The most dangerous thought a parent can have today about their child going to college is “I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about mine going off to school because he or she grew up in the right environment, doesn’t use drugs and hangs out with the right kids.” Parents, including me, would do well to remember that we are exposed to only a small fraction of our children’s thought life. As they get older, we are exposed to less about how they use their personal time. And while our predictions regarding them might often be accurate, being wrong about even one thing can be overwhelming – even disastrous.
Consider the sobering evidence regarding college today:
1. Drop Out Rates are a Catastrophe! The college drop-out rate is twice as bad as the high school drop-out rate, and the high school drop-out rate is terrible. Approximately, 25% of all high school students don’t graduate (Colin Powell’s colleagues say so and the evidence bears it out). The rate is close to 50% for college students (and for some schools it is substantially higher than 50%) based on graduations rates after six years of college, not four. You don’t want to see the four year rates.
2. How Much Debt Can You Stand? The average college student leaves their higher education experience between $25,000 – $35,000 in debt whether they graduate or not. That’s the average. Student loan debt in the United States surpasses all credit card debt – over $1,000,000,000,000 (trillion). Worse, the amount continues to grow.
3. What Happened to My 6,000 Hours? A student who leaves college after two years has invested up to 6,000 hours of their life in an endeavor that failed. Failing, in and of itself, is not the worst thing in the world. In fact, failure is often a great teacher. Here is the problem: The political, social, educational and banking system enculturate youth and families that you cannot be successful in life without a college degree. The sad situation now is that almost half of those we send to college fail at the primary venture society says they must succeed at to be successful in life.
4. Major Research Says Learning is Not Happening at College? According to Dr. Richard Arum (University of New York) and Dr. Josipa Ropka (University of Virginia), students are completing their junior year of college with virtually no net increase in learning. In their book, Academically Adrift, they demonstrate that the overall volume of reading and writing-based homework expected of college students is the lowest it has been in a generation. Even with the decreased work, graduation rates are still abysmal. Arum wrote over 10,000 presidents and university leaders addressing the issues within the past two years, and there has been virtually no response from the educational community.
5. Do You Really Need College to Get Ahead? Forbes Magazine did research a few years ago indicating that most students would come out ahead by a) not going to college, b) finding a decent job and c) saving as much money as possible. This comes from a company comprised of those with advanced college degrees who know how to crunch the numbers. Their research showed that with good money management, nearly anyone who did not go to college could be just as well off financially as those with a degree. Of course, if you are going to college to be a doctor or a manager in a social work profession, you have no choice. However, the debt issue is still a major factor in plotting your course through school.
6. The More Money Over Your Lifetime “Misrepresentation”. Of all the reasons you are told you should go to college, this is the one that is the most misrepresented by politicians, banks, funders and the schools themselves. I simply refer to it as the big “misrepresentation”. The same Forbes article referenced previously says that it is misleading and erroneous to think that college graduates will make more money over time than their non-college counterparts. This is a staggering rebuttal to the age old conventional wisdom, quoted ad nauseam that “you will make more money if you get a college degree”.
Those who recruit you to their school, influence you to go to college, want to finance your education, etc. tell you that you’ll make a lot more money in life if you have a college degree.
While it may vary on a case by case basis, there are at least five compelling reasons to believe that this is not true:
#1: College is the New High School & That Does Not Impress Employers
A generation ago, kids learned Greek, Latin and Philosophy in high school (some in middle school). Virtually every university in America today has an on-campus Writing Center to teach remedial English and writing skills to students. It is true that some students who use these services are international students whose English is their second or third language. However, as a college instructor/professor, I can tell you from my own experience that the writing skills of native born Americans is nothing to brag about. In many cases, it is depressing to see what is allowed to pass through high school as sufficient writing.
In their book and academic research of over 2,000 randomly selected college students, Drs. Arum and Ropka found that an unfathomable percentage of students were entering their junior year of college with literally no net increase in learning. If this is true, and there have not been significant rebuttals, you can easily fall behind by going to college and not learning or dropping out. This is relevant because employers are speaking loud and clear that they are dissatisfied with the low skill levels and entitlement mindset of today’s college graduates. Google recently announced an initiative to begin locating non-college graduates with the right skills and aptitudes that they can train for their business, thus bypassing the college education system in favor of their own process. Google, perhaps the most progressive employer on the planet, recognizes that the current system is simply failing to produce what they need. Colleges, and by extension middle schools and high schools are simply failing to meet the needs of corporate and non-profit employers. While many employers still show up for the obligatory career fair at the local university or college, the great jobs and opportunities are going to the great minds who network and take advantage of the non-academic opportunities afforded by the communities in which they live.
#2: Making Money is Not an Indicator of Responsible Spending
Liberal Arts colleges and universities spend very little time helping students with life management skills, opting to focus largely on social and cause related experiences (another focused criticism by Arum and Ropka). Many private colleges like ECPI University, Bryant & Stratton and others do provide budget and money management as part of their curriculum, but they serve the market very differently than do major colleges. Whatever happened to assessing the factors involved in happiness and personal fulfillment besides money?
