Did Obama Really Say He Wants Everyone to Go to College?


There’s a weird debate happening out there. Apparently Rick Santorum “accused” Obama of insisting that every child go to college. Other websites have said that Obama has never said this but instead has encouraged every kid to seek a higher education. I don’t care about Obama or Santorum. I don’t care about politics at all. But it’s interesting to me how this issue has again sparked a debate.

Expect lots of lies and cutting and stabbing for the next few months until the election. Santorum clearly lied. Obama lies. Everyone will lie about everyone else. Which is why I hate politics, why I think Congress should be abolished, and why I think Nobody should be voted in as President. (Quick: name the last President that actually improved your life as a direct result of their policies.)

And now suddenly, and sadly, “to go or not to go” to college has become a political issue. Yet another pressure trying to ruin the lives of our children.

Then a friend of mine, Kathryn Schulz, the author of the book “Being Wrong” suggested that I am the ONLY person who thinks kids should not go to college. This is clearly not true: Peter Thiel and Seth Godin being some examples and there are many examples of successful people in the arts and business who did not go to college.

And finally, MY OWN CHILDREN got into the game, quoting me the inane statistic that people with college educations end up with more money 20 years later.

Let’s make a couple of quick points. Feel free to disagree with me on any of these:

A) Coercion. One of my kids said, “people who go to college have better jobs 20 years later.”

When my kids quote me a statistic like that it sounds to me like they are being coerced into going to college. Someone is trying to make a 12 year old afraid that something bad will happen to them if they don’t go to college. So then out of six years of brainwashing and fear tactics they make their decision.

But anybody who takes Statistics 101 in college knows that the stat they quoted me includes very basic selection bias. A true test is this: take 2000 people who want to go to college. i.e. they have ambition, drive, intelligence, etc. Divide them in half. Tell one half they can go to college. Tell the other half they can’t EVER go to college. THEN see where they are in 20 years.

My guess is the side that had a 5 year head start (on average it takes 5 years to complete a 4 year degree) and was not saddled with $100-300k in debt is far ahead of the side that went to college for five years (and then perhaps graduate school afterwards).

B) But it’s not about money? Many people will argue with me and say “it’s not about money”. I agree 100% on this. however, in the US, student loan debt is now higher than credit card debt for the first time ever. So IT HAS BECOME about money.Whose fault is that?

Not only that, over the past 40 years, college tuitions have gone up 10 times faster than inflation and three times faster than healthcare costs. Healthcare costs is an ongoing national debate. Why aren’t tuitions? Why should we force our 18 year olds now to take on so much debt. Its three times as high now as when I graduated college and I graduated with about $70k in debt that I had to pay back.

C)  It’s not about money, part II. Many will say it’s about learning. However, the tools for learning are so much more advanced now (because of the Internet) that there are cheaper, more effective solutions for education than ever before. And yet, more than ever, kids feel coerced into going to college.

D) What happens to all that debt? Guess what! The  debt is often either backed or bought by an institution called the US government. Sallie Mae (similar to Fannie Mae, which destroyed the housing market) backs or loans out much of the student loan debt out there. So your interest payments go towards the trillion a year war we are fighting in the middle east. It seems like the US government wants kids to make one of two choices: go fight in a war where you can get killed or where you will inevitably kill civilians or ruin their lives, OR, borrow money from us to get some form of higher education so we can use your interest payments to fight our wars.

E) Does anyone learn anything in college? Let me ask you a couple of quick questions. At some point you came across these facts in either college or high school. See if you can answer quickly and correctly without looking it up. They are very simple: When was Charlemagne born? Name the different types of clouds? Who was William Mckinley’s Vice-President?

F) Does Google care about your college education? Actually, they do. I know one guy whose company was being acquired by Google and they asked for his SAT scores. However, when you interview for a job at Google here are some sample questions (and the idea is: your college education will not help you answer them): How many bottles of shampoo are produced around the world in a year? How many ridges are on the rim of a quarter? Design an evacuation plan for San Francisco? How many tennis balls can fit in this room? What comes next in the following series: SSS, SSC, C, SC

The idea is that a college education will fill your memory. Teach you a lot of facts. Maybe teach you basic analysis that conforms with your teacher’s opinions. But will NOT teach you how to really think. Will not teach you how to come up with ideas. How to sell ideas. How to be creative. How to navigate through interesting experiences so you won’t get hurt.

I tell my kids: I will let you do whatever you want in the world EXCEPT for college at the age of 18. For instance, here are 8 alternatives that are cheaper than college and where you will learn more about life and yourself. But take some time before you spend $200k on something when you don’t even know what you want out of life yet.

Let’s not forget that high school and below are primarily advanced babysitting services. So what makes college different? You’re still with the same demographic of people. You still have homework and tests and memorization of facts. The only difference is now you (most likely) live on your own. Is college the safest environment to do that? Is that the wisest use of the highest tuition costs ever? I doubt it.

Learn how to learn. Then go wherever in the world you want to go. Because the world will be yours then.


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  • cgello

    I’m in business school. I thought about asking all of my professors at the beginning of the term this question..”What are 5 things you, specifically, can teach me that I can not learn instantly and for free on the internet?” I didn’t ask, but I should have. I would bet my life that they couldn’t give me a suitable answer. I am so fed up with this nonsense. 

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       cgello, that would’ve been really interesting.

    • JimBob

      Hmmm…sounds like you have a big test coming up?  Or some homework that you’re behind with?

    • Anonymous

      I know some B School professors. They would probably give you a better answer to that question than their liberal arts peers. 

      Not that there is anything wrong with the pursuit of liberal arts. But the B School faculty are at least trained to recognize that money and opportunity costs are real things that should be taken seriously. 

    • http://www.pointsandfigures.com pointsnfigures

      I got an MBA.  Was it worth it?  Don’t know yet but I think a lot differently.

    • Robin Heinen

      I’m a university student at the moment. A girl I know decided to start a MSc in entrepeneurship. Actually, the first thing the lecturer told her and her classmates was: I can’t really teach you how to be an entrepeneur. To be honest, I can’t even teach you anything. YOU have to be an entrepeneur and I can give you advice on the choices you are going to make. I would have stopped my study right-away. You can get advice anywhere, even for free. Entrepeneurs are everywhere. Good people are everywhere. Sometimes succesful entrepeneurs are genuinely good people. They are the best teachers and will teach you things you will never be taught in college. I recently finished my BSc degree in Biology. I can’t come up with one thing I learned which I couldn’t have read in my studybooks. I don’t regret my choice, I was obsessed by biology and the way ‘life’ works. I learned a lot. But buying my books cost me around 1500 $ I guess, my life in college the last 6 years cost me approximately 100.000$, partially paid by government funds in my country. Now that I finished it, I’m working on setting up my business. I learn new things every day, I never EVER use anything I learned at my time in university. I think schools should teach kids to grab every single chance they get in life, in stead of teaching us stuff that nobody needs (who ever read ALL books for the literature classes? Who read the whole text book from A to Z for the (INSERT ANY) class? It’s not the lack of education that is the danger here, it’s lazyness… Being lazy with a PhD degree will never feed your kids either.

  • Capitalistic

    I agree that not everyone should go to college, but there is nothing wrong with formal (and informal) education. 

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       Unless is puts you in so much debt early in life that it ruins all future opportunities and passions you could possibly have later when you are experienced enough to find those opportunities.

      • Anonymous

        I think this is the main point that people are missing here. Opportunity costs of college, not to mention where it all begins in primary school, are huge. Even if a trillionaire were to give away tuition to his college, most will still pay the price of lost time, lost focus, lost experiences, etc. 

      • Zuckerman Jarrett

        This whole debate should be an expensive college course.

  • Sebastien Latapie

    I’m actually quite conflicted. I was fortunate enough to be born French, which means my 3 years of university were basically free. I enjoyed what I studied but I have yet to apply anything that I learned in the “real world”. I decided to pursue my master’s in biochemistry since I felt so unprepared for a job. I am now graduating and looking for a job. I’m still searching and have yet to see my degree give me any leverage. Most of the jobs I’m looking at want experience, something I clearly lack. Of all the knowledge I gained during my 4 years in university, little to none has been applied. Working in the lab was the closest thing to working a real job and the soft skills that I acquired in my year there have been more valuable then all of the knowledge I have acquired. If I could go back and do it again I would look to gain experience as fast as possible instead of spending time getting a degree that has such a low ROI. 

    Yet with all this being said, I still want to eventually get an MBA… It’s something that I aspire too and I think would allow me to get the job I want. I hope that getting an MBA is a better value proposition than getting a bachelor’s of science. 

    • Anonymous

      Sebastien, there is no such thing as a free education, not even in France. Someone has to pay for it through coerced financing which is also known as taxation. And worse still, people not yet born will be forced to pay back the debts incurred to pay for your “free” education.

  • http://444express.blogspot.com/ the444

    Do you know that both bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees can be awarded in any field now, including putting squiggly lines, misspelling names, and constructing frosting roses on the tops of cakes?

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

        I wish I had gotten that degree.

  • http://www.preemptiveplacebo.com Preemptive Placebo

    Conventional wisdom has a momentum that propels it forward.  An inertia.  The more broadly believed the idea, the greater the velocity and, consequently, the further into the future it travels and the more resistance it can penetrate after it is no longer true.  

    This inertia comes in a few different forms.  The conventional twin-beliefs that a successful person earns a college degree and owns a home are persistent because the world is changing faster than our minds can grasp.  When we fail to comprehend a change we tend to distract ourselves from seeing it at all.  This intentional distraction gives us peace of mind. 

    Persistence is also socially enforced by elders who want things to be how they once were.  There is tremendous social pressure to go to college, tremendous pressure to own a home.  And despite the millions of harsh real-world examples of why college and home ownership severely delay success, at best, and have the potential to doom the person from the start, Boomers continue to preach the gospel. 

    Sadly, the people who are pulled along most by the momentum of conventional wisdom are those who are the best and brightest.  They showed the most potential in school.  They followed all the rules.  They did exactly what they were supposed to do.  And that’s what they say when complaining about their foreclosed home or their unpayable student loans, “I followed the rules and did what I was supposed to do.”

    Trouble is, they were following the rules of a different era.  An era that ended not too long ago but ended nonetheless.  The sooner we wrap our minds around the idea that the world is changing faster than we can wrap our minds around the change, the better off we will all be. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=732244537 Priscilla Paredes Wood

    Ok, let’s ditch the idea of college altogether but what if I want to become a Neurosurgeon? Could I get any volunteers to start cracking open some heads and see what’s inside? Seriously Altucher, I think college is necessarily when it comes to careers very specialized like medicine, unless you have a better choice. In the meantime I’ll be VERY happy to swap brains with you.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       Here’s what I would say if my daughters wanted to be neurosurgeons:
      A) go work in a hospital cleaning bedpans for a year to two to see if you really have the compassion to do this.

      B) find a 5 year BA/MD program. There are plenty around the world. Then do it.

  • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

     I don’t know about the connections. Maybe I wasn’t so social but I never ever used a single connecton I made in college. but if i was on the street hustling and moving for 4 extra years I bet I would’ve made plenty of connections.

    • http://www.pointsandfigures.com pointsnfigures

      You should have gone to Notre Dame.  Most connected school on the planet.

      • Mike

        Connections are a very big deal in Ivy league schools. Just look at politics and connect the dots, connections are everything.

        I have a friend who went to West Point. Man, talk about connections, those guys are thick as thieves. lol

  • Boris

    I am in my low twenties and think college / university is too expensive so I took 3 classes and dropped out. 
    I subscribe to a reading list by Ryan Holiday (ryanholiday.net, Marketing director for American Apparel.) He’s quite young, dropped out of college and this is what he had to share that I mostly agree with: “The Start Up of You [A new book] is about how to run your life like your own business, the Education of Millionaires [A new book] is how to run your education the same way. I would take his book as a strong warning: every day you spend in school wasting your time, there is someone like me (or the people he talks about in his book) out there actually learning the things you learn. When you meet those people, they will be smarter than you and they will not be saddled with bad habits and six figures of credit card debt. If you’re trying to figure out which direction to go with your life, pick up both these books.”

