YNAB BLOG

Okay, but really – is a college education worth the cost?

graduation_cap

Let’s talk about funding our children’s education.

The other day I said I’ll be putting college savings for my kids on the back burner, prioritizing debt elimination and retirement savings instead.

Commenters split their feelings pretty evenly. On one hand you had people complementing my priorities, telling me I’m wise to make sure my wife and I were covered in old age before we worried about paying for our kids’ schooling.

Others felt differently, reminding me our children are our future, it’s parents’ responsibility to provide, and even that I’m selfish for saying they could borrow their way through school if need be.

Rather than have this devolve into a food fight between the sides, let’s make sure we’re clear on the cost and benefit of a college degree before we decide who needs to foot the bill.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll confess to being a dropout. After finishing my coursework in economonics, I left school with a few general education classes between me and a degree. I’ve worn my dropout status as a badge of honor at times, but also had moments where I felt like “I should really get that done.” Today, I’m totally indifferent. I’m providing for my family and (gratefully) earning well above the national median.

But we all know degree holders earn much more than non-degree holders right? Well, yeah. Sort of. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

For now, let’s see if we can get a handle on the current costs of a college education and maybe project out to when my kids will be headed off to school.

I live in Utah, and don’t plan to leave, so let’s look at the estimated annual cost* of three major universities in the area:

School Tuition/Fees Room/Board Books and Supplies Other Expenses Total Est. Cost
Univ. of Utah $7,139 $7,155 $1,090 $5,832 $21,216
Utah State Univ. $5,930 $5,490 $1,090** $5,832** $18,342
Brigham Young Univ. $4,710 $7,228 $972 $4,588 $17,498

*Statistics from CollegeData.com, which gathers data from the schools as well as national surveys of colleges.

**Utah State University didn’t estimate these costs, so I used the data from the U of Utah.

Where does that leave us?

I’m told it’s unrealistic to get a four-year degree in four years but let’s assume my kids will hustle through. Here are the estimated costs of a bachelor’s degree in Utah in 2013 and 2025:

School 2013 4-Year Cost 2025 4-Year Cost*
Univ. of Utah $84,864 $135,870
Utah State Univ. $73,368 $117,464.53
Brigham Young Univ. $69,992 $112,059.45

*Assumes 4% inflation.

If I end up with three kids, and I take an average across the three schools at about $120,000, I’m looking at $360,000 if I want to pay 100% of their educational and living expenses until they graduate.

Now, sure, they can get scholarships, work their way through school, and maybe even live at home. Maybe that cuts the amount I need in half. I’ll need somewhere between $180,000 and $360,000.

If I start saving today and earn 8% per year in the market, I’ll need to set aside $1,500 per month to reach $360,000, or “just” $750 per month to reach $180,000.

You’ve seen my budget. With my income and my debt, there’s no room for $750 to go into a college savings plan right now. But, let’s assume I could set aside those funds. Would I want to? Do I, personally, think it’s the right move?

I’m not sure.

As a dropout, I earned double the national median income my first full year of employment. During my four years on a W-2, I grew from double to quadruple the median income. After switching to self-employment, my income dipped the first year, then I was back in the neighborhood of quadruple the national median until I sold my businesses last year.

See, a college education correlates to higher income, and it’s a strong correlation. But is it causal?

I remember sitting in one of my upper level economics classes and hearing the professor say, “Well, yes, education seems to push income higher, but the education piece of the income equation ends up being less significant than the stochastic piece.”

Stochastic – a word which I just had to look up as a refresher – essentially means random.

In other words, we and the media love to point to education as the primary driver of a person’s income, but it just happens to be the easiest piece to measure. Random elements like luck, parenting, ambition, persistence, and talent are hard to measure but play a bigger role in a person’s ultimate earning power.

I’m not anti-college. Is a society better off if its citizens get more education rather than less? Definitely. Lately I’ve even found myself admiring higher education assistance programs in lefter-leaning countries like Australia (which is saying something for your average Utah-dwelling conservative). I’m just questioning the necessity of an expensive college degree here in the US.

Let’s check out the expected value of a degree, acknowledging that a degree doesn’t guarantee employment – it just improves your chances at securing certain types of employment.

I’ll use 2013 average starting salary data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), then adjust it for 2025 (for the sake of consistency between our estimated costs and estimated starting salary).

Career Category 2013 Salary 2025 Salary*
Business $54,234 $87,576.25
Communications $43,145 $69,669.90
Computer Science $59,977 $96,849.96
Education $40,480 $65,366.49
Engineering $62,535 $100,980.58
Health Sciences $49,713 $80,275.80
Humanities and Social Sciences $37,058 $59,840.70
Math and Sciences $42,724 $68,990.07
Average $44,928 $72,549.06

*Assumes 4% annual increase in average starting salaries.

Is the salary worth the cost? Maybe. But my question is about whether the degree is even necessary.

I look at those 2013 starting salaries and I see hourly rates ranging from around $20 per hour on the low end, $30 on the high side.

I wonder whether my kid, or any kid, couldn’t achieve the same hourly rate in a work-to-learn, apprentice style situation coming out of high school. In fact, given the educational resources online, I don’t see why a kid couldn’t come out of high school with a marketable skill worth $20 to $30 per hour (especially in web-related areas like web design, programming, copywriting, and customer service).

I see college as beneficial, not essential. When my kids are around 12 years old, we’ll start to talk seriously about the game of life and career, how college fits into it, and how I think they should go about educating themselves to maximize the value of their experience while minimizing the cost.

When the time comes, my wife and I may decide to help the kids launch their lives after high school, whatever form that help takes. But given my experience and my opinions about how education and career formation will change in the next couple of decades, I don’t feel the need to risk our retirement for the sake of the current educational norm.

I’ll be curious to hear different perspectives on the issue.

93 Responses to “Okay, but really – is a college education worth the cost?”

  1. archerzzmotovlogger

    A college degree is essentially a way for employers to administer intelligence tests to their potential employees. Most learning for any job is on the job training or special training after you get the job no degree will 100% prepare you for any job. The college degree is just a way for you to show potential employers that you can finish what you started and are capable of learning new material, techniques and technologies.

    There are also some jobs that you literally cannot do without a degree or multiple degrees e.g., doctor and engineers.

    Also don’t discard the life lessons and things you acquire at college. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.

  2. MrMcLargeHuge

    It’s a perfectly valid question, and with some industries (like IT), a degree shouldn’t be necessary. But many employers require a four-year degree nowadays. Not having that degree line on your resume can automatically eliminate you from consideration.

  3. Jesse

    At this point in my life, I can’t say that my college degree was worth the cost. I have ~$30,000 in student loans I obtained while working on my degree. My degree has done nothing for my career…but I haven’t needed it to, either. I’m employed as a software developer at the company I’ve been with since graduating high school. I didn’t start as a software developer, but I obtained the development job several years after starting at the company because I worked hard in other jobs, and somebody saw that I had tech skills. In other words, diligent work and being in the right place at the right time (the stochastic element). When I eventually need to find a new job, will my degree be beneficial then? Perhaps. But I think 5+ years of on-the-job experience might look better to a potential employer than a college degree.

    • Tim

      That would depend entirely on the company. If there are a lot of applicants for a position they employer will likely sort the resumes this way.

