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.