  • Dan

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but I see a couple of problems:

    – The basis of your argument seems to assume that there is an inherent bias by comparing college graduates from those who have not graduated college. This assumption is based on another assumption which is that people who go to college are more driven and ambitious, I do not see much evidence that that is grounded in reality.

    – I have a problem when people like Peter Thiel (and yourself) who themselves have expensive degrees from prestigious universities, yet proclaim to others that they don’t need college. A good friend of mine just told me she is dissolving her kid’s college fund for similar reasons. She claims he doesn’t need to go to college because he can do anything else he wants. She happens to have two degrees from a very prestigious university. Talk about selection bias.

    To me the problem is the rising tuition, not the education or the debt, and that is what needs to garner more focus and discussion.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       IN respose to #2: who better qualified to say “college is waste” then someone who went to college and felt it was wasted.

      There are many examples of the reverse: someone who did not go to college but succeeded despite it.

      • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

         Also the rising tuition costs is, of course, directly related to the rising debt. Who is the biggest beneficiaries of rising tuititions (other than the colleges): hedge funds and the US government.

        • Dan

          I agree with a lot of your argument, and, as a graduate of another prestigious university I think there are pros and cons to college. I think the four year head start is overrated, because a lot of what you could be doing outside college is not mutually exclusive with being in college. The debt absolutely is a huge problem, but the problem is the ease of getting loans which has taken pressure off of state governments to support their public universities. As is the case with most well-intentioned government programs, giving every kid the ability to pay for college had the unintended consequence of shifting the burden of paying for the university from the government to the students. Now the government needs to fix the problem by either taking away the loans or putting pressure on the states. But it seems that there has been a recent push to discourage kids from going to college, and I think that is unfortunate and a knee-jerk reaction.

          To your point about people who did not go to college and succeeded despite it, of course that is true, but hardly reason alone to tell somebody not to go to college. I’d bet that virtually all of those people would have done just as well with a college education.

          • Dan

            I guess I would sum it up this way- people who don’t need a college degree shouldn’t go to college. That sounds like a ridiculous tautology, but I think there is substance to it because the truth is that the world is a fluid place in which people who are extremely smart, lucky, and talented can create their own success without any degree. But the majority of people aren’t Steve Jobs or Ben Franklin, and I would wager that people like that would fare fine with or without a degree. That’s why I think telling young people they shouldn’t go to college is dangerous because they may end up in a situation where they can’t get a job because a degree is required, but not be capable of making their own success with a business or some other avenue.

          • http://www.preemptiveplacebo.com Preemptive Placebo

            As you point out, the problem with a university education is debt.   Enough people want a degree and the states no longer want to directly fund education (a good thing) so the winner, the one who actually get a degree, is the person willing to assume the most debt.

            In for a penny in for a pound.  Sounds very similar to the housing bubble.   But the homeowners who woke up in the middle of the nightmare were able to walk away and will have a clean slate in a few years.  Those who wake up part way through a degree-program to realize they will be qualified to compete with their credentialed counterparts for a non-paying internship or $10/hour “managerial position” are screwed.  No defaulting on debt. 

            The best way to “correct” a broken system is to refuse to enter it. 

    • Guest

      Education is broken. Aside from tuition increases, many of the required courses makes no sense, many of the subjects that people should understand are absent, and the degree is not a representation or guarantee of success.

      Those without degrees from prestigious universities or even attended one makes the same argument about college as those who do. As a matter of fact, I’d argue that does who have succeeded without a degree AND those who have experienced at a prestigious university understand from experience first had whether its worth it or not. Sure Thiel has a degree but you can’t say for certain Taft he wouldn’t have succeeded without having attended Stanford in other ways. Only from his perspective can he say whether the education was worth it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ron-Ball/100002568651921 Ron Ball

    Volunteer. Go to a small business owned by a go getter. Tell them you will work for free if they will give you a job. It’s cheaper than paying for college. If you treat it seriously and they are worth working for you will get paid sooner than you think. Everyone loves free samples. Tell them you only want time off for job interviews. I did it. It works. You also get the benefit of telling prospective employers you work fulltime at the present. PRICELESS!

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       Yes, I agee.

  • Sparkycertitude

    I got a cost-of-attendance scholarship, if I had lost it, I would have dropped out. Completely agree with this post, most of college is just reciting information for a multiple choice test. Thinking skills are lightly used, reading on your own is just as useful considering the way courses are taught, and most students just do cramming before exams only to forget it a few days later.

  • Anonymous

    James, what do you think about open source education, a collaborative effort for people to self-educate and pay it forward by creating new educational materials, grading and/or tutoring via the internet?

    During this generation, we’ve had the greatest leap in the free distribution of information in the history of the world, yet children assemble at bus stops to take a bus to a centralized facility to be taught the same lessons out of the same books from the same teachers in quarterly increments in a cycle that repeats itself 12 years.. Then that inefficient brick and mortar system continues at the college level at a much higher cost to the student. To me, it would be like if people drove to the local library everyday and had the librarian read to an assembled group of people the previous day’s news from that day’s newspaper… instead of just visiting the newspaper website from home.

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

       I think tihs is a fantastic idea. Sooner or later someone will really create a business that will disrupt college education as we know it now.

      • http://twitter.com/my_chiguai Michael Wills

        Something like building social groups of concentrated learning based on available resources to take the tests to gain college credit. Khan Academy, classes by Stanford and MIT… didn’t they already open up classes actually?

        Personally, I’m banking on this happening in the next 15 years before my kids hit college age…

      • Mike

        James, you must be aware of KAHN Academy on Youtube right? It’s really cool, I like this way of learning because it educates based on personal drive of the individual. 

        • Elan Shanker

          Also see coursera.org, udacity.com, mitx.mit.edu

      • Samuel Fetters

        It’s called Wikipedia.

  • http://robnonstop.com/ Robnonstop

    My experience: If you want to be good in a specific field, go to one of the best and give him 1-4K cash and let them teach you the skill immediately. Expect to be yelled at and corrected immediately, you want a passionate teacher as described in The Talent Code. Why waste your time cluttering your day with useless topics at a college when you need those 10,000 hours of hands-on work to be good at it.

    Also check out the Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg for some examples of people who didn’t go to college and succeeded.

  • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

    High school is so much more than baby-sitting. Are you are aware some student can attend college for free while in high school?

    I know the cloud names, but I think I learned their names in 5th grade.

  • Brad Gardner

    Have you seen 
    http://www.udacity.com/ ?

    It’s focused on Computer Science for now, but the goal is to provide a comprehensive education in CS online for free.  Thousands are in the first round of classes.

    As a CS graduate that is sitting on 70k in debt, wishing I hadn’t bothered, this format is extremely promising for my own kids.  

  • Mike Sullivan

    JA: ” …But will NOT teach you how to really think. Will not teach you how to come up with ideas. How to sell ideas. How to be creative…..”  

    I disagree, although maybe I am dated (went to University of Toronto early 80’s, …… and went back early 90’s), and my experience is North of the border (is it really that much different?, perhaps).  Maybe we didn’t have to ‘sell’ ideas so much, but if you wanted to excel, you had to think, had to come up with ideas, had to be creative.   

    I agree that university at 17 or 18 is too early for most, more maturity required.

  • Mike Sullivan

    Obama make this bizarre statement in his recent State of the Union:

    “When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better.  So tonight, I am proposing that every state — every state — requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

    So he is mandating high school.  Kind of like he mandates a lot of things.

  • http://www.chrisisgrowing.tumblr.com/ Chris Han

    I just graduated back in May of 2011.  I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn much.  It only gave me access to partying and networking.  I also double majored in Communication and Spanish.  If I could go back and do it all over again, I would have majored in something useful like engineering or mathematics because that’s where the prospective hiring jobs are.  Now i’m in over $50,000 in debt with an “okay” paying job.

  • Wikichiguy

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say Obama wants every high school graduate to have the opportunity to go onto college, community college or vocational school?  It seems everyone who complains about Obama’s position on this doesn’t complain about his real position.

  • Nillie Goldman

    Interesting article that makes some good points. Here’s two more alternatives to college at 18 in addition to the ones that you listed: 

    The Thiel Fellowship

    You can find the links to both of these programs, in addition to other selected resources that can assist Generations Y and Z in exploring their entrepreneurial potential at http://WebToTheRescue.com (under “Generations Y and Z”).

    Nillie Goldman
    Founder and Publisher

  • Anonymous

    James, you correctly describe high school as a baby-sitting service [run by torturers, I’ll add] but I don’t hear you making plans to pull your kids out. If you home schooled them (or unschooled them whatever), you wouldn’t have to do all the schooling yourself, dontchya know? Lots of parents are afraid of pulling the plug on compulsory baby sitting because they think that they’ll have to teach the kids everything from ABC to higher math. But this is a mistaken even if it was a possibility, which it isn’t. There should be 1000 under-employed tutors in NYC who are dying to teach your kids. Look them up. And besides, kids mostly teach themselves all the important things anyway. School just gets in the way of real learning. 

    Give it a shot. Think of all the great blogs you’ll get out of it. :)

    • Sam

      James, I was wondering the same thing.  I completely agree with your view on  schooling.  So then, why not save them from the horror?  Is this something you feel very conflicted about? Mikeyhell is right, there should be plenty of tutors available. Also, there’s Khan Academy and other on-line resources. With a little homework, I’m sure you can find lots resources online. Yes, its a time commitment, but isn’t it for a worthy cause? Also, I think it would get easier as they get older so its not like you’re tied down every day, all day for the next 12 years or so.

      You mentioned in a recent post a story about how you put off doing something for Claudia and it got to the point where she had to say that by you not doing this task (sorry! I forgot what it was!), you were basically saying that it was ok with you that she had to deal with her situation.  it was at that moment that you finally acted.
      What if you were to apply this same rule to your children’s schooling? Or, are you saying that “school sucks”, but not enough for you to take the reins? In essence, the opportunity cost of homeschooling is too high?

      I love your posts because of your honesty.  I’m sure this is a subject that you’ve pondered. You may have already covered this before. Not trying to stir up any demons…;


  • http://twitter.com/Neutronite Alex Bogdanov

    Well, I’m not sure how it is in America, but here in England, it’s very difficult to get a job without a degree, and even if you do, you will reach a point in your career where to get a promotion you would have to get a degree. The famous glass ceiling.
    And here, though you do get loans that you have to pay back
    a) If you earn less than 30k pounds a year, you won’t have to
    b) If you do earn more than that, you pay about 50-100 pounds a month (the more you earn, the more you pay)
    c) Your debt gets forgotten in 30 years time. It’s irrelevant if you’ve actually paid it back or not

    So I’m really sceptic about your proposition. Are you basically sentencing your kids to be looking longingly up through the glass ceiling? 
    Or let me ask another question. Do you go to a doctor? Yes? Well then, would you like to go to a doctor without a degree, whose only knowledge comes from the internet? How about sending your kids to a doctor like that?
    Of course though, I believe that going to uni to study something like literature would be a waste of money, so in that case I agree, as you can’t get many jobs with degrees like those, and all the course you could have read off the internet. But careers like engineers, doctors, physicists, bioengineers, all can’t be simply taught through the internet. In them human lives are at stake. You need things like uni for these. With specialisations like these and with a degree getting a high-paying job is much easier.

    You mentioned successful people who didn’t go to college. Ok, I agree that it would be possible to succeed big without a degree, and yes, succeeding big is very hard with or without a degree, so in that case they are almost useless. But what about succeeding small-medium? Getting a high paid job, getting a house, etc. , however not being a successful millionaire. To be successful like this, a degree is almost required for companies other than Google and Facebook.

