Justin's note: It's one of the biggest myths out there…the idea that college is for everyone. Today, we're sharing a new essay from Casey Report editor E.B. Tucker—with special commentary from Doug Casey—to show you why. If you're preparing to send your child or grandchild to college in the fall, this is one you'll want to read very closely…
By E.B. Tucker, editor, The Casey Report
Jackie Krowen made a big mistake.
It only took a couple clicks of the mouse…but she’ll be paying for it for the rest of her life.
She racked up more than $150,000 in student loan debt to become a nurse. The average nurse in the U.S. earns $5,660 per month. After taxes and living expenses, Jackie barely scrapes by.
Jackie is the security for her loan. She can’t get rid of it. She can’t hide from it. She also can’t ever pay it off.
She says it ruined her life.
Doug Casey: This subject—why going to college is somewhere between foolish and idiotic for the average person—is worthy of a book. I’ve been saying this for many years, starting with my appearance on the Phil Donahue Show in November 1980, the day before the presidential elections. The audience booed me for that, as well as telling them why they should abstain from voting the next day.
If I’d had good counsel when I was in high school, I wouldn’t have gone off to college. It was fun, but a serious misallocation of time and money. And that was when (the ‘60s) most people didn’t go to college, and it was much, much cheaper.
Jackie isn’t alone…42 million people have student loan debt in the U.S.
Together, they owe more than $1.3 trillion.
Today’s mountain of student loan debt cripples the U.S. economy. It buries young people in unpayable bills. It sucks hundreds of billions out of the private economy.
If you’re influencing your child or grandchild to go to college, I want you to read today's essay very closely.
The Myth That College Is for Everyone
Most young people have it drilled into their heads that they must attend college. Any question of costs gets a scowl from the older generations.
However, college is not for everyone.
Doug Casey: Education is something everyone needs. But people have been programmed to think that if they just log 4-6 years in a college, at huge expense, they’ll get one. In fact, an education is something you get for yourself; no institution can bestow one on you. And sitting in a classroom listening to some academic drone on is probably the worst way to get one. Students cut classes, fall asleep in class, take poor notes, and daydream. Then cram for exams and forget it all the next day. College, for 90% of students, is about partying.
My suggestion is to go through the catalog of thegreatcourses.com, and start watching and listening as world class profs give command performance lectures. Listen to them as many times as you need to. The same for the curricula offered by MIT, and many other universities online. There are many lists of great books. Read them. There are fantastic lectures on youtube. Watch them. The Internet contains all the knowledge in the world; it’s a billion times more valuable than the Library of Alexandria.
If someone wants to go to college (and it really only makes sense for science, math, engineering, and the like), then recognize its main value is the social connections you might make there. Only Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and maybe two dozen others (out of the almost 5,000 in the US alone) can provide that kind of environment. Most colleges (and I’ve sat on the boards of two) should, and will, disappear over the next few generations. There’s a bubble in pointless “higher education.”
Take my good friend Mike, for example.
Mike owns a residential plumbing service company. He has more than 50 employees. Last year his company did $5 million in gross sales. Mike cleared $500,000 in profit. He has a family, a beautiful home, and—most importantly—he’s happy.
But society frowns on a young person that wants to be a plumber. There’s constant, unsolicited advice… “Get an education.”…“Invest in your future.”
This is all terrible advice. An ambitious plumber has a much brighter future than an indebted graduate like Jackie.
A Modern-Day Debtors’ Prison
Family members acting like armchair advisors should be more careful about the advice they give today’s teenagers. More importantly, teenagers should consider the source of the unsolicited advice they get.
It’s safe to say that finishing high school is a good idea for nearly everyone. Most 16- to 18-year-old kids don’t make great employees anyway. Algebra, biology, and even recess are probably more productive use of the workweek during those years.
Armed with a high school degree, 18-year-olds should consider the facts before deciding what to do with the next six years. We say six because finishing college in four years is less common than you’d expect.
Increasingly, kids are not considering other options. Last fall, postsecondary schools counted 20.5 million students enrolled. That’s up 30% from 2000.
As you can see in this chart, more than half of all U.S. 20- to 21-year-olds are in college.
According to a survey conducted by Consumer Reports, 45% of these students will borrow money to pay tuition and expenses, then quit without receiving a degree. They’ll report that college “wasn’t worth it.”
Doug Casey: Here’s an idea, albeit one that might terrify the parents of a “snowflake”: they should travel for a year after high school. It’s the best education in the world. Do it by backpack. Learn a couple languages in the process. Pick up a number of skills as they work their way around the world. It’s something best done when one is young, for many reasons. Put the money that would be spent for college aside, for a business, when an idea presents itself.
May I suggest you give a copy of my novel, Speculator, to a young person who’s thinking (or should be thinking, anyway) about his or her education?
After six years, the graduation rate rises to 60%. The other 40% quit along the way.
Saddled with debt, these dropouts feel too good for plumbing and unqualified for the corporate world.
Victims of Bad Advice
The class of 2017 graduated in May. On average, they carry $37,000 in student loan debt.
Many graduates have unrealistic income expectations. They think all the debt incurred to get a bachelor’s degree somehow entitles them to a high-paying job after graduation.
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, $52,569 is what this year’s graduates should make at their first job. Engineers, computer scientists, and other technical specialists stretch that average higher. They also paid a lot more for the degree than liberal arts majors.
On average, pay isn’t rising very much. Even the increases since the last recession don’t keep pace with explosive college costs.
Doug Casey: Here’s another question: Should someone go to college to learn a trade? Or to absorb the culture of Western Civilization, and become an erudite, thoughtful person? Up until WW2, it was basically the latter. Now it seems to be all about “getting a job”—which is a degrading concept to begin with. (Better to think: What goods and services can I provide for the market?) Things like Gender Studies, Political Science, Black Studies—in fact probably 90% of the courses now offered in college—should be viewed as infotainment, at best.
Let me suggest you read the Conversation I did with Louis James for a full discussion of education.
We don’t have anything to say about the cost of college. Prices in a free market should be free to go as high as customers will bear.
Students seem determined that they need to go to school at all costs. And we didn’t even get into how these students are using up four of the most healthy and energetic years of their lives.
While graduates blame schools, government, and society for their education decisions…we wonder if they’ll start blaming the friends and family who influenced them.
Editor, The Casey Report