      Degee with Certifications

      Degree without Certifications

      Certifications without a degree

      The rest in descending order of experience

      While it’s tough to calculate what that costs keep in mind one’s resume may not even be looked at without it.

  4. Ryan

    Is that median income personal or household? And if you can throw in the median # you were referring to that would help!

    • mark

      I was thinking about the median household income, I believe. It’s in the neighborhood of $50k per year in the US.

  5. marienevada

    And not to forget about the intangibles of a college degree. (If your kids have their heads on straight and don’t fall to the partying habit, which i’m sure they won’t). College graduates are generally (please note the generally, because it depends on what college you go to as well) more open-minded, progressive, more open to new ideas, more forward thinking, have a higher general knowledge of the world than people who don’t attend college.

    There’s no doubt that college tuition in the States is beyond ridiculous (I”m Canadian) but there are changes coming. In Oregon, a new measure has just come into effect where at the state university, students can attend for free and after they graduate they pay 2% of their paycheque towards tuition for 20 years. 2% pre-tax off your cheque is nothing and not even noticed. I contribute 2% to an RRSP (like a 401K) and it barely makes a difference on my take home pay but adds up nicely in my RRSP account.

    I’m sure that when other states see how successful this model will be, they will follow suit. Any society is better served by people being more educated rather than less. Even if after 4 yrs in college they decide they’d rather be a welder, they would be better, more well-rounded citizens. I have a degree in Literature and while I never used it, it has served me well in all my careers, even Finishing Carpentry.

    I do not however, to touch on something else, think that it’s solely the parent’s obligation to pay for school. Parents can help, but I see no reason why the kids cant get part-time jobs in high school and contribute to the education fund.

    • MrMcLargeHuge

      While I’ve had the idea for a similar system, I have serious doubts about the Oregon proposal. If the rate is a flat 2%, it punishes students that pursue tougher degrees in more lucrative fields (ie. the Engineers end up subsidizing the English Lit degrees). If I were planning on being an Engineer, or any other field with a high average salary, I would look elsewhere for my education.

      There are a few relatively simple solutions to this problem, but as the plan stands now, I say “no thanks.”

      • wendy

        Australia has a help, higher education and learning program, so you choose to pay up front each semester or you can defer payment until you have graduated. When you start earning $ at a minimum level (i think its $30k) you are taxed a certain percentage of your gross income. As you earn more you are taxed more to pay the help debt, it maxes out at 8% of gross income, which as an engineer I was paying the higher rate my second year out of uni, but was help debt free in 5 years. As the money is taken out as tax you never even know you are missing $ in your take home pay until the debt is paid out.

      • Jen

        Reading all these stories makes me glad for the taxes we pay in Australia – bright kids can get well educated and make a richer world for all – irrespective of their family background. I’m not forced to choose between my retirement or my kids’ education – but I do pay for both through taxation at 33% etc

      • Samuel Kasten

        Numbers here assume an $80k 4 year education (because it’s not unrealistic and it’s an easy number :) )

        A skilled professional making $100k (I use this number as a very rough average of the engineer’s current, 2025, and possibly 2035 pay, so that we can cover 20 years) would pay $167 per month. For the same education on a 20 year amortization at 5%, the monthly payments would be $527.96. In order to lose money on this deal, you would have to be making over $317k annually, and if you are making that much, you probably aren’t sporting a 4 year degree.

        I’m open to the idea that I’m missing something, of course, but it seems like a pretty good deal to me for just about anybody.

        Sources: The above post and bankrate.com’s amortization calculator.

      • saveourskills

        Your argument assumes everyone with a college degree goes on to become an engineer. What about all the unemployed “marketing” degrees.

        One could argue that they should have just gone into engineering…. but not everyone is suited for that line of work

        Why not determine your end goal and then evaluate options for obtaining that goal which may include college or trade school, or it might be just building a personal brand online and monetizing your passion for video games.

        The internet is destroying traditional boundaries, and it will continue to do so. Passion driven individuals will create their own jobs.

      • Samuel Kasten

        My reply was in reference to MrMcLargeHuge’s comments on the proposed Oregon tuition solution, wherein one would pay 2% of their gross income for 20 years in lieu of traditional tuition fees.The short version is this: Oregon’s plan is a good deal for you if you anticipate making anything LESS than $317k annually.

        I think you may have read some things into my post that aren’t there, and that’s okay. Just know that I don’t disagree with you in anything that you have said, and what you say in no way contradicts what I have said. :)

  6. Right track?

    Well said. As someone who made many bad decisions in life, and has only dug out of those decisions of late, I am trying to stress the importance of living with a plan, and not spending money you don’t have. To my kids, this means that we (their mother and I) did not plan well earlier and, as a result, are not prepared/able to send them to school. The onus for higher education (as it relates to each of them) will fall on them. What we need to, and are, doing right now, is ensuring our financial house is in order, so that we will not be a burden on them as my wife and I get older. As a direct result of that position, we will have means to assist them (with the costs of some classes, materials, etc), They know this. They also know that hard work and determination will help them in their pursuits.

    Lesson: Mom and Dad made mistakes with money. They are human. They have acknowledged those mistakes and corrected them. They aren’t paying for my college, but may be able to help with some of the associated costs.

  7. Stephen

    I think the better question is whether going into debt for an education is worth it. And I personally think that it is never worth it. You should pay cash or not go. And since I believe in helping my kids with this I will be saving as much as possible, after retirement savings, so that they at least have a head start.
    Also there needs to be a mindset change in America regarding college. Lots of times a large portion of those loans end up funding an expensive off-campus lifestyle. Live at home, eat at home, buy used books online, and take a large load of classes to finish fast. It can be done without loans.
    And don’t forget you can do general GE at a community college first. Nobody will care that you didn’t do all four years at the university.

    • amykate1204

      In most situations, it is true that nobody will care that you didn’t do all four years at the university. But as a professional academic advisor at a 4-year university (college degree required :) I have to say that there are instances (pre-med!!!) where it is vitally important to at least be careful which courses are taken at a community college and which are taken at the university level.

      Not sure if this has been said elsewhere, but I think the largest factor in determining whether college is “worth it” is what job a student wants after graduation. Let the job (and the accompanying salary) determine not only how much education is received, but what level (junior college vs. university, private college vs. state).

  8. Renee

    You said, “lefter-leaning” and I now love you forever! I’ve always thought “lefter-most” and “righter-most” should be words, as in “Everybody move to the righter-most side of the room.” Now I feel vindicated!

    • mark

      Ha – unfortunately for both of us, spell-check dislikes the word. Fortunately for both of us, english is a highly flexible language. :)

  9. stocktonprof

    It’s worth noting too that your costs for college are a bit off. For instance, you seem to be counting “room and board” as a college cost. But of course even if your kids don’t go to college, it still will cost money to feed and shelter them during that period–not as much, probably, but there’s still going to be an outlay. It’s also important to me that you track down that “Other Expenses” category. That’s a huge component of your cost estimates, but it’s unclear what it is (especially since you put “fees” in with tuition). (For example, that might include health care costs, another expense that one incurs even if one is not in college.)

    You’re also using averages, which is probably necessary, but as budgeters I also think it’s important that we ask how we can lower these average costs: live in a cheaper dorm, “rent” textbooks, etc. These averages don’t have to–and often do not–represent a frugal person’s reality.