    Would like to hear your views,

    • Capo Regime

      The post is in response to Obama saying everybody should go to college.  James did not say nobody should go, but that its over hyped and pushed in America.  Yes, if you want to be a doctor you have to go to medical school.  Yes, if you want to be an employee or cube dweller you have to have degrees (credentials) but that is not the only way to be successful.  

  • http://twitter.com/gcpursley Chase Pursley

    I’ve been giving the entire fed backed college loan system some thought.
    What if part of the massive increase in student loan debt is a decisive ploy by the US government to ensure they have a substantial, non-bankruptable income stream from a portion of the population who typically enjoys higher levels of income and employment than the general population.

    Think about it – college educated Americans are sending about 70% of their income to the federal government in one way or another:

    30% in taxes (and more for many families) – Uncle Sam
    20% in federally owned student loans – Sallie Mae
    20% in federally owned home loans – Fannie Mae

    • Anonymous

      Chase, I think the more important form of indebtedness of student to the state is an intellectual and spiritual one. Few people are going to bite the hand that feeds them and many will even go further and promote the state’s causes, whether it’s warfare or welfare.

  • JimBob

    :”The  debt is often either backed or bought by an institution called the US government.”

    In other advanced economies, they do away with the silliness and hypocrisy: the government just pays for kids to go to college.  Period. Because they recognize that a highly-educated work force will make their economy more competitive and their citizens more able to enjoy the myriad pleasures of the mind.  

  • Anonymous

    The current middle class fetish for education is mostly about status – and that holds for the students, their parents and the administrators. Everyone’s in on it. It’s like showing you can pay the protection money. It’s also easy to measure – unlike intelligence or creativity. Middle class people will not give this up easily. I would like to know how many of the people raving about the necessity of a degree even have a public library card. Not very many, I suspect.

    College can be a great experience, particularly if you don’t care about the degree. It should be cheap and rigorous. Right now, it’s neither. Colleges have a monopoly on a coveted resource and they hire countless administrators (far more than profs) to provide a vast number of support services that weren’t there a generation ago. The colleges use these as carrots in their competition for students. Insane….

    To be fair, the poor want college ed because it is one of the easiest ways to network outside their class and move up. It’s not the only way but…

    • http://444express.blogspot.com/ the444

      You nailed it, Janewearsahat.  It’s a fetish that is about status.  I live in a state that has excellent public colleges, and those who don’t send their kids to private colleges here or elsewhere send their kids to public college in the surrounding states just so they can brag at the neighborhood barbecue that their child attends college out-of-state.  And plays lacrosse, too.  Where does the status-obsesssion end?  In realty, college today is just a form of social-climbing and caste-sorting, I’ve observed.  For many people, of course – not for all – but for the middle-class masses it is.  Lower-class people trying to climb to the next rung are oftentimes very angry when they see what they’ve climbed into and how hard it is to fit in and their disadvantages and differences are apparent in high relief.  I know this veered off your point but I just had to throw in some of my observations.  I’m a sociologist by nature (not by formal education) and it’s been very interesting to study what happens when people from various backgrounds (and I’m not saying negative things only about a subset of the disadvantaged – I’ve seen revolting things from the advantaged end, as a matter of fact) come together and interact with one another and try to inhabit the same microcosm.

  • Anonymous

    Basic rule of thumb – whenever someone says it’s not about the money, it’s really about the money.

    I also knew all three answers without having to look them up. 

  • Caveman

    I’d love to know about the inner workings that made you realise that some of it was scam

    • Capo Regime

      Caveman–have some major stories..Here is a glimpse…  Grade inflation for overseas (foreign students) essential as they pay full freight at state schools but also at privates (they don;t eat into scholarship funds etc)  Flunked some students from China and Dean told me it would cost 80k per year per student if they flunked, was I sure they did not get “c”‘s.  Lots of incidents of that sort.  Lots.  Then there is sponsored research which in many cases (not all) is dressed up promotion for a product or a medication tied to a sponsor.   Thats just a brief look–lots of incidents.   Oh the incompetence of many faculty and the waterinng down of content.  We used to have a thing called a core curriculum where students were required to take 2 courses in calculus, 2 in a real science, 2 to 3 in foreign language and guess what–most students could not hack it. Since I left Academe my experience was verified when I hired for my firm a poli sci graduate from Cornel who did not know the different roles of the House of Representatives or Senate.   Fascinating thing is that your typical high school grad from the 50’s had more on the ball than the typical college grad  (couple of studies on it, don;t have cites but can get to you).   The thing the education fetishists forget if everybody has it, its not worth anything……I love how defenders will say, on average college graduates earn more, well on average all humans have one testicle.

  • Tarun Garg

     “But anybody who takes Statistics 101 in college knows that” — Problem..

  • http://cashadvancesus.com/ cash advance

    Well, if I had to purely guess…I’d say that about 20% of all students who graduate from high school (especially these days), are even college material! The only reason that Obama and the Progressives want your kids in school is to continue dumbing them down for four more years (on a much grander and expensive scale!)…80% of most students are future entrepreneurs, inventors, tradesmen and just about any other category of worker you can think of! Problem is that that have destroyed the job market in this country…Of course Progressives and Marxists see the work place as a Global One…we don’t! Get educated (in the facts) my fellow Americans…We definitively need to take our country back and restore it for our children and grandchildren’s future…

  • http://berislav.lopac.net Berislav Lopac

    I have for a long time argued that higher education (and in many cases lower ones as well) has completely lost its point and purpose. But there is still one aspect that it provides as currently designed, for which there are currently too few real alternatives: the fact that it takes young people out of the comfort zones of their families, and puts them in a mixed group where they get their first real lessons in socialising and life values.

    Now, it definitely makes no sense to spend that much money on that aspect alone, and I’m certainly not saying that this is good enough a reason for continuing the present status quo. Instead, we should think about exploring alternatives. Peter Thiel’s project of 20 under 20 is one, and startup accelerators like Y Combinator and Seedcamp are another, but those are too few and we still need more options. I would very much love to hear any ideas you might have in that direction.

    • JP

      the fact that it takes young people out of the comfort zones of their families, and puts them in a mixed group where they get their first real lessons in socialising and life values.”

      Are you talking about the fact that it completely eliminates your emotional support system, social network, and sense of who you are?  

      Yeah, I needed that like I needed a hole in the head.  I still have nightmares about college and that was 15 years ago.  Most socially isolating experience of my entire life.

      I’m pretty sure that you need a certain level of emotional maturity to be able to function in a college environment.  I certainly didn’t have it when I went there.

  • Rnrnry

    Why then go to school for even 12 years? What happens after 12 years that makes you believe you are now prepared for the world  and you are capable of starting a business,traveling  the world etc.? Apparently without money no less

    If you come to my business, applying for a job and I ask “what do you bring to the table? and your answer is any of the nonsense you have propagated here, my answer is “NEXT!”

    • http://www.preemptiveplacebo.com Preemptive Placebo

      Many in the unschooling movement are asking the same question. 

      They are increasingly finding that the surest route to success is to never apply for your job in the first place and never give you the opportunity to answer ‘NEXT!”

  • Anonymous

    +1 Nobody should be voted in as President

    • http://jamesaltucher.com James Altucher

      I have a Kindle Single coming out this week about that very topic. 

  • Svend

    The fact that certain successful people didn’t go to college, does not mean they agree with your statement that “kids should not go to college”. I think it’s at least as outrageous as saying all kids should go to college. I think all kids (and adults) should be enlightened and informed, but I wouldn’t say everyone should go to college (or University). They should do what they would like to. But if they think that being successful means making money, then I’m sure they have a better chance with a degree. However, if they think happiness is important, then whatever they would like to do should decide whether they should study or not. Of course, most kids don’t know what they would like to do when they’re adults, so if they would like to keep they options open, getting as much education as possible (I know not everyone has the choice in a country where you have to pay for most educations), is probably only for their own good…. :)

  • Anonymous

    So does getting arrested make them twice as likely to get hired?

    Advising kids to disappear in the new-hire filtering process now imposed digitally / universally is the equivalent of telling your kids that getting arrested is an early-career success formula.  After all, it’s the same thing to recruiters.  They even hire the same companies to do the filtering.  

    Love your open air honesty prose, but the college-is-a-waste meme gets no traction in my world unless you can realistically counter the database filters argument.  

  • Gonzalo Gandia

    I gave my nephew the following advice last year: “go to university, as well as start your own company. IF you want university to REALLY pay off, make sure you graduate in the top 10% (if not 5% or better). This will only increase your choices of employment once you finish. It also has the crucial side benefit of making sure you don’t coast in university. If you coast, you’ll be wasting your time and money.”

    (Tim Ferris has some interesting tips on how to “beat” the educational system once you decide to go through it.) 

    Today, my nephew has started his own company, is working part time and going to university. If you don’t do this when you’re young, when the hell will you have the energy to push yourself later on? Wish someone would have pushed me when I was his age…

  • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

    If college was affordable, would you still argue against it?

    • Gonzalo Gandia

      That’s a good point. I think what James is saying that the “cost/reward” balance has become way too skewed. It no longer makes sense to go to college and learn most subjects. When “change” is talked about, I think part of the discussion is financial…

      • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

        The argument boils down to money…and whether or not college is a good fit for the individual.  However, if all things are equal between two candidates for one job, more often then not the one with the degree will be offered the
        position first.

        I, for one, am thankful for higher education and what it contributes to society. 
        Research and development of anything complex in just about every field (ie. science, medicine, architecture, materials, engineering, manufacturing, energy alternatives, water management, agriculture..etc) requires tons brain power and extensive resources which are not available to the average high school graduate or high school drop-out which ever the case may be.

        (Side note:  I bet at least one of James’ daughters will attend college)

        • http://www.preemptiveplacebo.com Preemptive Placebo

          You’re right, higher education has contributed to society in those fields. 

          For me, the question is whether it makes sense from a societal standpoint for cops to have law degrees, for iron workers to have PhDs in structural engineering, and for elementary school teachers to have a masters +30. 

          This certification inflation costs society more than it benefits.  It creates artificial barriers and makes us more calcified in times when rapid change is needed. 

          As you say, R&D of anything complex has required tons of brain power and resources.  That is changing fast.  Brain power is shifting toward computation power.  Standardized models are allowing for more efficient use of resources.  We are just at the beginning.  James’ kids will be in the thick of it. 

          Technology will change the way we face challenges in the future.  The pace of change will demand increasing flexibility which runs counter to our recent push toward specialization. 

          As the sands shift the cop will need to quickly retrain to become an iron worker or an elementary school teacher.  The harder we make that transition the less competitive we will be in the future. 

          • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

            I agree with you, in the midst of change, everyone has to change or be past by.  

            I also understand questioning certification standards, but for now they exist. So for example my daughter, who is graduating mid summer, has to past tests and have certain degrees for her field.

            College or no college is a very individual choice. But I really don’t see American high schools producing young adults who are qualified to take on the competitive world upon graduation.

            (My views come from my limited exposure; three suburban public high school graduates in college now.)

          • Capo Regime

            Univ of Phoenix and their Ilk can make sure that for 50k your iron worker gets her PHD and the Teacher can get two masters!  Just let us fill in your student loan forms and you can do it on your schedule and you will be certain to pass if you can tell time and fog a mirror. 

        • Capo Regime

          The real question is not whether or not higher eduction is worthwhile, its a matter of how much.  It is not dose invariant.  More is not better.  Also, people confuse credentialism with actual skills (i.e. the appeal of third tier and online schools so you can get the credentials to get promotions in government related jobs–not skills just a degree).  Language is powerful, many students and younger folks will say–I got a degree.  Thats what they did, they did not learn or gain any skills they just went through a process to get a piece of paper which would act as a ticket to enter the middle class.  Again, they confuse the real learning and skills (they do happen by the way in a few places for a few students) obtained by learning and hard work and dedication, versus the magic of some piece of paper.  Obama and many of the promoters of the higher ed scam are of the latter–degress sold as consumer goods, like a cool pair of sneakers makes you cool, a degree will make you cool and give you self esteem.   It was not always this way, and its not true in all cases now–just most;)

    • Capo Regime

      Everything is affordable, its just a matter of who is doing the affording.  What is affordable to me and what is affordable to bill gates is a different thing.   Affordable is such an abused term, its become some sort of code for entitlement or a low price.  If its low price then just say low price so that any slacker can obtain instead of saying affordable.

