instead of attending a 4 year school like many of her friends (who ended up just having kids and not needing a degree anyway) she attended a 2 year school in a specialty she enjoyed. She loved it, and didn't spend nearly as much as her peers – who ended up not using their expensive degrees!
Advanced Degrees Often Lead To Higher Consumption Spending Behavior
One thing that people don't often talk about is how you may end up with a higher paying job when you get an advanced degree, but quite often it also comes along with learned high consumption spending behavior as well. When we're in school for a long period of time we learn that it is accepted behavior for those with an advanced degree to be high earners, and also high spenders. Thomas J. Stanley explains via an example in his book the Millionaire Next Door:
Being well educated has certain economic drawbacks.
Victor’s well-educated adult children have learned that a high level of consumption is expected of people who spend many years in college and professional schools. Today his children are under accumulators of wealth. They are the opposite of their father, the blue-collar, successful business owner. His children have become Americanized. They are part of the high-consuming, employment-postponing generation.
Going To College Is Still A Good Bet For Many
Ok, now that I've spent an entire post talking about the downsides of getting a 4 year college degree, I want to make sure that I mention that I still think that college is a good bet for many people.
Studies showed that people who saw an especially good ROI on their education include those in technical and engineering schools, and those that required an advanced degree to get certified (lawyers/doctors).
If you are going to go to college, make sure that you're shopping around for the best school for your major, at the best price. You'll often find that the schools where you get your best return on your money aren't the ones you thought they might be. So be sure to do y0ur due diligence.
What do you think about college education – is it pushed on far too many kids who aren't ready for it, or on others who may not necessarily need to go to college? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.
If you were to ask me that question 5 years ago. I would have said Yes college is the best move
However, this days it’s becoming a useless move. The cost/benefit does not makes sense. I believe everyone needs an education of some sort whether formal or informal
Sarah Says says
Great points on vocational schools. The number of people in the trades are going down, so that’s a good area to invest in. Less time and money in and more time on the job earning.
Agreed. Many people in college are getting nothing out of it. If someone graduates from college and becomes a salesclerk at a box store, what is the good? Finding meaning in life despite being destitute and in as much debt as co-workers who stayed out of college?
We have put too much emphasis on diplomas and too little on getting good pay at work.
A big fat AMEN to all that you’ve written. Many, many young people–from the middle class in particular–would be better served by entering the trades, a sales career, or some form of preliminary self-employment.
In an environment where nearly any job can be outsourced, focusing on developing the skills that will enable you to employ yourself, in addition to working for others, may be the difference between a lifetime of prosperity and a lifetime of starts and stops in the job market.
I think college is very important for one reason: socialization and building a network. Unless you are a doctor/lawyer or some specialization like that you don’t really learn much career-wise IMO, but the experience of building friendships, learning to interact with a wide variety of personality types, and maturing as a person is the only reason I think it is an invaluable experience.
So on that note, go to a budget-friendly college, live on campus, and have fun!
Greg McFarlane says
What, you can’t build friendships and mature without going to college? I spent 4 years in college and met far more idiots, drunks and immature jerkoffs per capita than I have in the real world.
We’ve all seen the data claiming that a college degree will net you x$ more over the course of your working life, but conveniently, this number is never broken down by field of study. Assuming he had a chance to do both, if my kid wanted to go to trade school to learn arc welding instead of getting a chemical engineering degree, I wouldn’t be happy. But if he wanted to earn the arc welding certificate instead of getting a bachelor’s in sociology or women’s studies, I’d be thrilled.
Khaleef @ KNS Financial says
Completely agree! Looking at the ROI is key! We just blindly send our kids off to college without a clue of what they want to do, how much it will truly cost, what they could earn in the meantime, better educational alternatives (vocational school), or even how much they will make once they get the degree.
I don’t know too many situations where we are so willing to spend tons of money with little to no information – well, except buying a house!
Bret @ Hope to Prosper says
One thing that always gets left out of these college ROI discussions is the value of becoming intelligent. Forget the starting salary for a second and think about the kind of person you wish to become. For me, the knowledge and experience alone were worth the cost of college.
I know a lot of peple drink their way through school and/or study worthless subjects. But, some people leave college a lot more intelligent and mature than when they arrived. And, this contributes to their success out in the real world. I know it has for me and I only have a 2-year degree.
People with no work ethic shouldn’t expect a college degree to magically provide a high income. And, people with no desire for corporate life, should definitely skip college and look for a more pratical way to make a living.