    What I’m really getting at is this: today’s college students spend a large chunk of money on consumer and entertainment pursuits, and then these costs get associated with “college” when they are more accurately tied to the lifestyles of the 18-22 year olds in the US. (Check out the athletic facilities at a college campus to see what I mean, and then also gauge your children’s reaction when you tell them they are going to live in the less expensive, old dorm.) I personally would much rather convince my kids that they don’t need so much high-end stuff than try to convince them they don’t really need education. I’d rather they learn to live without cable, wireless internet, and tons of new clothes than learn to live without a bachelor’s degree. Budgeting teaches us that we can take dollars from more frivolous categories and invest them in more meaningful, long-term goals–to live intentionally, if you will. I think the same lessons apply to saving and spending for college as well.

    • mark

      To be clear, I didn’t say I would tell them they didn’t need education. I’m questioning the cost/benefit equation of a traditional college degree. In my mind, they aren’t necessarily the same thing.

      I completely agree with you on the inflated costs reported by these schools. The reason I didn’t say in the article that a degree is absolutely not worth the cost is that it often is worth the cost – especially if a student follows the advice you’ve given.

      My overall point is whether the formal education is necessary at all.

  10. stocktonprof

    As an addendum: I’m sorry if I insinuated that you are putting money in frivolous categories. I was more trying to say that I see college kids today taking out student loans and then using that money to pay for things that are not really about college–cell phone, cable, entertainment, etc. If we can help our kids get away from some of their lifestyle expectations and use loan money more judiciously, they will not have to borrow as much as the “average.”

    • mark

      Your comment was on point – no need to apologize!

  11. brad

    It depends a lot on what your kids want to do when they grow up (of course most kids need time to figure that out, and some need longer than others). But it’s not all about earning potential. When I was 12 I knew I wanted to be an environmental educator. There were plenty of other jobs where I could make more money (I could make 5 to 10 times more per year working as a plumber, for example), but I didn’t want to be a plumber. To work as an environmental educator, I needed a college degree: nobody would hire me otherwise (okay, I got summer jobs as an environmental educator while I was in college, but for a fulltime job I needed a degree).

    So I think the question of whether it’s “worth it” to get a college degree depends crucially on what you want to do with your life. It’s essentially a passport to a lot of jobs that you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. If you don’t have it, you don’t even make the first cut of the resume sifting process.

    • mark

      100% agree. It’s a passport to a lot of jobs that won’t even consider you without the degree.

      After selling my businesses, and before landing with YNAB, I applied for a job with a mid-sized local software company (probably ~500 employees). Their careers page explicitly stated every position required a degree, but through a friend I had a direct connection to one of their HR bigshots, so I applied anyway. My friend told the HR guy about me, and the guy said “Oh, I’ll make sure he gets an interview.”

      Within 24 hours of submitting my cover letter and resume I got their canned “no thanks” email. I laughed my head off.

      So you’re right – the degree is a passport to even be considered for certain jobs. I wouldn’t argue that.

  12. Rachel T

    A college education is more than just dollars and cents and earnings potential. As others have said, it indicates to the employment world that you have certain skills (reading, analytical, hard work, whatever). It also creates a buffer between childhood and adulthood where you can figure yourself out. That is invaluable! And even if you don’t need a college degree for many jobs, you need one to get the hiring manager to look at a resume. And you certainly need it (and probably an advanced degree) if you ever want to make it into upper management. Not everyone will be self-employed or good with their hands. Lots of us are officey, thinker-types where the degree = employable. Having a degree will very rarely limit your options (the debt might…), but NOT having a degree certainly will.

    • mark

      It’s a fair point that having a degree limits your options, while not having one does create limits.

      My experience tells me there are plenty of no-degree-required options, so being excluded from certain opportunities doesn’t concern me, and I question whether it should concern anyone else.

      To your point about being the “officey, thinker-type.” That’s fair, and if someone really wants that type of job they should get the fanciest degree they can while keeping costs as low as possible.

      I’m finding it interesting how several commenters are equating no-degree jobs with blue collar or manual labor. Yes, those are options – and great ones for some people. But they never crossed my mind in writing the article.

  13. saveourskills

    Fantastic article. Ultimately College Degrees are a business decision and you need to work with your kids to determine the best ROI path to whatever they want to achieve.

    It’s hard to commit to a life goal at such a young age. I want to encourage my children to take a year to travel and get more seasoned in life before jumping into the treadmill.

    I also feel starting at a community college and forcing the child to prove they will preform in a college situation given freedom etc is important. I know plenty of peers in my college experience that came out from under their parent’s roofs and spent 1 or 2 years partying and dropped out.

    That’s an expensive party.

    • BWK

      ” Ultimately College Degrees are a business decision and you need to work with your kids to determine the best ROI path to whatever they want to achieve.”
      perfect!

    • Stacie

      I went to a junior college and played volleyball, excelled academically, then transferred. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I got my first two years of education for FREE. You can’t pass something like that up.

      I do wish I would have been presented with a few more options coming out of high school though…it was basically assumed that you would go to college, and the thought of graduating hs and getting a job seemed like failure to me, but at 17 I had NO IDEA what I wanted to do or be. That’s too young, in my opinion, to make such big decisions.

  14. Blurg

    Mark–best piece of satire you’ve written on this blog yet! Kudos. You made me laugh several times and brought a little piece of warmth and happiness to my soul today. Thank you for that. It’s guys like you with a sense of humor and who don’t take yourselves too seriously who make personal budgeting and financial planning enjoyable–and even humorous sometimes.

    That said, in the event that you were actually serious, (and of course you weren’t), my response would have been as follows:

    You may be the exception that proves the rule, Mark. You made it without a college degree. Congrats. The percentages are not in your kids’ favor, though, especially here in 20 years. Today, a bachelor’s degree does not mean much but is /often/ a prerequisite for stable employment. It is similar to what a high school diploma was. Imagine what they’ll be up against in 20 years.

    Since we’re basing things on personal experience, I wouldn’t hire a professional doing professional work who hasn’t at least earned a bachelor’s degree. There are professions out there that don’t require formal schooling–construction and finish carpentry for example. Those are skills best learned in the workplace. I’m happy to hire those guys and pay them fairly well–but at best, we’re talking 20.00 to 30.00 an hour. Professionals, though? Maybe I’m missing out on some savant out there, but if someone is pitching me their skills as a financial planner or an accountant, I simply would not trust them if they didn’t have the self-discipline and foresight to get a degree. Sorry if that makes me elitist.

    You’re also forgetting that to become a doctor, lawyer, professor, engineer, architect, astronaut, physicist, etc., you /have/ to get a degree. You cannot apprentice your way into those things and expect anyone to take you seriously (if you can legally work at all).

    Your theory appears to be that 20.00 or 30.00 an hour is fine. I agree. In theory, those amounts are probably attainable–eventually. But good luck getting that out of high school or even a bachelor’s degree. Worse, that’s probably the top end for 99% of GDE earners. There’s only so much you can earn through salary as a machinist, laborer, customer rep, web developer, etc.

    If your kids are guaranteed entrepreneurial successes, go ahead and discourage them from going to college. Heck, you made it, right?

    If not, though, encourage them to go to college. To do otherwise is simply rolling the dice.