  • Richard Dykiel

    I agree with most of your reasoning; however, I want to ask whether you think that self-paced learning is a viable alternative: learning is hard, especially for ‘hard’ matters such as math etc. I think you need to be in an environment that will challenge you and put you out of your comfort zone. And that applies whatever your topic (arts, science, etc…) 

    Furthermore, US universities are concentrated mini-societies in which you can explore and be exposed to many different disciplines, if you are driven to search your way.I came in that country in 2000 from France, where education is free, and elitist. I like the way education is approached in the US, with a focus on the individual student. I have 4 kids, 3 of them went or are going through UMASS, which I consider a good value (compared to more expensive universities): the eldest started in liberal arts and ended graduating in chem eng, then went working for Exxon; my son started as mech eng, then swiched to ‘build your own major’ while he’s starting his business; he’s basically using UMASS as a resource for skills and networking. Kid #3 started as business major. Even if it’s UMASS it’s still expensive (20k / year), but as I told my kids “it’s not an ivy-league, but take advantage of all the opportunities you’ll find there, and engage your teachers”.

  • http://harrietmay.com/ Harriet May

    I don’t think college is wrong, but it’s definitely broken. Just like the tax system and the health care system. I mean, we can’t do away with health care, can we? Hand out first aid kits to everyone and say, off you go! I think it’s the same with college. Some people will be ok, but some people will greatly benefit from going. (I know this in practice as well as theory because my boyfriend did not go to college, and now he is 30 and a general sales manager at a car dealership, which he loves and is good at and makes a ton more money than I do. He’s 5 years older than me but 9 years ahead career-wise.) There are just too many variables to rule it out completely. I wish I’d learned more “skills” in college (and in high school). Like, personal finance and how to use Photoshop and basic HTML code. Those things would be useful to me now. Most of college was not that useful to me, like when I failed Spanish because I mostly stayed in bed stinking like vodka from the night before. It would have been more useful for me to go to Spain and work in a shop for a year. (I wasn’t studying Spanish nor did I have much interest in it really but language skills are infinitely useful. Not being tested on them or being able to write long essays in a different language but to really be able to speak it, and connect with other people using it. That is a good skill and leads to more learning– real learning, not college learning.) Now I have two degrees and very limited skills, and I loved college, I’m glad I went, but I still mostly feel like I’m at square one. I just wish more gaps had been filled in along the way, is all.

    • Richard Dykiel

      I find it hard to believe that with 2 degrees you have ‘limited’ skills. Maybe you find them not very useful, but learning them must have exercized your mind. And who kows you might lean on what you learned to do other stuff. It’s harder to fill those gaps once you are on your own making a living, but not impossible.

      • http://harrietmay.com/ Harriet May

        I developed analytical and reasoning skills and that sort of thing, sure, and I guess I got practiced in the art of deadlines. And I read, and I’m trying to teach myself some things, and am participating in a MOOC, but you know, there are so many opportunities that aren’t open to me because I don’t have the required skills or experience. Of course that’s just life, too.

        • Mike

          You can do anything you want Harriet, don’t convince yourself otherwise. 

  • http://www.parmcharm.com karen parmelee

    This is always a popular topic over here on Altucher Confidential! I still maintain that you cannot extract your own experience for the benefit of those who’ve not had the same privilege in life. I take your point, all of them, and appreciate your observations and assertions. You, as a learned rose, could not blossom as a tulip; as a tulip, I cannot blossom to be a rose. You are who you are, because of who raised you, what came after, and all of that. Neither can I. We bloom together, and it is a bouquet. I with my BS in Communication that gave me a far better handle on my strengths and aspirations as well as how to manipulate the system and work for what I want. I needed the higher authority to work out some rough edges. That’s my tulip story. Most valid point made in comments is that recruiters do filter for education credentials. In my case. a fellow tulip is the VP / GM of a company I hope to work for. He is my #1 contact and I feel glad for that.

  • http://www.pointsandfigures.com pointsnfigures

    I don’t think college is for everyone.  You are correct that you should really pay attention to the amount of debt you will have when you graduate.  But, if you are going to incur debt, it also means that you ought to be studying stuff you can use to actually get a job and pay down the debt you accumulate.  Unfortunately, the entitled generation things that they can study bullshit like the Theory of Spanish History at a place like Harvard, accumulate 200k in debt, go to grad school, accumulate more debt, and then the world owes them a job at say, 200k per year for life so they can shop at luxury stores and hey, maybe even forgive the debt.  

    Both of my kids are in college.  One is at an expensive school.  She just started her own business, campussherpas.com, and she also works in her spare time for money.  The other is at a cheap school.  However, she is learning a skill that should pay off when she graduates.  She will be fluent in Chinese at the end of her freshman year.  

    I don’t think anyone can make a blanket statement about college for an individual. But, I do think the statistics hold.  Most people that go to college do better than people who don’t.  Maybe it’s not the classes they took or the degree, but the network of people they meet when they were there.  

  • http://twitter.com/fzeng96 Feng

    Maybe the problem is that schools and universities should really change themselves to truly become the kind of teaching/learning environment that actually help people to become better people. To teach people how to be physically healthy, how to be financially healthy, how to be emotionally and spiritually sound human. I didn’t learn any of that in school.

    Maybe the rest of the world should stop being so caught up on a piece of diploma and truly embrace of the potential of every human being, and give everybody a chance.

  • Mike

    While I certainly don’t know the answer to all this what I can do is tell you from my own experience some of the results of people around me who have no education and what they have accomplished.
    1.) MEI own a plumbing business. In 2011 my my net income was $187,000 and I have no employees. It’s just me and a 1-Ton cube van that’s a mobile hardware store for plumbing parts. I do service work only and I’m busy 7 days a week. My parents offered me college all paid for but after drinking away my first year they cut me off and I was on my own. I started at $7 an hour and learned on the job the skills I needed and after 8 years I became a licensed master plumber. I was broke. I started with a rusty van and about $100 in parts. I literally had to go door to door and knock to get work. It was hard, everything in life is hard. The thing is this, I enjoyed it. I currently own a home and have have zero debt. Nothing, not my home not anything besides $20 bucks I borrowed from my buddy the other day because I forgot my wallet.2.)Mom & Dad

    My parents own a manufacturing company that employees about 400 people. The company was started during the great depression but was defunct when my Dad bought it. He was a farmer but had a vision. My parents leveraged everything they had and he made it work. We were so poor growing up I can remember being embarrassed when relatives came over because our clothes were old and wore out. Over time the business grew and now is one of the largest manufacturing companies supplying structural composite components to the door and window industry as well as the growing health care sector. My parents are multi- millionairess. No college.

    3.) Uncle

    My uncle can’t read. Literally, he simply can not read and write. It’s so bad he can’t even work for somebody because even simple jobs require some reading and writing skills. At the age of 17 he started hauling lumber for a builder. 20 years later he owns one of the largest residential building companies in the Midwest. He also owns and manages about 30 apartment buildings. He built them and now people pay him. He is a multi- millionaire many times over and is debt free. No college

    4.) Other Uncle

    My other uncle owns one of the largest small engine shops in the State. He is the preferred dealer for some of the most well respected brands in the country. He is a multi- millionaire many times over. I can remember when he started, he was flat broke fixing engines at a hardware store in town. One day he got fired because they shut that part of the business down. He rented a small hole in the wall as a space and hung a sign out. 7 years later he built a massive building where he occupies a space for his business and rents out the other spaces to other businesses. They are debt free. No college

    5.) My Sister

    My sister is a Realtor and rental property owner. She became a drug addict but managed to hold a job at a local greasy spoon cafe. For years all of us thought she would waste away to nothing and end up dead. Nobody understood why she could’t cope with life. It was as if she was in a mental prison. One day she met an old man who was dying of cancer. He would come in to the cafe where she was a waitress and would sit and drink coffee in the morning. He shared with her how he was dying. One day he stopped coming in. My sister was worried so she did something she has never done before, she escaped her fears and called every hospital in the area and found him. She was the only visitor and she held his hand when he died in the hospital bed. The old man asked my sister if she could take over his tiny business. He was a window cleaner but only had a few accounts. If I remember the sales were only abut $275 a week. She did. For some strange reason, reasons none of us understand, she up and quite her job. She started washing windows and had to teach herself how to do it. Over a couple year period she blossomed into her own generating a business with sales in excess of $500K a year. Not bad for a window cleaner. She decided to move on and sold it. She took all the cash and bought a POS rental building. She made money and bought more. She became a licensed broker so she could be on the inside with real estate deals. She doesn’t sell houses, she buys them. She has become one of the most prominent people in the area. She is a millionaire, is debt free, and never went to college.

    6.) Friend #1

    Total goof off in high school. Was a drug dealer because he wanted the easy way out. Got busted and served time. He couldn’t get a job so he had to make his own job. On his kitchen table he designed a clever way to do directional boring for underground utilities. He was a pusher. He talked all of us into the idea. He bought a chunk of steel and a metal lathe and machined (self taught) a device to grab a cable, stick it in the ground, and through an air compressor bore a hole under a road so as not to disturb the pavement. They are in use worldwide now. He has since sold the idea to a major manufacture and is wealthy. He is 47 and never went to college.

    7.) Friend #2

    Jeff never went to college but he was always really book smart. One day he recognized a gap in the computer industry not being filled. He now owns a company manufacturing specialty computers for use in hospitals. It is a global business and employees a couple thousand workers. He collects vintage Porsches. 

    I could go on and on and on because most of the people I know never went to college. Two types of people come out of college. Those who are “schooled” and those who are “educated”. If you are just schooled you are headed for a world of hurt, one day you will wake up and realize you have built a mental prison for yourself. If you go to college and work on being educated chances are good you will be fine. But being “educated” doesn’t always come from a college, in fact, I would say it’s rare. College is often taught by high school kids. Think about it. The graduate high school, go to more school, then go back to school to teach. It’s really quite stupid.

    Getting “educated” is a mental thing. It’s a realization of sorts. Not everybody can get it though, regardless of what the books say. Some people will look at life through a lens built around the idea that security is found in following a program acceptable to the rat race. Those people and up getting screwed in the end. “educated” has nothing to do with math skills or taking classes. It has everything to do with understanding that “uncertainty” is where 100% of the opportunity is located. The real security is in the uncertainty of life. I can’t see tomorrow so I don’t care about it. Today is a beautiful day and is full of opportunities, you can either seize it and take advantage of it or spend your time thinking about tomorrow which is a false sense of reality. 

    • http://www.TheAcsMan.com/ TheAcsMan

      These are all great personal stories of triumph and certainly send the message that anyone has the opportunity to succeed through the right combination of creativity, motivation, skill, luck and hard work.

      But if this was a readily replicable model, everyone in the US would be falling in line and colleges all over the country would be closing down.

      The reality is that in a culture of entitlement, most don’t have all of the necessary ingredients or fortitude to suffer through the hardships of becoming a “self-made” person, as you and your family members have done..

      For those that don’t have the right combination of guts and drive there are still plenty of opportunities, but education remains the key. Certain skill sets are necessary to keep large corporate enterprises in operation. Most of the standardized skill sets come from advanced education. Whether those skill sets are in accounting, inventory control, logistics etc., they require a degree of standardization in order for communication across the global marketplace.

      The need for higher education may ultimately turn out to follow the same cyclical demands as most everything else in culture and the economy. Prior to the late 1940’s few went to college, as most every job revolved around service or manufacturing. But after the war, college opportunities were necessary to prevent social unrest from hundreds of thousands of pumped up soldiers returning to a nation that didn’t have the means to place people in jobs.

