The Truth About College: 5 Reasons Why College May Not Be a Good Idea

This article has been brewing inside of me for about 5 years. Actually, the truth about college is not that hard to uncover. But we do have a US economy built on the perceived value of our current higher education system.

As I get started dwelling on “the truth about college” and the student debt crisis competing with the US National Debt, I’ve often sat and pondered…

What exactly is the return on investment on this 1 1/2 trillion dollar debt in the US?

My Own College Background

Before completing my undergrad degree, I managed to get a decently-high-paying third shift job at my university. The student work scholarship (combined with hours of off campus yard work on the side) allowed me to pay off all my undergrad debt before the end of my 6 1/2-year degree.

Without having a clue about how a career works, I had double-majored in music and history. Considering the career outlooks available for graduates in either field, I commonly joke to folks that I just didn’t care about eating once I got into the “real world.”

But I did get hungry after all. So I decided to enter the United States Marine Corps. Not only did they give me food, but they also gave me the GI Bill.

Today, I sit here with 2 undergraduate college degrees, 2 masters degrees, and 2 graduate certifications. And I’m debt free.

But am I more employable because of my higher education? Well…

No.

Am I bitter about this? Not really. College is fun, educational (maybe?), and I don’t have any debt, thanks to Uncle Sam.

But while our nation’s 50+ year-old, recently-laid-off parents are taking out a second mortgage on their house to send their kids to college, many of my unemployed (but college-educated) peers are still discussing when and how their kids will get into college.

And what, exactly, do we stand to gain by what feels like 21st Century indentured servitude?

Very little.

So here’s a rundown of the 5 main reasons I’ve found college to be something of a sham.

1. Outside Healthcare, the Jobs with the Highest Demand Do Not Require a College Degree.

As college graduates everywhere bemoan their unemployability, trade jobs are dangerously short-staffed. According to Forbes

The hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, machinists, etc. that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction.

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O*Net is a government-sponsored career website providing job trends and outlooks for the US workforce. According to O*Net, many of the careers with the brightest outlooks pertain to construction and contracting.

As it happens, a discouraging truth about college is that higher education does almost nothing to improve employability in the trades and construction. That means that misperceptions about what college can do may actually be feeding labor shortages in lucrative industries.

Another feverishly-growing career field lies in computer coding. Out of computer coding comes software developers, web developers, and computer programmers.

In a Developer Economics report published in 2015, experts found that nearly 50% of developers had no formal college degree. Standards that demonstrate employability for developers and programmers rest primarily on skill-level and experience. As such, self-taught coders compete soundly with coders holding computer science degrees (and $20k plus in college debt).

2. Employers are Outsourcing Payroll Jobs to Freelancers.

There are so many important points that I could make here about the connection between the Gig Economy and the truth about college. I would like to refer you to our article on freelancing in the 21st Century for the “meat and potatoes.”

Essentially, major study groups (like Gallup) are finding that employers can’t find what they need among college graduates. Therefore, they turn to freelance sites like UpWork, GitHub, and more to hire out projects. These employers get better-quality work in a faster turnaround and on a lower budget.

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Experts predict that full-time freelancers will jump from 10%-30% of the job market in the next year. Technology, in short, has opened the door to full-time freelancing, where studies show that over 20% of American freelancers are already making six-figure incomes.

In the world of freelancing, education might matter some. But for freelancers, their ability to get hired lies in the quality of their portfolio. As such, employers know quality when they see it without regard for whether or not the expert-for-hire is self-taught or college-educated.

3. Financial Aid for College is Growing Which Encourages Rising Tuition.

You’d think that increased financial aid for college would make college more affordable. It doesn’t. The New York Times noted

In other words, far from being caused by funding cuts, the astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education. If over the past three decades car prices had gone up as fast as tuition, the average new car would cost more than $80,000.

There are two reasons for why this happens.

First, the increased financial aid encourages more students to go to college. The demand puts a strain on universities who then have to increase their budgets. They have to hire more professors and provide more services.

Second, the universities aren’t stupid. The American public has shown that they are willing to go into great debt for a college education. And government, grants, and other financial assistance providers have shown that they are willing to do what it takes to help more people go to college. College campuses can jack up their prices and still make both sides feel empowered.

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4. Entrepreneurial Drive is Subverting the System.

Ironically, more and more multi-million dollar entrepreneurs are openly discouraging a college education for aspiring entrepreneurs. It seems that many of them did not go to college themselves.

Right now, go to Google and type, “Do I need a college degree to start a business?” If you ignore the articles displayed on university websites (they might be a little biased), read every article on the first 3 pages. And the common consensus is that college can help, but it’s more likely a waste of time and money.

In one result, CNBC cited a study and noted the truth about college…

Entrepreneurs who did not attend or finish college outnumbered those with higher-education degrees across both genders and in every age group included in the CNBC/SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey, except for the 65-and-older category.

Business owners who skipped out on education all shared some common threads: self-reliance, a good idea and a willingness to take risks.

In my own experience, successful entrepreneurs spend far less time in elitist overthought and more time on getting to know the problems of their customers. They tinker and improve. Unfortunately, college too often slows entrepreneurs down and threatens their already-strained financial resources.

5. The Biggest Truth About College: Much About What People Can Learn on the Internet Makes Our Current Higher Education System Irrelevant.

One of my favorite serial entrepreneurs, Gary V, is an outspoken critic of our current college system.

And his point is similar to points made by his peers: instead of going into debt for college, go online and learn it yourself. Get a job and get experience. Learn from mentors and break some rules.

Had I not received GI Bill funding, I don’t believe that I would have pursued graduate education. As I look back on what I’ve received, there is hardly any real nugget I’ve gleaned from school.

Even though I completed a full-fledged MBA from an accredited, liberal arts university, I learned how to build a break-even analysis on my own. Building business plans and pro forma statements were skills I mastered after my masters program.

And my marketing degree? Nothing compares to the free and low-cost courses I found online. Even my Cornell graduate certificate in digital marketing barely discussed principles in Search Engine Optimization or website analytics. Thankfully, Moz Academy and Google Academy quickly filled the gap in a fraction of the cost.

If I’m being honest, nearly everything I learned in college about business, finance, marketing, and consumer behavior was already seriously outdated from the very moment it was taught. And if I have a beer with a fellow college graduate, they usually say the same thing about their field (healthcare professionals excepted).

So the truth about college? Maybe one day college in the US will be relevant and affordable enough to merit the blind adoration it receives today. But for now, the ROI is not there for most graduates.