    • saveourskills

      Your examples, doctor, lawyer, etc are valid cases of when a college degree is an essential path, but you make a logical fallacy in assuming that because this is so it is always the correct course.

      IT programming, art, music, writing: These are four counter examples to your examples. These are all professions that you can easily boostrap and be successful at without a college degree.

      • Blurg

        No logical fallacy–I expressly stated that there are “professions” that do not require degrees–construction, etc. By ignoring my own dealing with the counter-examples, you do a disservice to your own argument.

        Also, “Art, Music, and Writing” are areas that you can “easily bootstrap and be successful at?!” Please don’t sell your kids on that. The artists, musicians, and writers I know that don’t have a primary career already struggle and struggle mightily when it comes to finances. The greatest piano teachers in the state don’t make more than 40 or 50 dollars an hour, and that’s after years and years of experience, and more often than not a masters degree and/or Doctorate.

      • saveourskills

        Ok so no logical fallacy but you seemed to imply that only blue collar jobs are available to the non-college educated. I am in the IT space and we are seeing more and more computer programmers coming right out of school. Right now it’s a skillset driven industry.

        Your art etc argument…. let’s add $120,000 in student loan debt to that starving artist and that somehow makes it better? Perhaps you meant that these people should have all gone into electrical engineering or finance instead?

        I just think that there are some situations where we can determine that the best ROI for a child might not be college and that having a college degree doesn’t automatically equate to 20% more earings or whatever the current statistics are saying.

        With zero dollars in student loan debt your piano teaching friend is making a pretty decent wage in most areas.

      • Blurg

        Except the piano teacher needed to have a Masters or Doctorate Degree and years of experience to get there. That piano teacher could /not/ charge those rates without her education.

        You seem to be in a pretty niche field–IT and computer programming. If you did an ROI on those guys who went to school and those who didn’t, I think you’d still find that at the end of their careers, those with a bachelor’s degree or better earned more (on average) than those without.

        I’m also not saying that we should tack on college debt to the artist who knows they want to be an artist. I agree, in principle, that there should be an ROI at high school graduation.

        But even artists generally acknowledge that they need to sharpen their skills and be educated. Art institutes and music schools exist for a reason, and again, if you look at the numbers, I imagine that those artists and musicians who’ve been trained at the college level outperform their peers by the end of their careers.

        Of course there will be outliers and exceptions all over the place. But to blanketly suggest that college is not the safest route to financial security is an absolute disservice to children.

      • saveourskills

        Blurg, I don’t necessarily disagree with many of your points and I concede that iin many cases the best decision is college, however I just want people to be open to the fact that it isn’t always 100% the best decision for each individual case.

        I am urged to look at an aggregate view of college earners vs bootstrapped earners in my field w/o regard to the individual.

        The cult of college assures us that if we go to college we will be pretty much guaranteed a fabulous job and steady income. Really it doesn’t matter what your goals are, college is the answer to fulfill those goals. Want to be a master carpenter, go to college, want to be a sailor, go to college, want to sell shoes, go to college. No matter what the question is college is the answer.

        The core of my argument is this: I just want us as a society to at least entertain the idea that not every person should go to college. There are lots of people out there that would be far better off had they not gone to college. There are potential welders who are working at starbucks with a PHD in history who would have LOVED to weld had they not been pressured and felt as is they would be LESS had they not gone to college.

        The march on wallstreet was a misguided and poorly executed in my opinion, however at it’s core is a frustration. The frustration stems from the false promise of the college degree. It stems from the rising costs and diminishing ROI of today’s degree vs degrees from just 10 years ago.

        I’m not changing anybody’s mind on here. I guess everyone will do what they feel is best for their children. For my part I want to determine what my children’s passions are and focus on end goals and not means.

        They very well may end up going to college if that seems to be the best path towards those goals.

      • Blurg

        On this point, we can whole heartedly agree: “The core of my argument is this: I just want us as a society to at least entertain the idea that not every person should go to college. There are lots of people out there that would be far better off had they not gone to college. There are potential welders who are working at starbucks with a PHD in history who would have LOVED to weld had they not been pressured and felt as is they would be LESS had they not gone to college.”

        I think we probably agree more than we disagree, but such is the nature of forums and comments. Thanks for the dialogue!

    • Marcus

      Thank you … I feel exactly the same way you do and my experience is exactly the same.

    • mark

      “Today, a bachelor’s degree does not mean much but is /often/ a prerequisite for stable employment. It is similar to what a high school diploma was. Imagine what they’ll be up against in 20 years.”

      I don’t think you or I have any concept of what the educational and hiring landscape will look like in 20 years, but it’s my opinion that the internet and the democratization of information will completely transform a child’s path from school to career.

      Personally, I wonder whether anyone will care a lick about a bachelor’s degree in 20 years. Probably, thanks to the deeply entrenched system. But my only point in the article was to question its absolute necessity.

      You and I can parent our children accordingly.

      “I wouldn’t hire a professional doing professional work who hasn’t at least earned a bachelor’s degree. There are professions out there that don’t require formal schooling–construction and finish carpentry for example. Those are skills best learned in the workplace. I’m happy to hire those guys and pay them fairly well–but at best, we’re talking 20.00 to 30.00 an hour. Professionals, though? Maybe I’m missing out on some savant out there, but if someone is pitching me their skills as a financial planner or an accountant, I simply would not trust them if they didn’t have the self-discipline and foresight to get a degree. Sorry if that makes me elitist.”

      You’re not an elitist; you’re just old school. My accountant has a degree in – wait for it – horticulture. Do I value his degree? No. I pay him $150 per hour because he came highly recommended by a friend.

      That recommendation – given on the basis of the guy’s quality service and expertise – secured and secures this accountant new clients at his asking rate of $150. Not his degree.

      As to the $20/hr to $30/hr – those are simply starting figures. Take my younger brother as an example. Five years ago I hired him with very little experience to do software programming for my business. Because of his inexperience, he could only bill me $20/hr.

      During the next four years he was able to increase his billing rate to $60/hr – which annualizes to $120,000. Six months ago he landed a programming job where the value of his compensation is above $100,000 per year.

      He has no degree. His employer didn’t ask about a degree, nor do they care.

      How about his self discipline and foresight in training himself and proving his value in the market, allowing him to get an exceptional job?

      A college degree is one way to verify a person’s basic skills and character – which is why I’m not trashing college. Another way to evaluate a person’s skills and character is to look at what they’ve actually done. I’d argue a person is a more intriguing candidate if they made their way outside the traditional channels, but I acknowledge my bias.

      “…to blanketly suggest that college is not the safest route to financial security is an absolute disservice to children.”

      This is where we can simply agree to disagree. I see the current college and career game as just that – a game. Rather than simply teaching my kids how to win at that game (which I view as way too costly, with questionable rewards), I hope to show them how to step outside the game, see it for what it is, and act according to their interests and goals.

      I’m guessing my kids will go to college, and they’ll have my moral and even financial support.

      But to describe college as the safest path to security is simply perpetuating the greatest marketing coup of all time.

      • Blurg

        “But to describe college as the safest path to security is simply perpetuating the greatest marketing coup of all time.”

        Sorry, what? Based on your singular experiences?