      As jobs are becoming more scarece in the US, people will increasingly make the economic driven decision as to whether it is in their interests to pursue costly education or invest the money in a tangible venture. Additionally, the refrain “those jobs are never coming back” as is often said of the manufacturing sector may proive to be empty and short-sighted, as we witness new vibrancy in the automotive sector.

      That kind of return to local manufacturing may become the next phase of the cycle and may be just the key to control potential social unrest related to extended unemployment.

      Fast forward another 50years and education may be back in vogue, yet again.

      • Mike

        I understand what you are saying. The way I see observe whats happening is interesting. Education by itself was good in its day but that’s changing. Like I indicated earlier the difference between “educated” and “schooled” is critical. The guy in the past who was “schooled” and ended up with a degree could get pretty far because it was considered good enough. Nowadays, companies want college grads to be “educated”. The difference is big. My Dad, for example, has hundreds of resumes sent to him each week all of which are from college graduates. He is only interested in educated not schooled people. People who are wanted to be in college for personal reasons, people who thrive on challenges, and people who sacrificed more than just signing up for a college loan. Competition is fierce and the educated are doing fine because the schooled are a dime a dozen. Educated people are rare.

        James is a good example. James has a degree, but why are some people looking at him  so one sided? Take away his college schooling and he is still a very highly educated person. That is what i’m talking about. It’s the difference that makes the difference. “educated” vs “schooled” is everything.

        For years the problem has never been the system convincing us school is great, the problem is that the system was pushing the “paper degree” but not educating the individual. Of course, truth is, the process of education starts at birth. 

        College is still in question though. How many people go to college and 30 years later end up getting fired and laid off losing pensions and everything else. Every 10-15 years the vicious cycle of the educated working in a controlled environment seems to change. Many people I know who were educated lost everything 5-10 years before retirement. This happens every decade. 

        I’m convinced the new era of society will be driven by individuals who become self educated. 

    • Gonzalo Gandia

      As a sidenote, have you ever thought of developing the stories behind these successes and writing a book? It doesn’t seem as if you or your family need the money, but I think it could really sell well. Just follow the outlines for self publishing stipulated by James (and others, I’m sure) and you’re golden…Inspiring stuff

      • Mike

        Are you talking to me?
        Well, I can assure you I don’t have much to offer. I have questioned why everyone in my family seems to do well and I have come to a couple conclusions. 

        First off we were raised with the idea that the end goal doesn’t matter, what I mean is, fixating (is that a word?) on say money, a Ferrari, or a big house is a serious mistake. As a kid we were taught to enjoy the process and I guess that eliminated fear. I’ve never been scared of anything even failure has an appeal. 

        My sister is a bizarre case. I think when she did a 180 with her life it finally occurred to her that she wasn’t happy living in a canned environment, living to a certain recipe killed her spirit. In reality though none of us in the family can explain her change.

        Secondly. We were raised with the idea that “action” is the solution even if it’s wrong.    Even in my own business I made so many mistakes it’s pathetic but I always did something and never really thought about it much. A lot of power exists in “doing”. Growing up “talking” about stuff was frowned upon, you either did it or you didn’t. 

        Still, I think it’s funny how so many people in my family own a business. I thin it all started with my Dad. People watched what he went through and realized personal knowledge can hurt you more than harm you. My Dad is a quiet self reserved man but he understands the importance of other people in life. Human beings share one thing no matter what; The need to feel good. People do drugs, rob banks, start a business, cheat on a spouse, and collect garden tractors for one reason only and that’s because it makes them feel good. Legal or not. Even behind famous leaders like John Adams did what he did to feel good regardless of what was good for the country. In my little plumbing business I did well right away because I was able to make others feel good. If you do that you can hardly lose.

        Lastly, One common factor everybody I know who is wealthy, happy, or extremely successful has one simple concept down pact; Detachment.

        Detachment is very powerful stuff. A human being is full of emotion so it makes sense emotion gets it the way. Take emotion out of the picture and life becomes a math equation. Like my Dad I detach my emotion to things because they ruin the process. I don’t care about my personal ego….I detach. I don’t care about proving myself…..I detach. Just think for a moment how many people you know could do much better but they are so attached to some stupid emotion it prevents them from something.

        I don’t know what else to say except the world is full of opportunity. I think too many people are looking to start a business but can’t figure out or invent something special. Forget special, most businesses are just doing something that already exists  but doing it your way. I like old fashioned businesses like a barber shop. Learn to cut hair and start a totally bitchen old fashioned barber shop, stuff like that is where the opportunity is. Coming up with some online business with some new idea is risky if not dumb. Most people in average America get piss poor service. Make them happy and detach from your emotions and you will make a hell of a lot of money. They will deliver it in droves. Just do it, the human mind was built for the sole purpose of growth and creation, ya just have to let it do it’s job. Detachment.

        • Gonzalo Gandia

          Mike, this is what I mean. How can you not see value in what you just said?? Very inspiring. Get yourself a ghost writer and crank out a 200 page book. I think it would be kick ass.

          Thanks for those words, very inspiring. We tend to forget how hard we make things on ourselves. It sounds like you had a great childhood. This is the kind of thing that should be taught to children. Not everyone has parents that can guide them through this mental process. So, it has to come from education. Unfortunately, education is also dropping the ball.

          Write the book. Trust me.

          • Mike

            I’ll be honest I draw a lot of inspiration from James. I don”t comment much but I read everything he says. I think James offers a lot to people. Sometimes you have to read between the lines but he offers a great deal of value on his blog. 

            I really don’t have the answers though. In fact, I have asked James on twitter some questions and I followed his advice. He made me money. I started a plumbing blog doing what he said I should do and people in my community love it, I get a ton of work from it. All I do is give information away. If somebody calls me I help them for free. That started to give me much credibility and my competition is pissed off about it. I’m so busy that I don’t have time for my blog. My blog looks like hell but people read I was a normal guy who cared so people call. Pretty simple. Thanks James! :)

            Folllow James advice, seriously…..He knows what he is talking about. 

            Funny thing is nothing in life is easier than your own business, it’s not hard. People are hard, our minds are our own worst enemy. Detachment is key once again. 

            I mean, it really isn’t that hard. My thing in business is to start a plumbing distributor. I think I can take on Home Depot but just sell plumbing parts. Will it work? Don’t know don’t care. I’m just not fixated on the end result, my focus needs to be finding a building and help people connect the plumbing dots. I think I can offer a one on one experience with home owners. Still, I don’t care about that because it’s too far away to think about it. Thinking is dangerous. The only thing I really care about is Home Depot is probably pissing people off, big companies always do. That’s all I need to know. I look forward to failing, I’m sure I will fail a bunch of times and I’m sure my wife will complain about it for a couple years but then all of a sudden it will start to grow. My mistakes get refined and refined and refined. 

            Interesting topic this whole education thing. I think we are living in the times where we will see a dramatic shift. If anybody is reading this forget about modern technology, way too hard to make money. Do something that’s already been done just do it better. 

            Start a liquor store!!!!! Man, that would be a blast. Party supplies, cool music, flatscreens everywhere, shirts………Go big and make people feel good and they will buy. Easy formula.

          • Gonzalo Gandia

            I also think that James knows what he’s talking about. I look forward to his Thursday twitter Q&A…

            I love the Liquor store idea…

          • Mike

            Gonzalo. Start a butcher shop. Do it up old school where you have full blown sides of beef hanging in the windows. Be known as the guy who supplies fresh grass feed organic beef. A guy did that here in Wisconsin and he is so busy he runs out of meat. Stuff like this anybody can do. I’m telling you Gonzalo, you currently have everything you need to start any business you want. Your body was made for it. Once you take the leap you will discover a different world and your mind will start to change. It’s easily within your grasp, just have to grab it by the horns and run with it. Good luck, if you every start a business make some comments here on the blog, most people in life love helping others. 

          • Michael C

            Hey Mike,

            I LOVE what you have been saying but it also speaks to my one and only concern with the “kids are better without college/university” mantra. Lack of peer support.  

            To give you a background on myself, I’m 32 and learned at 28 that I could in fact be an entrepreneur.   Before that I thought I was a lunatic that just couldn’t stomach working at the same job for 40 years until I die.  It wasn’t until I read the 4 Hour Work Week that was given to me by close friend I made in college (who comes from a family of biz owners) that this world was opened up to me.  My friend had started his own online fitness business and started making some serious cash. 

             I finally realized that I wasnt in fact, the crazy one who just couldn’t “settle” and be happy with a 9-5.  This was a massive paradigm shift for me.

            Now I run a small online marketing business which does okay (good enough to move me to mexico and spain this year to live and work), and now I am trying to find other James Altucher type of projects to catapult my wealth.  I just read James’ “How To Be…” book and its my new 4 Hour work Week that I’ve currently bought for 10 friends(so cheers to James).
            But back to my point:

            The biggest and only gap I see between highschool to the real world without college is a lot of kids would be completely lost if they do not come from a support group of entrepreneurs like your family Mike, or are not exposed repeatedly to the abundance mentality.  Wage slave to business owner is a hugh mindset shift. 

            In my opinion, most highschools are a cesspool of myopic thought, negativity, scarcity, and group-think mentality.  For the small % of kids that escape this, at least college is a place where they can finally have more ready access to a higher thinking population and people that want to do something with their lives.  

            I think colleges perhaps are not adequately structured for breeding the new wave of entrepreneurs the internet has created but I think its better than having to stay in your small town and fight the status quo. 
            The most clear and present danger to intelligent kids are their friends and family.  I know parents that have been intellectually handicaping their children for 35 years.  If highschool kids started opting out of college I think many of them would immediately regress without the support team opening up their eyes to the possibilities the world has to offer.

            Other than that, I think a college education is very overpriced and overvalued; and for people with the proper support circle, drive, and world perspective… college is nothing but a waste of time. 

             But for those students that come out of highschool starved for new perspectives and a promotion in their peer groups, college provides a very real and signifcant benefit.  

          • Mike

            I see what you are saying Michael but I’m still not comfortable blaming schools and how they are structured. One thing about being a business owner that I have learned is that the school is just a static building with books and teachers in it. The “student” is ultimately responsible for taking advantage of it. I don’t feel comfortable telling a child they shouldn’t go to school, in fact I think that insane. A child doesn’t have the developed mind of an adult and shouldn’t be burdened with such thoughts at a young age.

            As a parent of 3 kids who get straight A’s my wife and I taught them to love learning and and exploring what the world has to offer. We taught them to love the process then taught them how to manage emotion and deal with setbacks and failure. Because of that they seek out knowledge. My thinking is they need to figure out if college is for them or not, it’s pretty arrogant for me to be the judge of how they choose education at such an early age. I say let them figure it out and teach them good habits along the way.

            I could be wrong though. Parenting is very hard and each kid and family is different. Even a trashy low grade school has books no different than Harvard has. It’s up to that kid to go get the book and learn. 

          • Gonzalo Gandia

            I love it! Thanks, MIke! I will continue to post on this site, it’s been great for meeting exceptional people…

          • guest

            Where is this person in Wisconsin who sells grass-fed beef?

          • Robin Heinen

            Seriously Mike, you SHOULD write a book. You have something that gives you credibility as a writer. You have what James doesn’t (no offense James ;) ), people are complaining about James’ articles about this topic. They mostly do it because these words sound strange from a guy with a degree, just like he mentions in his blogs a lot. I think you really should write the book. You know how to write, your comments are the ultimate proof. You do have things to say and you do have good ideas! Write that book, convince people. Thanks for sharing your stories!

          • Mike

            I appreciate the comment but I’m very happy being a plumber and any focus other than that hurts my business. I really don’t understand the comments about how James having an education somehow makes what he says not so important. 

            I’ve been around business owners my whole life- since I was a kid, I can’t stress enough how James is right in what he says on his blog. We can no longer look at society and it’s education like we use to do. James can see this, his education doesn’t change the facts. I’m not pointing this directly at you Robin, I’m just replying in general. :)

            Inside his blog he hits on the big stuff, and it is big, we don’t want to get too hooked on one topic or we will miss it. 