Should everyone go to college? Definitely not. Who should and shouldn’t go? Depends on the person, the school, and their choice of major. There are definitely majors that don’t pay off in a financial sense. There are a lot more of these majors when you go to an expensive (but not really prestigious) private school or you take forever to graduate. I won’t go into any detail on that since its relatively easy to do a cost benefit for any degree, but what I will say is that there are a few reasons why you’d want to go to college even if it didn’t make strict financial sense to do so.
1. White collar employment. It is absolutely true that many jobs in the trades will pay better than many office jobs, but many people place a value on spending their days in a clean, well lit office rather than going to some dirty job site, factory, or entering strange people’s homes. Some people (I’m one of them) don’t care one way or the other, but almost nobody prefers the latter which means society in general favors the former. College is not always necessary for white collar employment, but the best paying white collar jobs usually require degrees.
2. Status. Like it or not, you know you’d rather have your daughter marry a lawyer doing doc review for $30/hr with no benefits and $200K in loans to pay off than have her marry an auto mechanic. A degree brings a person a certain amount of respect and status, plus people with degrees tend to be more worldly, rational, and intellectual. Whether that’s an effect of going to college or a prerequisite for success in college is up for debate.
Lastly, I just wanted to note that on the lifetime earnings premium you have to consider that those numbers are inflated by people at the top. Generally people who go to college are smarter than people who don’t. They have higher HS gpas, higher test scores, etc. If you are on the fence about going to college then statistically you’re probably in the middle of your class in high school and you’ll be one of the least qualified people in college if you did go. Its not likely that you’ll graduate with a good gpa in a lucrative field. I mean if you didn’t come out of highschool with top grades why would you think you’d come out of college with top grades – a prerequisite for lucrative options like medical school, pharmacy school, and any prestigious law school. Taking those options out of the picture the earnings premium drops significantly. Everyone needs to calculate their own earnings premium based on the specific career paths they’re interested in and also keeping in mind their abilities relative to the other people choosing those career paths. Also remember that some of that premium is the recovery cost of a degree. Four years of tuition and forfeited earnings is probably $100K-$200K.
Status is a sham. It can vanish as quickly as luck at a casino. If one loses faith in the morality of the system to the extent that one can no longer do the dirty work, then you are on the skids.
Is it somehow nobler to be a brutal enforcer of plutocracy in a three-piece suit and owning a high-priced car but needing to dissolve one’s conscience with whiskey than to pound nails or repair cars for a guilt-free income?
No not everyone should go to college. If the whole formal school scene doesn’t interest you, don’t go. There are many occupations that involve no degree that pay a livable $20+/hour. Many people who don’t go to college and go to a trade school very often tend to really enjoy it and stick with their career longer.
And a more obvious thing that is politically incorrect… not everyone has the intelligence capacity to succeed or perform at least satisfactorily in a 4-year school. There is evidence that most of our strengths and weaknesses is inherited. Just like anything in life, some people excel at making a ton of friends, some people are social outcasts. Some people fight obesity their whole life and some people can eat anything they want and be thin.
It is what it is.
In his Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck mentioned but one town in Kansas, Galena. Indeed, he had two of his chief supporting characters, Ivy and Sarah Wilson, to hail from Galena. Even today Galena is nearly as poverty-stricken as it was during the Great Depression,
I was born & raised in a blue-collar family in Galena. Had it not been for the opportunity to go to colllege, I’d been stuck in the lower blue-collar working class for life, which is exactly what shills for the entrenched wealthy such as Mr. Money want to happen to those such as I, because they want their children to not have to face competition in the job market; they want to maintain a l manuel labor working class over whom to lord it.
.That’s what this recent campaign to restrict access to college is all about, maintaining a privildged social and economic class and keeping the serfs in their place. How very European, no?
Mr. Money says
I’m far from being wealthy, and grew up in a poor area of town, so obviously I’m gonna have to disagree with you. Nowhere did I say that if someone has the drive, and their desired field requires it, that they shouldn’t go to college. Obviously they should.
The article merely points out that a college degree isn’t what it used to be, and on top of that the cost of a college education has far outpaced the inflation rate to the point where it is now unaffordable for a lot of people. Too many people strap themselves with tens of thousands of dollars in debt when they don’t have a particular career in mind, the career they do have in mind is not a high paid one (which means it’ll take them forever to pay back their loan) and quite often people are just going to college “for the experience”. The article points out that there are other options for many people that won’t put them debt for decades.
A lot of high paying careers these days are for entrepreneurs in so-called “blue collar” areas by the way. Check out this article.