        For every success you can point to, I can name you a hundred abject failures. And, no, I have not suggested nor would I suggest that going to college is an absolute win for everybody. But outside of niche areas–IT and computer programming aside, for example–you simply will not get a look in the vast majority of professions without a degree. (Also, please note that your accountant had a degree–does it matter that his degree was unrelated to his field? No. Holding a degree, by itself, was likely a barrier to entry, and he wouldn’t have had any accounting experience without it).

        Want to be a short order chef? Fine–experience ought to cut it . Want to be a head chef at a fine restaurant? Culinary School.

        Want to be a novelist? Great–no degree required. But isn’t it funny that most successful novelists /did/ get a degree or held other jobs while doing it?

        Outliers aside, can you honestly say that a college degree is /not/ the safest path to financial security for the overwhelming majority of people? (for reference http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/money_co/2011/08/college-gradutates-pay.html).

      • ConstantCupcake

        “Want to be a short order chef? Fine–experience ought to cut it . Want to be a head chef at a fine restaurant? Culinary School.

        Want to be a novelist? Great–no degree required. But isn’t it funny that most successful novelists /did/ get a degree or held other jobs while doing it?”

        Having worked in the Restaurant industry I can say that that’s untrue. There are plenty of Head Chef’s at fine restaurants who didn’t go to culinary school.

        And most successful novelists? I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you have some sort of research to back that up. Because I’m thinking about most of my favorite novelists and they don’t actually have degrees.

        I mean really the point here is correlation does not equal causation. Even if you have the numbers to back up that most novelists have a college degree, unless you can also prove causation you’re just spewing hot air.

        Those numbers are particularly skewed when your’e talking about something like college. Since college is culturally considered required many, if not most, examples of successful people will end up having degrees. That absolutely does not mean that those degrees are directly responsible for those people’s success.

        I agree with the argument that college degrees open doors. There are a lot of jobs that won’t even look at you without a degree. However I don’t see anything in your arguments to suggest that the degrees are directly responsible for the successes. It’s just as likely that the people we all know doing jobs that have nothing to do with their degree would have been just as capable of that job without going to college.

        As for a lot of the research linking college degrees to the success of lower income families a HUGE reason this is so is that they are attending schools and being raised in cultures with different values than the corporate world expects. Children raised with middle class values are much more likely to be successful absent a college degree. This is because college becomes a place for low income students to learn to navigate a culture/system they otherwise weren’t exposed to. This can just as easily be learned by sending those students to higher socio economic high schools. What I’m saying is, an improved primary school system would actually help a lot of the low success low income students a lot more than going to college, without the debt.

      • Blurg

        I understand causation and correlation–once again, not a logical fallacy in my argument since my argument is not founded on that. But nice straw man attempt.

        In fact, my novelist example was more to illustrate the innate value of education and to demonstrate that “novelist,” like many of the jobs being bandied about in these comments, is usually a second career that has foundations in a well-educated mind. Just because a college degree doesn’t directly lead to a job does not mean that that person would have earned the job or written the novel without the degree. Find me a wildly successful novelist that didn’t at least get a bachelor’s degree, and I posit that you’ll be hard pressed to find her.

        Rather, my point is what I posted originally–that to discourage or fail to encourage college is to roll the dice. Some young people may win–the vast majority will lose. The figures simply bear that out.

      • ConstantCupcake

        “Find me a wildly successful novelist that didn’t at least get a bachelor’s degree, and I posit that you’ll be hard pressed to find her.”

        Mark Twain, Harper Lee, H.G. Wells, Neil Gaiman, Ernest Hemmingway, Charles Dickens, Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Maya Angelou.. the list goes on and on. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

        I Understand your point, I just really don’t agree with it. I also don’t agree with the idea that college is the only way to a well-educated mind. Some of the most intellectually gifted people I know never went to college, they just read excessively.

        You say “Just because a college degree doesn’t directly lead to a job does not mean that that person would have earned the job or written the novel without the degree. ” and that’s true. But like I pointed out earlier, there’s also no reason to believe that they wouldn’t have earned the degree without the job. It’s entirely based on the person. The assumption that you’re making is that college is best for the majority of people. I don’t think that that’s true.

        If the culture shifted and a college degree stopped being a passport into entry level jobs I honestly believe that you would be surprised how many young people did just fine in life. As it stands a college degree is something with no inherent value, only culturally constructed value.

  15. BWK

    love this viewpoint. I believe college is important and benefits everyone in society, but I have often noticed people with degrees in fields that don’t remotely apply to their current line of work. Why not trade schools, and technical certifications? If it gets you in the door of a company, who really cares? The real opportunity is if you are determined to learn, work hard and have motivation.

    Again, I’m not bashing college bachelors / master degrees, but for a lot of people out there they can get by on less.

    The benefit i see is that you would be specifically trained / specialized in a field, with a lot less debt.

  16. Dulcimer

    Good question. Thanks for exploring it.

    So now I have another question. This is the one I’m pursuing for my kids: if, by some miraculous turn, I ended up in 2026 (the year my daughter turns 18) with $135,000 to spend on each of my kids, what would be the best way to spend that money? People just think their kids are entitled to a college education, paid vacation, a desk job, and so on, but what if that isn’t what’s best for your kids?

    Maybe they need specialized training to become a great trades(wo)man; in which case, they would have a chunk of change to apprentice themselves to a master (an old concept, I know, but maybe we should bring it back). Or at least the money could supplement a small starting salary while they learn the ropes of the chosen trade.

    Or maybe what your kid needs is a few years of learning and serving others in a foreign country. It seems like many people send their kids away to college just so that they can say they had the “going away to college experience.” But instead of being a stretching, growing experiment in independence, it usually ends up looking a lot like a party. If you really want your kid to grow up, maybe he or she needs to actually be a continent away with an important job to do. I’m pretty sure $135,000 could more than pay for that, too.

    Some teenagers are serious entrepreneurs. So why make your kid go to college when she could spend four years learning how to run a business?

    I’m a product of a Christian humanities program, and I don’t fully regret the money I spent getting my degree. My parents didn’t have money to give me, so the government, my college, and I have shared most of the bills.

    College is great for some people. But I’d love to see our society become a little more open-minded and holistic about what really helps people make the transition from smart kids to productive members of society capable of supporting themselves?

    I seriously doubt I’ll have $135,000 in the bank for each of my kids upon high school graduation. But if I did, I hope I wouldn’t already have it earmarked as “college education.” I hope I would be willing to be different, if that was what was best for my kids.

    • mark

      Thanks for your very insightful comments.

      Other commenters have touched on this, but I wonder why we rush 18-year-olds into college in the first place. Who on earth knows who or what they want to be as they graduate high school?

      I’m not saying they should wander aimless. I’m saying I’d like my kids to have ample opportunities between ages 12 and 18 to see and understand a lot of professions with their costs and benefits.

      I’d like them to apprentice under different kinds of professionals. I’m planning to require them to start businesses around age 12. Lawn owing, painting, whatever. Just something to expose them to the entire business process from sales through customer service. Maybe they’ll hate it, and that will put them on the path to traditional education and employment. Maybe they’ll love it, and they’ll know they don’t need to follow the traditional path.

      In any case, I like your way of thinking. Before we spend our imaginary $100k on our kids college degrees, let’s spend some energy, money,and time helping them figure out which direction they’d like to go.