            I can’t speak for James but my guess is he has had some very hard times and that teaches a man a few things and paints a different reality. Hard times is what really helps develop the mind. James is looking pretty deep into the education model and it’s his years of experience tempered by failure that makes him who he is.

            It sounds like I’m protecting James and his ideas because …….well, I am. He and I, although we don’t know each other, share a very common bond; we have been flat broke and clawed our way out of it. Experiencing that is life altering…….

            One time I was so broke, I mean man, I was screwed. I had about $7 in the bank, not $7000, not $700 or even $70 but $7 dam dollars. Imagine running a business with $7 dollars. Anyhow, customers owed me money and they were not paying. It was early in the week , maybe Monday or Tuesday and I sat in my garage and said a prayer asking God to not let any customer call me because I didn’t have money for gas or parts. Imagine for a moment the fear involved with a customer calling for a repair and you have no material……and they can call for anything. Imagine the stress. 

            It’s rough times like this where I can read what James writes , reflect back in time and I can say “yeah, that boy gets it 100%”. 

            Anyhow, I went off on a tangent but James is on to something here with education. He’s not against it, he just thinks teaching kids that college is the answer is wrong. 

            Either way its a dam good debate and I’m glad it’s been a civil one. This blog is fun and inspiring. :)

          • Robin Heinen

            I understand that, maybe it’s best to focus on your business indeed. Just assembling your recent posts on this blog post would be a great start though ;-).

            Don’t misunderstand me on James’ opinion. I think he’s right. I’m not saying college is a bad thing, I’m saying it is not strictly necessary for every person. I personally did not learn anything at my study which will help me in my future business(es). Some people argue with James’ opinion on college BECAUSE he has a degree ( thinking he wants people to be less well educated than him, like he gives a ****). What I meant was, you being succesful from scratch, are the perfect example and wouldn’t bump into those critics..

          • Ajgoddard

            Agreed, Mike ought to be sign off and start typing.

        • Dan

          Mike, you learned what every good poker player knows. Life or the “hand” should never be played as an outcome based exercise. You have to make the right calls (and folds) regardless of how they come out. At times “variation” will bite you in the ass but as long as you do the right thing for the right reasons eventually you’ll come out on top. I agree with most of what you’ve said but there is a caveat, the older you get the less chances you have. I’m 55 and I’d hate to think about starting over these days. Fortunately that’s a prospect I don’t have to worry about. We all should be educated but the older you get the more important schooled becomes.

        • ThatGuy

          “I can assure you I don’t have much to offer”

          No shit.

    • Anonymous

      Mike, hope you don’t mind, but I just pasted you comments to my blog. Entry is called Schooled vs. Educated.

      As a school teacher, I totally relate to your story. I was raised by a plumber who dropped out of school in the tenth grade. Wisest man I know. Write the book. I’ll buy it!

      Here’s my suggestion for your best selling title: Fecal Matters: Your Shit Is My Bread And Butter! (That’s what my dad always said when he made me crawl under a house to replace cast iron drains with DWV or PVC.) Just a thought…

      • Thatguy

        As a school teacher? What baloney. You “relate”? What sort of garbage is that? Your Shit is My Bread and Butter? Are you insane?

        Dude, his Shit is his Shit. You have psychiatric problems. Consider therapy. Seriously.

        • Anonymous

          Disregarding the advise James has posted before, I’ll respond.

          Hi Thatguy. I read my post again. Sorry it caused you to horripilate. Without knowing me or my background, allow me to sort through the garbage. As a serial multitasker, I have yet to figure out what I want to do when I grow up. Here’s my resume: I’ve owned my own construction company (signed the front of checks – not the back), was a real estate investor who bought, fixed and sold houses (again, signed the front of checks – not the back), ran a non-profit organization helping inner-city families and kids, ran youth sports camps overseas, blogger (recent interest), and teach in government schools from time to time (signing the back of checks now). 

          My “Your Shit is My Bread and Butter” book title suggestion to Mike seems to have made you bristle. By your comment, “Dude, his Shit is his Shit,” I take it that you think I’m a poacher of shit. No worries, my shit is overflowing…don’t need his added to my pail.

          Hopefully *fingers crossed* this clears up any misunderstanding about my being able to “relate” to Mike and settles your neck hair down a bit. Can we be friends now?

    • Gregory8

      An education is nice for personal enrichment but it’s not essential for financial success. Over 60% of Ameica’s self made millionaires and billionaires never received a college degree. Gates and Zuchermann are the two biggest, they both quit Harvard to make some real money. I have a college degree and retired from work making 150K in pay and benefits, but any bright kid with a high school diploma could do my job.  In this current economy I wouldn’t pursue a four year degree because of the time and money invovled. There are a lot of degree holders waiting tables and other low paying jobs in nearly every town. Anything in the manual/technical trades will be far more valuable in the coming years. If you can make something or fix something, you’ll be worth worth more than any 100 PhDs.       

    • Alexp

      Wow!  Great response!

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_X6IEFGUQVABS6HSNR4GTYSVUEI Rene

      I like your post Man.

    • Pfc. Parts

      Mike, I don’t believe a word you’ve written. Not a single one. There are lots of folks in the world who write fantasy stories and get paid for it; they do a better job than you.

      Consider plot lines, character development and humor. This is a very poor effort.

  • mrdayer

    Im in B school at University of Arkansas. B school gives you an opportunity to make connections. We have lots of guest speakers at my alpha kappa psi meetings (business fraternity) that we get to meet and ask questions. Wal-Mart/Sams club is pretty big around here, being that bentonville is about 30 minutes away.

  • http://twitter.com/KyleFerguson_ Kyle Ferguson

    Great reply Mike.  Thanks for sharing that!

  • Darren

    This is from a while ago, but Mr. Casey has some points worth discussing; http://www.caseyresearch.com/cwc/doug-casey-education?active-tab=archives

  • Ginger_gal

    For those who want to learn and to advance the world, today online education is free! Its a matter of disciple, sheer interest, and a desire to truly understand and APPLY the information one learns.

  • http://www.fairhavenadvisors.com geckler


  • http://www.fairhavenadvisors.com geckler


  • Buzz McCool

    I really like the “Do not call” law against telemarketers that was passed in the early naughties I believe. I used to get so many annoying telephone calls. This law improved my life.

  • http://736hundred.tumblr.com/ 736hundred

    Maybe we should look to the states and cities with the lowest high
    school graduation rates, and with the lowest number of student attending
    higher education and see how they are fairing. 

    What do the those statistics tell us? 

  • Ancient1

    Questions Google asks in interview are classic.  They measure an individual’s ability to put numbers on a premise.  I would be most interested in the process by which he/she will go about getting to an answer, and, also expansion on the premise as well: for example, how many do not use shampoo, what other products are there besides shampoo, etc.
    For this type of thinking you need to go to college; and, to write the columns and books that you write, you had to go to college.  Honestly, I don’t care if you graduated or not!

  • http://twitter.com/NoahLampert NoahLampert

    I started my college career by going to Northeastern after getting in on a 1-week application. Basically, they sent me something in the mail, I had just smoked and decided that being a psychology major sounded cool. A week later, Northeastern gave me a scholarship worth 11K a year and off to Boston I went

    After a month or two at Northeastern I realized it was not going to work out. Boring lectures that didn’t begin to scratch the surface of the things I was interested in (neuroscience, psychotropic substances and philosophy). I left after a year and transferred to a local community college for a semester in my hometown and then applied to Berklee College of Music.

    I graduated from Berklee in 2008. I was lucky enough to have my mom burden almost all of the cost of my tuition. If I had to make the choice again I don’t know if I would have gone the higher education route. 

    I learned a lot of great things in college but the most important aspect of going to college for me were the relationships I made -many of which continue to enrich my life to this day.

    I’m currently enrolled in the Digital Marketing Certificate program at NYU. It’s not “college” but the things I’m learning are directly helping me get better at what I do to make money.

    Great post James. I enjoy reiterating your points to start discussions with other people. Keep it up.

  • Prosper_synergy

    Easy credit. That’s the biggest problem in all of this. Most people are incapable of turning away easy credit – be it to buy homes or go to college – irrespective of how hard or impossible it will be for them repay it back. So most end up being debt slaves, one way or another.
     The instituition that is at the heart of all this, of course, is the Federal Reserve – they are the creators of this easy credit. The government then channels this easy credit into sectors it thinks will have a popular base – buying homes, going to college, etc.
     So the only piece of advice I’d give to anyone is this: Resist taking on easy credit unless you are absolutely sure of multiplying its value within a short period of time. Don’t become a debt slave!!!

  • Anonymous

    my brother is a corporate jet pilot who gets to fly all around the country and world. where most would think of this as vacationing, its work for him. while tagging along with my brother to Daytona to see the 500(he flew his boss down to FL for meetings) he muttered something to me after a phone call that he received while we were pre-gaming for the race. ‘these guys call me up and ask for advice, i didnt even graduate high school..’ then we both looked at each other and smirked… 

  • http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com/2011/06/06/why-you-need-f-you-money/ Jlcollinsnh

    I was thinking about this just yesterday.

    Back in the day I put myself thru the University of Illinois as an in-state student. I could afford to do this on the $2000 I saved thru HS and the $1200 I made each summer taking down diseased Elm Trees. Total for all four years about $5000. But this was 40 years ago.

    Today my daughter is in the middle of her college career. She is also at a state school and has a yearly scholarship of $12,000. The total for a year is about $37,000 so we pay $25,000 each year. Total out of pocket will be about 100k.

    When I graduated in 1972 a new basic level car cost about $3000. Today it is 6x as much: $18,000.

    College education was $5000. Today, without the scholarships, $148,000. 30x as much. Yikes.

  • http://444express.blogspot.com/ the444

    I am not surprised that there are 100 comments so far.  I was going to say, “You really stepped in it now!” back when there were only four comments.

    I hope you take this in the spirit in which it is intended (which is a compliment and an attempt to mildly debate your point.)  You have to know that it’s “easy” for a smart, talented person like yourself to say that college is a waste of time, effort, money, resources, etc.  I’m not going to try to read your mind, but I assume you’re saying that there are plenty of people like yourself who could have done fine without the time-pit, money-pit etc. that college is.  And I agree with you on that.  But you don’t represent “everyman,” you know. 

    Some people who are very smart and resourceful (like yourself) and with social/family support (like yourself, probably) definitely don’t “need” college, although there’s no reason they should not partake of it simply for the sake of intellectual edification if desired (that’s what college is supposed to be and used to be, although now it’s morphing into career training with implied future wage guarantees).  Likewise, on the other end of a particular spectrum, there are people who are simply not cut out for college, and have no business pursuing higher academics (unless they seriously want to, in which case I say:  Go for it.  It’s a free country, and they should do it if they can afford to – the “affording” part being a whole ‘nother aspect I won’t even get into.)

    And that’s where most of the misguided book-lurnin’ is going on.  By people who should be machinists or factory line workers or restaurant managers or dishwashers or tradesmen or some of the many other careers that do not require academic degrees.

    But I know you don’t really mean that college should just go “poof” with no one going and everyone being just as well off without it.  To cut a long rant short, I’ll just say that I believe college is VASTLY over-used by VAST numbers of people.  So we agree by a large margin.  I’m pretty realistic about “playing the game,” though, and while I would endorse a well-thought-out plan by one of my children to not attend (since I basically agree with you that it’s not necessary and a person could get a financial head-start on life without it), I would not steer my children away from college.  I think there’s more benefit to it, for academically-oriented students, than there is detriment.  It’s never a negative, in other words, unless you count some time and money lost by not frantically making money hand-over-fist while young enough to still be learning how to shave.

