College Is Too Cheap

You can tell when someone’s speaking from the heart from the size of his index card


UPDATE, 10/17/12: In our haste to post this, we missed some details. Reader Brad Hutchings points out that the subject of our post studies exercise science at Adelphi University.


Yes, too cheap. If it were more expensive, say 3 times as much across the board, maybe people would then step back and ask themselves the education cost-benefit question they’ve been avoiding all these years.


Against our better judgment, yesterday we watched an uncomfortable-looking Statistic (his name escapes us) ask the two men vying for the presidency a question related to the price and importance of college. (Every American should have the opportunity to go to college, don’t you know.)

As a 20-year-old college student, all I hear from professors, neighbors and others is that when I graduate, I will have little chance to get employment. What can you say to reassure me, or more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?

Because both men want to get elected, they each delivered a variation on “You worked hard, you deserve a good job, college should be more affordable for all Americans, and my 5-point plan will ensure that…” It’ll ensure that our attention switches to the competing baseball game on another network, is what it’ll do.

Neither Mitt Romney nor President Obama asked the awkward and uncomfortable young man with the bad posture any of the following questions:

  • What are you majoring in?
  • What are your grades?
  • Can you read and write, or if I go on your Facebook page will I see a grammatical killing field?
  • Are you grinding, or do you drink a lot and smoke a lot of pot?
  • No, seriously. Come on. You get drunk a couple nights a week, don’t you?

But the candidates didn’t even have to respond to the question with questions of their own. They could have been more direct:

“I can’t. I’d like to think that the job market will improve by the time you graduate, but your future employment is not my concern. Honestly, it’s not. It’s your concern. And your parents’, it seems, but if you want to be an adult entrusted with the responsibility of voting then maybe you should be standing on your own.

“Kid, the real world is unforgiving. 8% of Americans are out of work, thus 92% have jobs. The odds are in your favor. Lots of people in your graduating class are going to get hired. The ones who don’t are going to be the least employable ones.

“So, all this reduces to whether you’re hirable. You obviously don’t have any real world experience, so it’s going to take grades and specialized knowledge to make money.

“You’re probably a liberal arts student. No, that’s not a comment on your nebbishness and your demeanor. Nor is the word ‘nebbishness’ a comment on your palpable Judaism. The reason I think you’re a liberal arts student is that you’re worried about your future. Go ask the kids majoring in engineering and math if they’re concerned about getting hired. It’s like the old joke, ‘What do you call the guy who graduates at the bottom of his med school class?’ ‘Doctor.’

“So let’s assume you’re majoring in English, sociology, something like that. Then you’re screwed. But I’m older and smarter than you, and I live a pretty comfortable life, so I must know a little something about this. Listen to my advice. You’re almost certainly not going to act on it, but at least I’ll have answered your question.

“Get out. Get out now. Drop out of school immediately. You go to school where, Hofstra? That’s like $32,000 a year. Drop out and find yourself a trade school. There’s one in Chicago that practically guarantees its students jobs. These students are getting hired before they graduate.

“The catch is that you have to give up on your dream of being a professional nothing-in-particular, and commit to something more concrete. The kids in question are getting hired as machinists. You don’t appear to be the kind of person who likes working with his hands, but as you pointed out, the job market is rotten. And the most satisfying lives are often the ones that diverge from the original plan.

“Best of all, it costs next to nothing to go to that school. $89 per credit hour for people who live in the district. You’re from Long Island, so you can probably find a similar and similarly priced college close to home. Hell, you can live with your parents. Work part-time to cover the $89 per credit hour, and you can emerge from this with

  • No debt
  • A well-paying job waiting for you.

Conservatively speaking you could make $45,000 out of the gate, and tons beyond that with overtime. After a couple years, you’ll be making a lot more.

I’ll say this again: you’ll be carrying zero debt, notwithstanding what your parents have already thrown away on college tuition. Read the example from the guy at the end of that last story, the father with a son who’s a budding machinist and a daughter who’s a teacher with a 4-year education degree. Her student loan debt is 15 months’ wages.

But yeah, the son’s collar is blue. And he never had the ‘opportunity’ to go to college. So he’s the loser in this scenario, by some crazy measure. Meanwhile his sister will be in debt for the rest of her life. Well, maybe not her life. But even with the most diligent financial planning – which she hasn’t exactly executed up until this point – it’ll take her at least 5 years to pay off those student loans. After that, she’ll be…a teacher. Not a profession with a lot of room for financial growth.

That, or you could fix airplanes or learn to operate machine tools. You know, actually make tangible stuff with a tangible benefit. Get rewarded handsomely, if not richly, and make yourself employable for life. And, one more time, no debt. Believe me, personal debt will affect every step you take as an adult. The deeper it goes, the worse it’ll get for you. Avoid or minimize it now, and you’ll breathe that much more freely than your counterparts. You’ll be able to build future wealth – investments, etc. – that the Hofstra anthropology class of ’14 won’t be able to. Because they’ll still be paying down student loans while working service jobs.

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