Un-scamming College

A recent posting at Marketwatch (May 26th) entitled “College is a scam — Let’s make some money off it” by Robert Altucher stopped me short. I can best summarize through some quotes that I believe fairly represents his position, a perspective that I have been reading with increasing frequency elsewhere as well. The piece was written to provide investment advice for the myriad of publicly held enterprises that have gone into the education business and have been increasingly shaping both the landscape of higher education but also the perception of it in many circles. I’ve left out the many references to the share values of X and Y companies.

“We can’t deny it anymore: college is a scam… Student loan debt is now greater than credit card debt for the first time ever. After the huge debt crisis we experienced in 2008 and the financial bust in housing that ruined so many lives you would think we would be having more of a national discussion on this but we just aren’t…As a result, for the first time ever we are graduating a generation of indentured servants rather than the entrepreneurs, innovators, artists, and inventors that America is known for. I just hate seeing Americans go down the drain… 44% of graduates in 2009 are either unemployed or hold jobs that don’t require degrees. So in other words, these millions of young people are five years behind their peers and many are holding over $100,000 in debt. What a shame…”

“People tell me, “school teach kids how to think”. To that I say, “learn how to use a library.” And while we’re at it. Put more computers in the library. The knowledge is out there. We don’t need to owe the banks and the government $800 billion to get knowledge… People tell me, “there’s a huge income gap between people with a college degree and people without a college degree.” To that I say… It (this statistic) has selection bias..It also ignores cause versus correlation… A true test would be to take 2,000 people and separate them into two groups of 1,000. Group A is not allowed to go to college. Group B goes to college. 20 years later lets see how they are doing. Obvious this test will never get done but the basic idea is common sense. Take people who are equally intelligent and ambitious and give them a five-year head start and with no debt. They are going to do very well, I have no doubt.”

“Some people say, “College teaches kids how to socially interact and network.” That’s great. But it doesn’t cost (for example) $300,000 for little kids to make friends. Join Facebook for free. And start networking on LinkedIn.”

“Well what about teaching …the classics like Plato. How does art and beauty persist generation after generation. My answer: People with passion will read. I didn’t read a book while in college. But I read several thousand in the 22 years since. If people want knowledge they will seek it out with a hunger like you can’t even imagine. You can’t force feed passion or knowledge.”

“What about if you want to be a doctor? Clearly you need a degree. Maybe. Are you saying you want to heal people or are you saying you want to be an MD? Try working for a few years cleaning people’s bedpans and learn a little about the medical industry. For anything you want to do in life, try it first rather than waste money and time learning something you ultimately never think about it again.”

“Again, tuitions have gone up 10 times faster than inflation in the past 30 years and three times faster than health-care costs in the past 30 years. We need to have an active discussion on this as a society. Meanwhile, the greatest entrepreneurs, artists, and inventors in history either didn’t go to college, were kicked out, or dropped out.

This is all fine, you might say, but what are the alternatives?” And what if I’m now old enough to know that I’m not not an entrepreneur, artist, or inventor? While I believe Mr. Altucher’s point of reference was mostly in regards to education for those of us below the age of 24 or so — though I think most of the target audience for proprietary universities are adults – the ‘value’ of institution based (whether private, public/land grant, or corporate) education as we know it – is going through a period of doubt and re-evaluation. The outcome is meaningful to us as students, academics, parents, citizens and probably every other role we hold and play in contemporary society.

I think we need to be careful not to confuse the institution of education as it is from what it can or should be and toss judgments such as ‘scam’ or ‘school’s not important or worthwhile’ around loosely. I think there are alternatives, some which jive with Altucher’s if you follow the trail of his blogs… but I’d rather open this to responses and rejoin this topic in dialogue with those.

I hope we can engage this conversation.

m fiddler


College and Money and Jobs! Oh My!

Clasping my $143,000 piece of paper, better known as my diploma, I settled in my seat at graduation and reality settled right next to me. Pushing myself to be better, stronger, and smarter over a 17 year academic journey from kindergarten to college was like running a marathon. “I have to wake up early and study so that I can graduate! I have to stay up late and finish this project so that I can graduate!” These quotes have flown from my mouth since I was 5 years old. We toil through the intense curriculum of undergrad in order to be accepted into a great graduate program. A master’s degree used to be the golden ticket to a luxurious, foot-loose and fancy-free life! This may have been the case for graduates 10 years ago, but now…that high-paying job seems as real as Narnia!

Less than 10 years ago, a person with a master’s degree had an average salary of $53,000 but now those numbers have plummeted dramatically. The current economic situation has desecrated the value of an education. People are settling for lesser pay and worse working conditions which leads to poor work morale. What does this mean? The quality of everyone’s work will depreciate because the reward has been decimated. There is a greater fervor to do a task that you were trained well to do and will be paid well to do. The current job market is creating a “Why should I” attitude among the masses. Why would anyone work at their full potential when they know they are only being paid 65% of their worth. Some economist say that we have seen the worst of this recession, while others predict that there is plenty more where that came from. At the end of the day, as citizens with lives to live and families to support, here are a few ways to ignite your professional fire:

1. Alma Maters

Go back to your old schools and use the networking skills you’ve picked up in college. Your former teachers will be so proud to see what you’ve become that they will go out of their way to help you find your spot like a polka dot! Naturally, these teachers and professors feel a sense of kinship with you because they spent time with you and inculcated aspects of their wisdom within you, making you a product of their capabilities. Also, professors know a lot people in different fields so they can definitely pass your resume around to the right people.

2. Out with the old and in with the…….old?

Yes! Contact former employers from when you were younger and see if you can be an asset to the establishment now with your new, shiny master’s degree. You have an advantage over any new-comer who is applying for a position because the employer has built a long-lasting relationship with you and knows your work ethic. That’s something that an employer can’t pass up!

3. It’s a day at the fair……the Job Fair.

A divine event? A nightmare? A waste of time? Everyone has their own perception of job fairs and the success rate of actually landing a job at one, but there are a few secret treasures in attending a job fair. First of all, you are exposed to many career opportunities that you may not have known existed. Forcing you to expand your thinking, job fairs tear down tunnel-vision for job seekers. Also, job fairs allow you to have almost 20 interviews in a 3-hour time period. Practice makes perfect! So even if you are not deeply invested in the company represented at the job fair, use this opportunity to practice your interview skills. Remember: People will perceive you the way that you present yourself. If you believe that you are a worthy employee who is capable, competent and you shine amongst the others, then you should act like it! Speak up, dress nice, and approach employers with an honorable attitude. They will see you as the “star” that you present yourself as.

4. Up..up…and awaaay!!!!!!!

Actually, it should be “Away…and up up” because many people are relocating to improve their career search. They move “away” and find themselves in a better professional situation where they can potentially move “up”. You’ve done homework for many years, so here’s one more assignment. Find out where your field of work is in demand in the nation, or internationally if you’re really adventurous. Now if your financial and personal life permits, pick the place that would be a smooth transition for you and see what this world has to offer. Don’t limit yourself because that limits your opportunities and your success. Carpe Diem!

These are a few helpful tips for these tough economic times.  What are your thoughts on the current professionial arena for new graduates?  What are your suggestions?

                                                                                                                                                                – Fluorescent Black

                                                                                                                                                                    (Nije Capri Lane)

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