Congratulations. You coasted through high school – 94% of which requires you to do little more than be present – and now the next chapter of your life begins, to quote a tiresome saying. Or, if you prefer, you can just extend the current chapter and defer adulthood.
If you think a college education is the one good or service in the world that doesn’t stand up to cost-benefit scrutiny, where price means nothing, you’re too dumb to go to college (or for you parents out there, have your progeny go to college) anyway.
How much higher can the universities make you jump? We recently spent a few seconds seeing what a generic accredited 4-year school, Arizona State, charges incoming non-resident freshmen who want to spend 4 years languishing in the liberal arts program. Including on-campus housing, and assuming no fee increases until 2017 (as if), it adds up to $152,588.
What if Arizona State raised that number to $250,000? Or $350,000? Would you shrug your shoulders, say “Hey, it’s an investment in the future/An education is priceless”, perhaps complain to your elected officials about skyrocketing costs and organize a protest?
Or you could take a step back and think, “Maybe the math doesn’t work out on this.”
Universities and the DeBeers Company are the only producers in all of commerce who have adopted the following (wildly successful) sales pitch:
What we’ve got is so important, you have no choice but to buy.
COROLLARY: In fact, you’re lucky we deign to sell to you.
A diamond isn’t forever, and neither are most college educations.
No, really. Unless you didn’t happen to notice that divorcées and underemployed college graduates are two categories of human that not only exist, but flourish. If marriage can be the triumph of hope over experience, so can overeducation. A poorly suited spouse will wreck your life, as will a poorly suited degree.
A B.A. in English literature is – what’s the word? Useless.
How dare you say that. Besides, that’s not true. I can teach.
Are you really going to teach? Furthermore, is that even an ambition, or just a defense against an uncomfortable accusation?
Even if it is your lifelong dream to teach (and the timidity of so modest a dream is a topic for another time), you do understand that you’ll be setting yourself up for a life of miniscule pay and massive debts, right? Or have you not applied the math you learned in the 4th grade, and determined what you’ll be getting into, financially speaking?
Of course you haven’t, because you’re not that bright. Despite what everyone’s been telling you, and despite how going to college somehow serves as reinforcement of your status as a smart person. Look, we’ve seen your emails and comments. Most of you think punctuation is like oregano, to be used only sparingly, not consistently.
Here’s the Control Your Cash College Entrance Questionnaire. It has 78 fewer questions than the SAT, and we can grade it instantly.
1. Do you have an aptitude for math and/or science?
IF YOU ANSWERED YES, PUT YOUR PENCIL DOWN. DO NOT TURN TO THE NEXT PAGE.
2. Okay, how about for craftsmanship? This could be anything that gets your hands dirty and that provides a tangible result – carpentry, working on cars, helping your uncle install ceiling fans, whatever.
IF YOU ANSWERED NO TO BOTH QUESTIONS, YOUR FORMAL EDUCATION IS EFFECTIVELY OVER.
University is not the only option. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree to do plenty of lucrative and/or worthwhile jobs. There are thousands of examples. Here are four:
You can hawk real estate with a high school diploma (and a realtor’s license, which takes a few weeks to earn and does not require a demanding course of study). You can be a roustabout on an oil rig, and you’ll immediately be in the top half of American workers by salary. You can enlist in the Air Force, which will teach you much more marketable skills than college will and will pay you for the privilege. You can get a job selling appliances at Sears, which might sound awful to you, but a) you’re 18 and b) if you go to college to study something that carries no prospect of financial reward, you’re going to be working retail in 4 or 5 years anyway. At least this way, when you’re 22 you’ll have enough experience that you should have moved up by now. You’ll also have zero student debt.
As much as you think tertiary education can improve your life, consumer debt can hamper it. Education broadens your horizons, you’re telling yourself? Great. Debt narrows them at every turn.
“Want to do x (move to Alaska, backpack Asia for 3 months, buy a new and reliable car, put a down payment on this cheap house that I found)?”
“Sorry. I can’t afford it.”
Borrow money to defer life for 4 years, and there’s a lot you won’t be able to afford. Then and later.
None of the above jobs has to be a career, either. The Air Force is the only one that comes with an obligation, and even that lasts only 3 years.
Stop believing the hype. People hear the phrase “college isn’t for everyone” and they think it means “college is for everyone but the dumb.” When we say someone “isn’t college material”, it’s usually intended as an insult. It shouldn’t be. Some of the stupidest people on the planet parade through the halls of academia. Many of them never leave. Your average long-haul driver at the roadside diner will give you more stimulating conversation than your average adjunct professor of sociology. Also, the former is far more likely to offer to pick up the tab.
Can you find something satisfying and rewarding to do for a living? Will you be able to do it without dreading certain bills that’ll come at the end of the month (unless you planned to not incur those bills in the first place)? Can you do it while building wealth, and thus options, for you and your loved ones? If you can do all three, that’s true intelligence.