    I do not like the trend of pay-for-degree, degree-for-everyone, higher-degrees-for-everyone, and the concomitant watered-down-degree-material I see going on – I don’t like it one bit.  Let’s put it this way:  One of my friends who can barely read got a master’s degree in teaching – a field I never thought she’d go into, which she chose “just to have the summers off” (and by the way, she has since quit that field.)  Because we’re good enough friends that I could ask her, I said, “How did you earn a master’s degree – like, how did you even write papers?”  “Oh,” she said, “I didn’t have to do that.  It was all multiple-choice.”  She sat her ass in a chair for a bunch of Saturday afternoons at the rural satellite campus (probably very strip-mall looking) of a hoity-toity local private college and came out with her pay-for-degree.  What is a master’s degree anymore, if that is how you get one?  What is higher education in our country? Not the same for every degree, not the same from every college (although that’s always been true) and not, on average, what it used to be – that much I’m sure of.  Sorry for the mammoth comment – I hope some others outdid me.

  • Haley

    I am a college student myself and I understand everything you are saying and for the most part I agree, HOWEVER…

    As many people have already pointed out in the comments, just what else is one supposed to do if he or she is not such a go-getter, like yourself? What if the years you spend not going to college don’t pay off? As you know yourself, you can spend YEARS trying to get a small business somewhere, only to make peanuts. So then you try something else, okay… But one can only do that so many times if one has limited income/resources. Not to mention it’s exhausting. 

    A family member of mine is a businessman, and for years he has been pushing me to become a small-business owner. I have told him time and time again, some people are just not born with the entrepreneurial personality. I am a social person, but when it comes to being pushy, that’s just not me. I find it very hard.   

    I hate college. I hate the way the system is set up now. But I am still going to school just to get that degree, because it is a requirement for so many jobs. Maybe I could get that job somehow through sheer luck or hard work, but I don’t know if I will. At least I know that if I have that degree, I am practically guaranteed to be hired somewhere better than a fast-food chain. It will take a bit of work, especially in this economy, but it isn’t a gamble, it’s just a matter of time. 

    • Haley

      As a side note, I am not getting a Bachelor’s. My educational story is long and somewhat depressing, but I have settled on an Associates in Nursing (if I get into the program, I hope to some god out there that I do!)

      • Alexp

        Nursing is an excllent profession and anytime you can make a genuine contribution to others pays benefits far beyond the paycheck.  Don’t get discouraged.  Once you get your foot in the door you can advance.  I have a friend like you that became a nurse anesthetist (MSN).  She attained her goal and desire is 90% of it!

    • Alexp

      When I was in college, I wasn’t a go-getter either!  You have to develop those skills out of necessity in order to be successful as the days of getting a “job” and remaining there for a career isn’t the way it works anymore.  You have to be dynamic and that doesn’t meant being pushy, but you do have to develop confidence in yourself and your abilities.  I started out after college selling insurance to save money for my first business.  I developed and operated three successful small companies on my own.  Later I became a vice chairman of an international airline due to my entreprenurial skills, abilities and reputation.  The paper chase didn’t bring me that success.  My suggestion is to learn to think on your feet and look for opportunities.  Look for needs that need to be satisfied.  You can’t miss if you adopt that attitude.  Richard Branson is a prime example.

  • KB

    I knew 2 types of clouds.  2 of them stuck from high school, which I rarely attended.  I also never finished college, though I did very much enjoy Lit classes and Economics.  The 2nd one surprised me…but I attended a little later than most, after I travelled a few continents, all over the states, and for the most part could be considered homeless.  Telemarketing houses will hire anybody, just stick around for a paycheck or two then move on.  L’il tip.

    Debt note 1: During that time I accumulated student loan debt, which I am still paying 15 yrs later.  For community college, less than 2 yrs of it.

    Anyway, now I make a good living after going to IT crash camps (yes, accumulated debt, but ROI turned out to be worth it long run) then hitting the job market.  Once I knew I was interested in that specific area of work, it was easy to apply myself.  So, I guess I fit in the demographic of “college” not really being that important – trade school though, will pay off.  The caveat about not graduating from college however, is that I am now a foot in the door to management, and once they find out I don’t have that piece of paper, I’m guessing that door isn’t going to open any further.

    Debt note 2: The crash course debt is paid off – at the insane interest rate those loans charge, pour everything into those to get them out of the way. 

    Working experience and a proven track record should always trump a piece of paper.

    Ah well. Or just play the lottery.  You can deduct what you spend from what you win, just save the loser tickets.

  • aj

    Regarding education in this country… I would advise all to read up on John Taylor Gatto. There’s some interesting youtube vids and podcasts w/his likeness as well.

    That’s all I am going to say.

  • rollingdancefloor

    Fisherman’s Blues, The Waterboys
    I wish I was a

    tumbling on the seas

    far away from dry land

    and its bitter memories

    casting out my sweet line

    with abandonment and love

    no ceiling bearing down on me

    save the starry sky above

    with Light in my head

    and you in my arms

    I wish I was the brakeman

    on a hurtling, fevered train

    crashing headlong into the heartland

    like a cannon in the rain

    with the beating of the sleepers

    and the burning of the coal

    counting the towns flashing by

    in a night that’s full of soul

    with Light in my head

    and you in my arms

    I know I will be loosened

    from the bonds that hold me fast

    that the chains all hung around me

    will fall away at last

    and on that fine and fateful day

    I will take me in my hands

    I will ride on the train

    I will be the fisherman

    with Light in my head

    and you in my arms

  • Hmayfarth

    3 rules of life:

    Rule 1:All life is food

    Rule 2: There is no law, except the law of the jungle
    Corollary: There is no justice, except street justice

    Rule 3:
    Everything has a price
    Corollary: There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.
    (AKA, Heinlein’s corollary)

  • Ostap

    I disagree, while going to college is certainly not requirement, good colleges do teach how to think creatively and productively. They will help your kids pass those google interviews. I do interviews as part of my work for pretty big company and not once in last 15 years I met someone who didn’t have high education.

    College teaches people think, solve problem in structured way, think out of the box. It’s far more conducive to learning then your closet with computer. Also, I do not care much what kids will do after college – whatever they want but college widens horizons and opens doors which are otherwise closed.

    Granted, some kids can do great things and go far without it but % of those kids is very small.

    Lastly, USA already is pretty deep down on any kind of educational metrics. The is reason high paid high quality jobs are given to foreigners. Let your kids stay away from high education – less competition for mine :)

    • Caryn Goddard

       Nonsense, they only teach people to think in a very leftist way. In fact, no one can teach anyone to think at all. That comes from within. Colleges should revert to classical humanism and liberal arts universities for the very tiny minority that would benefit.
      95% of all jobs do not require college to perform them. The Civil Rights Laws, which I oppose, should be amended to outlaw discrimination against high school grads.
      The last thing you get in the politically correct gigantic brainwashing facilities of Hire
      Education in thinking out of the box.
      Doctors and lawyers could actually go to specialized schools only and skip the regular college. It’s both an ideological and financial racket as Gary North has written many times.
      Thanks for your piece, James, I’m sorry some of these NPRish knuckleheads fail to perceive your wisdom here.

  • AJ

    Uh, are you sure it’s not
    sss, SCC, c, sc 

  • http://twitter.com/VeehCirra Veeh Cirra

    Looking back, I would say that college was a really interesting experience.Though it’s not as practical as it should be.

    College and the real world are two different worlds. That’s why am always grateful to those lecturers who thought like you. It sucks when you exit from college with nothing much to show for it expecting the world to understand that you are a college graduate.While in school, students should already have/form transition plans in place, because there is no place in the world that time is wasted as it is in the college.

  • Paul Hakel

    I give a big thumbs down to college. Colleges haven’t kept pace with current technology and online learning and there are countless ways to self-teach via the internet and network with countless teachers and mentors. Colleges are part of the crony capitalism of the past and if we could deregulate them we could get better colleges and learning for a fraction of the cost. Most of what I learned, at some point, felt like it was TOTALLY IN SPITE of the classes I was taking. Why is it that young people can’t graduate high school or ever grade school with a college-level learning, given our technological development today?

    • Alexp

      I agree completely.  Colleges are designed for the needs and wants of the last century and not the current one.

    • AJ

      College’s will never keep pace with technology. Heck, technology has a hard time keeping pace with technology.

      • AJ


  • Teri

    I agree with James but am trying to sort practicalities with my own kids. 

    I’ve been researching this for some time. Some things which may change people’s mind (if you still have doubts about whether to go to college or not), see RSA video with Sir Ken Robinson (international education advisor) on how we need to change the paradigm of education (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U)Peter Thiel, BTW, started a fellowship to allow a number of young adults to skip college and to start companies or do something worthwhile (see  http://www.fastcompany.com/1802760/thiel-foundation-college-education and http://www.thielfellowship.org/). He’s putting his money where his mouth is. 
    Like James, I went to Carnegie Mellon and thought it was brilliant. Things are changing though and I think CMU was more about the people than anything else. So many of them were people who wanted to do things and make a difference.  It was cool — no doubt and I like education anyways.  But things have changed and there’s a lot of people all over who are doing really interesting things  — you just need to find them.  

    A young man, Dale Stephens, started the ‘uncollege’ movement which is dedicated to just this — getting young people to to succeed in life by whatever means not necessarily dependent on college (see http://www.uncollege.org/).   Michael Elllsberg wrote a book about the education of millionaires — most of whom have not gone to college or who dropped out (see http://www.ellsberg.com/) — including Gates, Zuckerberg, and Richard Branson. 

    As well as Thiel and Godin, there’s others. My own mentor, Bill Liao (co-founder of Xing), thinks college is over-hyped.  He’s been working with 19-year old James Whelton to get kids to learn programming and develop things at an early age (some as young as 6) in Coder dojo (see https://twitter.com/#!/coderdojo) which is all staffed by volunteers.  There are kids as young as 12 years old in these classes who are creating apps and selling them on the apple ipod store — already developing, creating, and earning money.   

    There are young people everywhere doing amazing things.

    As well as the cost of education, I hear many say that the biggest problem with traditional education is that it often gets kids learning by rote — so much so that they can’t think around a problem.  The skills that are needed in the future are much more based around street smarts than they are the degree that you hold.  Another really good video by Sir Ken Robinson on TED is here http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html — quite funny, relevant and so sensible.  

    Also, there are many places where you can get free education online.  Some, to name a few, are Udemy (http://www.udemy.com/ has pay and free courses) and Alison (http://alison.com/).  Alison has a huge population of foreigners who learn English and computer programming.  These people will be competing with US students but won’t have the burden of heavy debt.   Times are moving fast and the only way you can keep up with this and stay relevant in the market today (I think) is to start thinking more creatively about education.  Either the education system has to change or people have to change the way they get educated.  

    I should have put this in my own blog post but I don’t have one (yet) and am hoping to start one soon.  I hope I’ll be as good as James.  :D   BTW, I’m founder of YouSteps and we’re trying to get people to think differently about health and wellness. Gotta get those creative genes going. 

    I hope this has been helpful to some.   
    mstmorris on twitter

    Also — from today (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17264945) more information about how education is changing.  

    • Gonzalo Gandia

      Excellent post! Thanks Teri!

    • Teri

      I should also mention that while I went to CMU (and felt it
      was the right choice for me at the time), I think things have changed so much
      that it is not the right thing for many now. 
       As you get older, your value to
      most companies becomes less and less. 
      They don’t want to hire you (despite your education) typically because
      they prefer younger people who have more energy, cost less, and are happier to
      work for longer hours.  They are also
      moving to hiring more freelancers and less full time people.  If you want to be relevant in the new
      economy, you need to be able to think on your feet.  This is more important in the future
      and this is not taught in college (not in its current form). 

      There’s loads that has been written about jobs of the future
      and they depend much more on people being about to network and to do what is
      required.  See Time article on ‘The end
      of the full time job’ (http://moneyland.time.com/2012/02/17/the-end-of-the-full-time-salaried-job/)
      and The Atlantic article on the surge in freelance jobs (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2011/09/the-freelance-surge-is-the-industrial-revolution-of-our-time/244229/). 

      Things are changing so much and so fast that people need to
      keep educating themselves (with emphasis on themselves).  This means they need to continue to learn throughout
      life and there are so many avenues to do this. 
      For me, sometimes its formal but, more often than not, it is informal
      and it’s about experience and networking. 