      • ConstantCupcake

        The idea of taking time off between high school and college is called a gap year and is something a lot of alternative High Schools and even quite a few educational researchers are saying is really a great thing for a lot of students. Particularly if that year can be spent working or traveling to places with different lifestyles/worldviews.

  17. saveourskills

    As a small business owner and an employer in the IT space we hire on skillset almost exclusively. This is your portfolio.

    Of 5 programmers that work here 2 do not have college degrees and in fact I didn’t even realize that until after they were hired in both cases, so you can see how little this factored into a hiring decision.

    Our UI guy is the best I have ever seen and he is the top earner in our company outside of the 2 owners. The other gentlemen dropped out of college to join our team. We needed a guy who could program PHP and administrate linux server, and he taught both to himself while in high school. He demonstrated initiative by building his portfolio utilizing all of the skills he had learned in lieu of being able to use actual work experience.

    He has been with us for 5 years and only had 1.5 years of school to pay off. He makes more now than the 4 year graduate we just hired.

    Personally I am a graduate of college and enjoyed the experience, but these days “being well rounded” isn’t a good enough.

    When I graduated college I demanded about 20% more in salary than we are paying graduates a full 13 years later and the cost of living has gone way up not down, add to this the fact that getting a degree from the college I graduated from costs a full 40% more than it did when I went through.

    The flipside is some careers are easier to bootstrap than others. For example being an artist would be a great example of a poor ROI for college, however being a mechanical engineer would be difficult if not impossible to bootstrap.

    It’s not all gloom and doom for kids these days though, there has never been a greater opportunity than today for passion driven success. I don’t care if you want to be an organic farmer or internet marketing guru, you can build a personal brand online and become massively successful at it. If you want to be a writer the rise of ebook readers, smartphones and tablets presents an unprecedented opportunity.

    For people with some moxy and some drive and passion there are plenty of opportunities. Also there is going to be a huge skills gap in the blue collar sector as many skilled laborers are moving into retirement.

    We desperately need the next generation of fabricators and welders. There are plenty of happy fabricators and welders working at starbucks with communications degrees they were pressured into and $70,000 or more in debt.

    I obviously don’t have all the answers, but what my personal plan is to sit down with my son and determine where he wants to go, then we are going to figure out the most efficient path and the correct next actions to accomplish his goals. If college doesn’t fit into that path then I’m not going to pressure him to go just because society has decided to view people without college degrees as being less.

    • mark

      Thanks for adding your thoughts. Obviously they resonate with me, but hopefully others will find them insightful as well.

  18. Gina

    I struggle with this as I see the cost of college. I got my degree and didn’t have a single loan. My bachelor’s degree, earned in 1984, cost me less than 10K; which included one year at a small, private college. I grew up with the mindset that everyone should go to college. Now I’m not so sure. I see these kids who are graduating with 40, 50, 60K in debt. That’s insane to me!

    Here are my thoughts about the subject:
    1) Parents shouldn’t sacrifice their retirement to pay for their children’s college.

    2) If parents do want to pay for college, they should not pay for everything, make your child work for some portion of the cost.

    3) Not everyone is cut out for college. When I was in high school in the late 70s, we had a Skill Center associated with the school that taught certain skills (woodworking, welding, secretarial/admin assistant, early childhood care, cosmetology, food service). This allowed students who were not college-bound to gain marketable (for that time) skills.

    4) Not everyone is ready or should go to college at 18. My DH hated high school, was bored and not a good student. He went into the Air Force for 4 years, came home, worked for his dad’s construction company for a couple of years and then decided to go to college at 25. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Computer Science degree at 29. He is very intelligent but didn’t come into “his own” until his mid-twenties. We need to recognize that people may need to take different paths to education. That may not mean the military but exploring before education.

    5) Today, college is an ROI situation. I have a teenaged niece who is amazing with hair styling, hair color and nails.. She loves doing hair. Well if that’s what she wants to do and is good at it; I don’t think a B.A. or B.S. makes sense. I think she should get an Associate degree in Cosmetology and go forth… I’ll certainly pay her to do my hair and she has potential to make a decent living.

    6) Community College should be a seriously considered option. The first two years of college are generally (certainly the first year) of required courses in a multitude of disciplines and create the foundation for moving on to your specialty courses. These can be taken anywhere and at much cheaper rates. Just make sure the classes are transferable to the school of your choice..

    7) Online universities are no longer taboo. Way back when (late 80s, early 90s)one of my employers wouldn’t even talk to you if you had a degree from the University of Phoenix. Now there are a multitude of accredited schools that deliver education via online or other distance learning channels. Can be a cheaper option if your degree is available.

    8) If my toilet breaks, I don’t care if you have a degree in Chemistry or are a High School dropout; if you have the skills to fix my toilet, come on in! The same goes for my air conditioning or heating, my plumbing or my electricity. These are skills society needs and will always need (at least for the foreseeable future). We need to encourage young people to pursue these trades. They’re honorable and have good income potential.

    I believe parents owe it to their children to sit down with them, discuss their interest, honestly assess their educational abilities and determine what makes sense for THAT child..

    • mark

      Thanks for adding thoughtfully to the conversation. Every one of your points makes sense to me.

  19. Alexa Saige Burks

    I love reading these blogs but sometimes I feel like I can’t relate to any of them.

    I’m 23 and graduated college a year ago and have around $40,000 in debt and make $12/hour as a receptionist, a job I just started a month ago (so no raises in my future). Perhaps if I had gotten a degree in something else then “maybe” I would be making a higher salary but I doubt it. All of my friends are in the same earning boat. So I feel like you are being generous and idealistic when you say a recent college grad will be making $20/hour. Because from my experience and my friends’ experiences, it’s just not true.

    I live in Portland, Oregon and I am so excited about this new proposal to go to college for free and then pay 2%. I’m a huge proponent of helping one another since we are all one giant community. I just wish I could have participated. Because at $12/hour there is no way I can afford the $400/month student loan payment I am expected to make. It’s just not a healthy, sustainable way for people to start their lives right out of college. It’s a burden and I would much rather pay my 2% to give someone else the great opportunity of an education. Someone who might not have been able to otherwise. 2% would go unnoticed and I would rather have that then a $400/month looming payment and stress about whether or not I will be able to buy food (I’m not exaggerating, I’ve had to apply for food stamps). That $400/month payment is just money going back into the system and putting someone else in debt. Why not give back money to give people worry-free education instead?

    I really like YNAB and I really like your blog but…I feel like there are just some points of view that are getting overlooked here. Such as us young 20s, single, college grads who can’t even make $15/hour. Believe me, there are a lot of us.

    • mark

      Hi Alexa – I’m sorry you feel like you can’t relate to this post, because this post is all about you! I’m sorry to hear you’ve struggled to find a job that pays what you need. Can you share any of your experiences with us? What’s your degree in? How was the job hunt during and after school? Why doy ou feel like you weren’t able to get the job you needed?

      • Alexa Saige Burks

        Mine might be a story of not knowing what I wanted to do at all in life and then perhaps going to college for the wrong thing. Which I’m not ashamed of because I think everyone goes through it.