#3: More Income Means Greater Access to Debt
As the American culture has become increasingly more materialistic, its appetite for debt to finance its desires has exploded. The number of college graduates filing bankruptcy versus non-grads because of this phenomenon has narrowed dramatically in the past twenty years. College graduates are filing for bankruptcy at a growing and alarming rate relative to their non-graduate friends. The bottom line is millions are realizing now that living with more money and high stress is not worth it. Living within your means, even when it involves less income is more satisfying, healthier and more sustainable.
They say it because it was the justification that helped them decide to go, and what better way to justify the decisions I made than to use the same arguments on you.
#4: The Role of Alcohol & Drug Abuse on Campus Destroying Dreams & Costing Us All
The Dean of Students at one college acknowledged that 25% of their freshman class each year is lost because of poor academic performance directly associated with alcohol and drug misuse. He said that his colleagues across the country indicated that is a representative figure. The seriousness of this problem is known and felt at every middle school, high school, college and university in the country.
It is at the high school to college transition, however, that youth view their drinking from new and affirming perspectives:
1. They are coming of age soon – at least legally.
2. They prepare mentally to mark their 21st year with a drink.
3. It is socially acceptable at college whether it is legal or not.
4. Many parents condone drinking and some actually support it as a social barrier breaker.
5. It is accessible with a decreasing degree of risk.
6. It is perceived as safer than other drugs.
7. Risk/ Reward assessments favor drinking. Getting drunk is incredibly fun (for a little while).
The problem comes when you realize that approximately 70% of all alcohol consumption by youth, including in college, happens after kids are already legally drunk. Consider what that means. Once drunk, they drink enough to get legally drunk at least two more times while they are already drunk.
It is universally recognized now that this behavior is having a profound impact on learning, commitment and retention – knowledge retention, as well as maintaining the ability to remain in school.
If that’s not bad enough, factor in the use of illegal prescriptions medicines, illicit drugs, benzodiazepines and others, and you have a prescription for educational and personal catastrophes. This scenario is being played out hundreds of thousands of times each year now in America. Moreover, the most common place for the use of date rape drugs is on college campuses.
Alcohol and drugs don’t discriminate. They destroy lives regardless of education level, race, gender or socio-economic status. Unfortunately, they are doing life-long permanent damage on college campuses, and there is literally no end in sight.
What financial impact does this have? Americans pick up a $100,000,000,000+ tab annually to deal with the societal costs of alcohol alone. For every $1 in profit by alcohol manufacturers, there is a $1.40 cost to society to deal with the problems it creates. And this does not factor in prescription drug abuse, marijuana, etc. Addicts cannot, and in many cases will not work. Society picks up that cost too.
Do not buy the “More Money Over Lifetime Lie”. The situation is much more complicated than college recruiters and administrators make it out to be.
#5: All of the “College Makes You More Money Over Your Life” Advocates Make Money From Your Going to College
Bankers, politicians, government agencies, as well as universities and colleges themselves have a vested interest in getting everyone to go to college. Everyone is allowed to make a living, right? They all claim that you’ll make more money over your lifetime by going to college. Is that really true?
Students who learn critical thinking skills (at college or elsewhere) learn very early on that you should be naturally wary of information sources that have an economic interest in getting you to make a decision. Why then do we rely almost exclusively on sources that profit from us when making decisions about where to go to school or going to school at all.
Could it be that there is an enormous body of evidence out there the clearly demonstrates that college is not everything that it claims to be? With respect to the institutions and segments of institutions that do a credible job of promoting and delivery on their value, you should take information from these sources and be extremely careful with how you use it.
They understand that many people are just looking for great talking points to convince themselves that college is worth it. Obviously, that approach is failing millions of people each year.
Bonus Point #6: More Money Doesn’t Mean You’ll Be Happier
When money creates uncertainty, it creates more unhappiness. Money creates more stressful relationships to manage. It leads to divorce and broken families when not managed properly. Barbara Bush told the graduating class at Wellsley College years ago that she never met a woman who got to the end of her career and wished she had taken more time in her office. All said they wished they had spent more time with their families. Be careful to avoid the “more money” trap. It is dangerous.
I am certain you will not hear the college recruiters saying this.
Finally, as you consider the value, timing and decisions concerning college, realize that the system that insists that you must attend to have any chance of success in life is producing:
1. Close to a 50% drop-out rate
2. A trillion dollars in non-dischargeable debt (and growing)
3. Limited learning by the students who are paying for it
4. Bloated bureaucracies focused on survival, as much if not, more than learning
5. A sense of failure among those who come and go before finishing
6. Tremendous uncertainty in the lives of those who leave college
7. A historically high rate of kids moving back in with parents
8. And much more…