      Three years ago I was working for a company that sent me to
      management training.  I was team leader
      of a group that was doing well although I had only worked for them for three years.  Within a few weeks of starting the training,
      someone at the top decided they were moving our group (and all the jobs) to
      Mexico and within a month I (and my team) was unemployed. 
      This is what happened despite all my education (two master degrees), my
      experience (20 years), and my good performance record (at the top ten percent).
      It was at this point that I decided I would go off to do something that I
      wanted to do and that was important to me. 
      People didn’t do this when I was younger but I am so happy that I am
      doing this now and I applaud those who do this themselves.  

  • JMS

    I graduated in 1970 from a state school in Texas. I went the five year route. I had a little help from my parents ($50/month), but paid for most of it myself through a summer job, and borrowed the rest  through the govt. sponsored student loan program. When I graduated, I believe I owed around $7K on the loan, which I paid back in a couple of years.  It is mind numbing what kids now pay just to get a bachelors degree.  They end up owing more when they graduate than someone who went through medical school in my day, and then they can;t find a job. Unless you graduate with a degree that can get you a substantial salary right off, e.g., engineering, I can’t see any justification for going, other than to boost your ego. The risk/benefit ratio simply doesn’t justify it.

  • Diesel7213

    I have a Master’s degree in education (graduated early – 4.5 yrs. instead of 5).  I am a certified teacher in both CT and NY.  Yet I can’t obtain a full time teaching job.  I work 3 part-time jobs and have to pay my own benefits.

    I thought I was doing the “right thing”.  I followed the “text book plan”… And it didn’t workout.  I wish I never went to college.  I could have saved 8 years of my life, tens of thousands of dollars and A LOT of energy and stress.

    I just started my own business and I am fighting to make a future for myself.  I only wish I did this at age 18, instead of age 26. 

  • avdhoot limaye`

    (high school and below are primarily advanced babysitting services) Now this really resonated with me. I recently got involved with music and art promotion and suddenly met a large number of musicians and artists, It is surprising to realize how many of this creative intelligent people are living wonderful meaningful lives doing what they love doing and in many cases are financially better off then there college educated peers. A stress free dollar happily earned is worth more than the 100 that tortures your soul.

    Shameless plug here’s there video of my friends on youtube and there website. :-)

    Youtube – http://youtu.be/xk3BvNLeNgw and hangmusic.org

  • Mo Junk5

    I admit I stopped reading when you started talking about how college is just about memorizing facts. You’ve obviously never been to college or you went to a really bad one. 

    When done properly, a college education helps you question your assumptions about the world and think more deliberately. These skills are very difficult to develop on your own. And don’t give me that ‘travel the world’ bullshit. Yes, you might throw out some assumptions about the world but nobody is scrutinizing your thinking like they are in college. 

  • Anonymous

    I have already told my son that I don’t want him to go to college.  I can’t in good conscience encourage any kid today to pay out that kind of money for such a poor product.  It’s like teaching a kid to be a sucker right at the start.  Maybe start a school or a college but never go to college.

  • Anonymous

    I would tend to agree with the author for most college majors, but for engineering and the hard sciences I’m not sure a college degree could be avoided. 

  • http://twitter.com/gregarious_one Greg Wesson

    Agree.  Anyone with the intelligence to go to college in the first place is intelligent enough to learn on the job.  I am an engineer and there was no point for me to go to college (which I am still paying for).  Everything I learned about the specific kind of engineering I do I had to spend 6 months on the job learning anyway….and even still they insist I take more training (at their expense).

  • Alexp

    I graduated from a conservative private university 30 years ago.  I wanted a classical education including emphasis on English, math, logic, accounting and other courses that would help make me a more educated person and later in business.  Today as an entrepreneur, I would not encourage a child to go to traditional college immediately after high school.  Years ago, you could find yourself in time because the costs weren’t prohibitive.  Today you have to be much more focused in order to use precious financial resources wisely.  More importantly, there’s no reason to go into tremendous debt in order to acquire a piece of paper.  College degrees are sold today much in the same manner as automobile brands.  It’s a marketing scheme!  I visit my university regularly and am a substantial donor.  When I look at students today, I ask myself, are they really getting their money’s worth in these hallowed halls of knowledge?  In most cases, no!  Unless a student is in medicine, dentistry, engineering or architecture, it’s really not worth the price of admission.  You’d be better off to attend a state university, with lesser financial pressure, and use the saved funds to start your own business.  I don’t care if it’s dog grooming, find a career that you enjoy.  Be out in the world and think independently!  Learn trades and skills, not book knowledge.  My dad was a product of the Depression and a dentist.  He encouraged me to learn trades so I would never starve.  Today, college graduates are a dime a dozen and few really know how to do much of anything.  I get resumes all the time from graduates seeking employment.  Almost all tout their educational accomplishments.  I don’t care about those things.  I want to know what they can bring to my company in terms of skills and talents.  I want to see evidence of independent thinking and not drone-like living.

  • NolaGirl

    Some great points are made here.  College today is all about fitting in with the program (including the debt part) and continuing on with the programming.  That said, it’s unfortunate that many companies do not look past the issue of schooling vs. educated.

  • bob’s ur uncle

    Individuals who are intelligent, creative, ambitious and energetic do not need higher education to succeed.  The rest (most people) will probably benefit from a piece of paper.

  • Anonymous

    Where are the answers to the quiz?

  • Bogart

    The other issues in the stats about people with degrees that make more money over the long run is that there are three groups that make all of the difference:
    1. No college includes people who do not have the capacity to go to college.
    2. No college includes people who failed at going to college.
    3. College includes people who are in certified professions that require college degrees.  
    If you adjust for these numbers I am sure you will find that college has very little to do with careers people have and the amounts of money they make.

  • Eugene

    James, you are really funny sometimes. You bring Google as an example with their interview questions. If you know the questions, then you must know that the primary reason for them is to separate people who are educated but can’t do things from people who are educated but can do things. Do you know by any chance what is the percentage of people who work in Google who don’t have a college degree? I would think, it is close to zero. Maybe kids shouldn’t go to high school either? After all they will get a few extra years to build up a capital. And besides, all the math you need to know to succeed, is taken in the 5th grade, you know how to read, too. And if you are smart and motivated, there is just no need for high school.

  • Anonymous

    The guy funding the company I work for wrote a book “How To Make Millions Without A Degree: And How to Get by Even If You Have One”. He certainly managed.

    Not quite the same now, but the last company I worked for (and these are small, specialised companies where everyone earns more than national average wage for their age and some are paid rather well) I was the only one with a degree in the office, the front-line operation, management or the boardroom. I was also the only person in all four categories and not the best-paid so perhaps all my degree brought me was more work.

    In my current job the degree has allowed me to take a specialist niche not directly connected with my studies but requiring abilities brought out at university, so it was useful (that niche looks very good for my career, and the name of a prestigious university will reassure clients when I eventually work as a consultant). It just was not essential to success in a great career.

    When talking to young people, often those wanting to follow my career, about their futures I advise even the brightest to consider not going to university. It did not even cross my mind not to go, and even though it was the right thing for me I should have made a positive choice, not just gone with assumptions and expectations.

  • libertyhippie

    As usual, a great & lively article.  I have a question, more of a situation to submit to this chain of comments for your criticisms.  

    I’m critical of this “go to college, buy a house, American dream” mentality like you and your readers. (lewrockwell.com first introduced me to your blog; am very libertarian)  But I think I’ll go to college: bad idea or not?

    I’ll be attending a private school for which I am slightly overqualified (with respects to scores and such…), so it means that I’ve been offered a lot of scholarship money.  I’ve got a year under my belt – from college courses in HS – and this particular school has a program which would allow me to do 3 years undergrad & then hop into law school. (Which in my scenario would be two years + law school – the undergrad ed. looks like it should be debt-free)

    “Law School?!?! The biggest scam ever?!?!?” I know.  But I’ve been interning while in HS at an office, starting with grunt work & stuff while getting to know the owners, their responsibilities.  My goal is not to be a part of the problem, but of the solution – help people save money & heartache from govt.  The short of it is that I know people to aid me along the way.  

    Dropping out, being an entrepreneur will always be in my mind. I’ve taken to using my variation of the daily practice, and I was always one whose dream was to make a living off of ideas.  I’ve ran through this plan thousands of times.  Here’s your chance to keep a kid out of college!!!

  • Chipotleajr

    Well, to answer the question posed by the title, “Did Obama really say he wants everyone to go to college?”  No, he did not.

  • Eric

    Some jobs require a college degree.  Most don’t.  There’s more to college than just the learning.  People who go to Harvard go there because of the network.  Gates and Zuccerman (sic) dropped out of Harvard…but there would never have been a Facebook if Zuckerman never went to Harvard; Gates…well, he was likely to continue the Gates tradition of lawyering but for the personal computer.

    Having a BA in History and working on a second in statistics…huge difference in the two majors.  Sure, you could learn statistics on your own, but…I highly doubt that you will get employed, nor would you get much business as an entrepreneur without the piece of paper.  Hell, you really need a masters to do it.

    I would say that it depends on what you want to do with your life whether college is good or bad.

    Should a degree be required for professions?  Really, no.  But it is the reality of life.

    A college degree is no longer a guarantee of success, but it is a key that opens many locks.  My advice would be to take some time, explore options, and then make an educated decision as to whether college is the right choice.  Oftentimes, the answer is likely not. 

  • Cheaply Educated

    Hi James, first time commenter here.  I went to a Big Ten engineering school in-state for less than $2000/year.  Got good grades and a NSF fellowship (tuition and stipend) to enter a Ph.D. program at Berkeley.  Graduated with no debt, worked in big companies and small companies, and currently making about $200k.  Maybe I could have made more if I didn’t go to college and started a business, who knows?  Anyway, I’ve read a lot of your “college isn’t worth it” posts, and I think you’re missing the main point: that the worth of a school isn’t tied to its cost.  I think there are good deals to be had at state schools.  What I don’t get is how unknown private schools can charge as much as Harvard but provide neither the education nor the pedigree.

  • http://twitter.com/EntreprenKorner EntrepreneursKorner

    Joseph Kony 2012 – Raise Awareness!


  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Rj-Florida/100000108386015 Rj Florida

    No you don’t need a College degree, College will not replace Drive and Ambition.

    But Drive, Ambition AND a College degree are simply a deadly combination.

  • Chipotleajr

    The BLS’s latest employment report (
    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm ) shows that those with a  Bachelor’s degree and higher have an unemployment rate of 4.2%, while those with a high school diploma and no college are at 8.3%.  Those without a high school diploma are at 12.4%.

  • Raul


    I’m from Costa Rica and have been reading this blog for awhile now.
    I agree the tuition costs Americans have are very high, heck that’s probably why I’m not getting a MBA over there any time soon.
    There are however, a series of alternatives to education as James and other people have mentioned. There’s internet of course… and some may argue a mentor program could be as effective as formal education.
    The option I want to talk about though is studying overseas. I cant really speak for all countries in Latin America, but Costa Rica has certain colleges that are so inexpensive that you might live here and study for 4 years and still pay less than 60% of what you would in the US.
    Some may argue that the education will not be as good, I’m inclined to agree on some cases, but if you actually go to live  and study abroad, and can do so cheaply, isn’t that enriching in so many levels?
    You get the education you wouldn’t get otherwise, and at the same time you are traveling, getting to meet other people, a different culture, and will probably end up learning as much from the people as the college.
    I’m not trying to promote Costa Rica, its the only case I can really speak of with first hand experience. But my goal is to show everyone that might want a different option, a more affordable one, that its possible to get a good education outside America, and enjoy the process while you are at it.

  • Timothy Raleigh

    Great post. Great comments.

  • http://twitter.com/GenY_Girl Kayla Cruz

    You are a genius. Thank God I found your blog. 

  • lol ur creepy dude

    ur retarted