        I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, like at all. I changed my major numerous times and stuck with Theatre Arts, only because I did theatre in high school and it was a community for me to make friends. However, by my last term of my senior year I knew I didn’t want to do theatre at all. I had taken a human sexuality course that term and it changed my life. I realized I too wanted to become a human sexuality educator from grade school onward into college. And while this is a very necessary position in society’s education it doesn’t really exist.

        So…I guess I found out what I wanted to do too late. And now I’m burnt out on college. I want to go back to get the degrees that would actually help me in health and sexuality education and promotion but I have debt, and a job that doesn’t pay me a lot and other things. I’m at least thankful I am in a city I love and living with one of my best friends.

        In response to your blog post though, if your kids are in college, encourage them to try almost every class they can. If I had taken that human sexuality course my first year, things would probably be different. I would suggest encouraging them even when they aren’t in college. Let them do everything. If they get to college and they major in theatre arts be okay with that. It’s not that I can’t get a job in a theatre, or you can’t make a living doing theatre. Because believe me, you can. I just don’t feel like that is my life’s goal.

        I don’t really regret my degree choice as it gave me some of the best friends I could ask for and a fun life experience. But…I’m not really sure my degree really helps me get any jobs. And I have this feeling like, I have so much more I want to do but, then won’t I be old and it will be too late?

        I’ve learned a lot from YNAB though and really appreciate the methods and program. I have difficulties sticking to my budget but it’s definitely a learning process. I have all the financial plans in place. I just need the money to fulfill them.

      • Alexa Saige Burks

        On a side note, my current boyfriend didn’t go to college and is doing exactly what he loves on a vegetable farm. College isn’t for everyone or required for every job. It’s bummer that society makes us think so though.

  20. Julie Hart Davis

    I have one of those degrees that doesn’t apply to my current employment, but I think actually having a degree at all helped me get hired in the first place. Others have said that it shows employers that you finish what you start and that you are intelligent without having to test this out for themselves. I believe this is true. I paid my way through college by living at home and working. My parents would have gladly paid for me to attend school, but they just simply couldn’t afford it. They helped me in other ways (room and board) and for that I am so thankful. Ultimately, I look back at my college experience as just that, an experience. It was fun at times, grueling at others, but in the end worth the effort, even though I am not working in my field of study. I do have a college fund for my kids, but it will not be enough to completely pay their way through college, and I’m okay with that. I feel that, when the time comes, if they truly want to continue on in college and have run out of money, they will make it work and it will be more meaningful to them for having worked for it.

  21. K-ro

    I think this is an appropriate analysis to do for everybody who has a child. In the past several decades there has been a belief that you aren’t a good parent if you don’t put your kid(s) through college. What a message for those who aren’t able to afford this (“you’re bad parents”). And parents kill themselves trying to save for it, possibly sacrificing things they could do for the children while growing up (I’m talking experiences like international travel, events like summer camps or travel to family reunions; I’m not talking more “stuff.”)

    Colleges and universities are well aware of this belief and have been taking advantage of it for the same number of decades. The inflation rate for the cost of higher education has been astronomical, especially compared to the actual inflation rate.

    And though this was certainly not the intent, unfortunately, the easy-to-obtain student loans and low interest rates have only fueled this problem, as students and parents with little understanding of the impact, borrow to the extreme to fund their education.

    It is long past time for a reality check — our higher education institutions need to stop taking advantage of students and their families, tighten their belts, and focus on providing real value in education. And it is only this kind of questioning and analysis by those footing the bill that will force these institutions to do this.

    I say all this as a person with a BA and two Masters degrees. I clearly believe in higher education. (Yes, even my bachelor’s in English Lit, which is scorned these days as a useless degree, but the critical thinking skills it taught me has been the foundation for all my subsequent professional and educational successes.)

    I highly value the education I have pursued over my life, and incredibly grateful to my parents for ensuring I received it. But were I going to undergrad college today, there is no way they could afford the school I attended 30 years ago.

    P.S. I do disagree with the comment in the blog that kids can come out of high school with marketable skills worth $20-$30 / hour. Maybe a highly motivated child, or maybe in someone else’s state/area. But in my state (AZ), which has chronically underfunded K-12 education and used the recession to gut it even further, we’re lucky if kids can even read at graduation, let alone have a marketable skill. (And yes, I’m speaking from experience as a parent with kids in the public school system.)

    • mark

      “It is long past time for a reality check — our higher education institutions need to stop taking advantage of students and their families, tighten their belts, and focus on providing real value in education. And it is only this kind of questioning and analysis by those footing the bill that will force these institutions to do this.”

      Makes me think of lecture halls filled with hundreds (or more than 1,000) freshmen, a graduate assistant at the front reading from PowerPoint slides.

      College is a business – one where these freshmen subsidize the whole model and make it work. I’m not a huge fan.

      • k-ro

        I do have to say, college education is what you choose to make of it. My parents have said they never regretted paying for my undergrad education b/c I dedicated myself to learning. I took challenging classes, worked hard at the assignments — even the ones I thought were “stupid” (and boy was I surprised when some of those were the best learning tools I experienced!). I took advantage of amazing opportunities like a semester in Vienna, where I lived with an Austrian family, studied German in an immersion program, went to an Austrian school, visited Poland right after martial law had been lifted. And at college I met some incredible people who helped me grow in immeasurable ways. All of these experiences color my life today.

        Large lecture hall classes have a bad rep, but the best students don’t wait for professors to hand-feed them “learning.” They seek it out; they make sure it happens. They don’t not do the assignment because they can worm their way out with a tired excuse — they do the assignment because they are there to learn the material. Sorry to say, but too many of our students today don’t have that wherewithal. They grew up in the online age, but don’t know how to search for simple information on the web. This is not college’s fault.

  22. Danny McCurry

    I too live in Utah and have seven kids. My youngest son returned from a church mission in early November flat broke. Like many kids in the area, his savings had been used to pay for his church mission. He immediately got a job with UPS as a delivery helper and worked through the holiday season. That provided him with the funds for winter term at Utah Valley University. He lived at home and commuted by bus to school. This summer he has been working in Alaska as a tour guide. He says he has saved enough to pre-pay for one school year of room, board and tuition at Snow College. If he works a 20 hour week while at school he will be able to start building up more savings for later years. He plans to study Mechanical Engineering which is realistically a five year program. Will he graduate debt free? Maybe not but any debt should be manageable.

    When I went to college long ago it was assumed that everyone would work a part time job while in school. That thinking seems to have changed over the years.

    Incidentally, the decision of whether you should save for college or save for your retirement can have significant tax consequences. The bottom line is – if you save you get penalized.

  23. Charmente

    I think you are smart and realistic, which can be a bi-product of having to work hard to get ahead in life. But, I would like to stir the pot just a bit by telling you how I finished college with ZERO education related bills. I chose a company to work for (full time) and I took advantage of their ‘College Reimbursement Program.’ Simple plan many employers offer full time employees (kids have been known to work there out of H.S. beginning with PT, and by the time they graduate H.S., they were FT, and the company would pay for College as long as they earned a “C” or better. The program does not include books or incidentals, room or board, buy boy, what a deal!). I had to pay tuition for each semester (and for me, summer school), at the end of each semester, turn in my grades to H.R. and so long as my grades were a “C” or better, I was reimbursed 100% for tuition (I was an Honor student). Could have completed graduate work had I kept the job, and they would have paid for that also 100%. The catch? The degree had to be job related. But what business degree, for example, isn’t? (I majored in Political Science, about as far from business as the east is from the west, and guess what? They paid for it in FULL!
    (I don’t have kids, but this may be a ‘head’s up’ for those of you who do and are struggling to figure out how you can pay for it. Just one GOOD way!

  24. Milo

    I truly believe Colleges will be a thing of the past. Education is rapidly moving online, especially in the manufacturing world.

    You need an engineering degree? Says who? I work at a company with 20 million in sales and non of our engineers have a 4 year degree, not even the engineering manager. They all came up through the ranks. I’m called an Automation Engineer.

    Have a mechanical aptitude? Basic electrical and hydraulic skills? Willing to work nights? Willing to learn? I’ll start you out at $40k per year, no degree required.

    How many people do you know who are actually in the field that they have a degree in? I know a manufacturing engineer whose has a degree as a physicist. The lady who runs the flower shop has a degree in Psychology. The customer service rep? Her degree is in Elementary Education.

    On the flip side, I know a man who is a computer programmer. He was making over 100K back on the late 80’s. I have no idea what he makes now, but he flies all over the world and is loving life, no degree required, never attended College.

    Will there still be a need for Colleges? Sure. I would prefer my doctor to have a medical degree, my attorney to have a law degree, etc. And I still love the 2 year technical colleges. No extra busy work, just train the people in what they want to learn and get them into the field. But on the whole, a degree is just a really expensive piece of paper that is fast becoming obsolete.

    Full disclosure: Yes I have a degree, it’s a 2 year technical degree in Robotics/Flexible Automation. I moved to a technical college after attending a State University for a couple of quarters. I became tired of left wing professors and busy classes that were required just to fill the Colleges bank account and served no lasting purpose.

  25. Roger

    A university is not a job training institute. One attends a university to become educated, not to get a job. You may or may not end up with a bigger paycheck, but if you don’t end up with a bigger brain then you’re doing it wrong.

    • Lissa

      I think a huge problem with higher education in the U.S. is that the great majority of institutions often can’t decide whether they are job training institutes or places to better oneself!
      There are so many classes that are tailored to each major to fulfill the basic requirements, that there isn’t much room to take electives that will simply fulfill an interest or challenge you in an area you aren’t already pursuing. Frequently, classes are “dumbed down” to increase retention & make the school look better because so many students get passing grades in these required classes.
      On the other hand, the institutions want to claim that they are not trade schools, and that this so-called breadth of experience offered by these dumbed-down classes offers the intangible benefits that will make everyone a better person & instantly employable based on their better work ethic and well-rounded personality.
      If you attend a university to become educated, good luck! It’s possible, but not always easy. “If you don’t end up with a bigger brain then you’re /doing it wrong/” could just as easily be written /doing it the way someone who wants your tuition money told you to./ Choose wisely.
      If you attend a university to get a job, you’ll have better luck, but only if you choose a major that gives you marketable skills and hopefully well-placed internships. Choose wisely.

  26. Sara B.

    I grew up with parents who had high school diplomas. I had no idea what kind of career options I had or how to obtain them. I just happened to be friends with the group of kids at my school who DID have parents who were college-educated and were therefore on the track to attend college. So I went along with what they did (most people in my graduating class – about 60 students total in 1996 did NOT attend college). I ended up at the community college (for free b/c my family income was so low) and excelled there. I eventually went on to earn my PhD for a total of $35k in debt (mostly state schools, one private school for my bachelor’s).

    For my kids, college will be an expectation. They are expected to go and it will be treated like it’s the normal progression to be followed. Of course, there may be circumstances that come up that change that plan. College is not for everyone. Not everyone has the ability and some people have unique talents/interests that may be better placed elsewhere. But in general I feel that a 4 year degree is helpful. Especially considering that it’s just 4 years…a VERY short time in the span of an entire career or lifetime. Even for my husband in the computer programming/design field – a lot of employers list a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement. Of course you can prove yourself by working hard too, but I think the degree is a good initial step.

    Now debt to go to school, on the other hand, …that is another issue altogether. My husband graduated with a small amount of debt and manageable to pay. I had more…but I also had many more years of graduate school. Still, even with an advanced degree I should have graduated with closer to $15k – $20k of debt. Almost all of my schooling was paid for by assistantships, scholarships, and grants. I took out loans because I was nervous about how I would pay for extra things. I didn’t live on a budget. I didn’t spend a lot on frivolous stuff, but drove a nicer car than I needed, had a nicer apartment, bought decent clothes (on sale, but still could have done fine with less) and paid for makeup/hair, etc.

    During undergrad I was completely clueless as to the finances and what I was getting into (but luckily I didn’t get into too much debt). As a graduate student, I tried to seek out personal finance advice and came across experts with rules about how much to take out in loans compared to what the expected salary will be and also advice about how student loans are “an investment in yourself.” It wasn’t until I was almost done with graduate school that I came across Dave Ramsey and learned that debt was a burden and a risk.

    While doing our debt snowball, I continued to contribute $50 per child to their education plan. I also had my husband continue to contribute to his 401k up to the company match. This probably did delay our debt snowball by several months, but it made me feel better to keep those going at least to a minimal degree.

  27. Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies

    My parents didn’t save at all for three kids’ college educations, and I knew that very early in high school (probably even suspected it earlier). So I worked my ass off to get every scholarship possible and then made a big endeavor of getting the best scholarship and job opportunities I could. It worked. I graduated with very little student debt – in fact, I actually had enough in the bank (from paid internships that my college supported me in finding) that I could have paid them off before they started accruing interest. (I didn’t, but that’s another story…)

    In general, I think as long as you are honest with your kids about the level of support you’re going to give them early on in the process, fair is fair. A child expecting a parent to provide a quarter of a million dollars (or more) in education costs seems like a particularly entitled attitude to start life with.

  28. ConstantCupcake

    My household is highly educated. As in both having doctorates or in the process of finishing them. My spouse is a high school teacher and all his degrees are in education. We’re big lovers of academia. That being said I totally agree with what you’re saying and no; I don’t think a college education is worth the cost most of the time.

    The reason education has seen such a ridiculous increase in cost is the shift in cultural perceptions. A bachelor’s has become the “educational norm” as you put it. Many employers (I believe wrongly) treat it as proof that you have the work ethic and middle/upper class cultural literacy that they’re looking for. My spouse and I talk about this a lot and there’s absolutely no reason for it. Having taught undergraduates for years I’m hear to tell you a lot of parents would be appalled at what they’re paying for. 4 years of scraping by on Cs and staying up all night drinking does not a good employee, or person, make. Personally I think it’s also a huge waste of time and money.

    Academia is a wonderful experience for some people. I wouldn’t trade my experiences for anything in the world. But here’s the thing: most high school teenagers aren’t ready for it. Having parents paying their way is even worse because they have even less concept of what they’re doing or why. I was in school for a semester where my parents paid and it was by far my most unproductive semester. It wasn’t until I started working to put myself through school years later that I really knew what I wanted and why I was there and therefore was ready for it. It’s amazing the focus you gain from the realities of paying rent.

    Then again, two advanced degrees later and I work in a tech company, making well above the national median, not using any of my degrees at all. And no, my company doesn’t have educational requirements for most positions so they didn’t even help me get here. So I suppose some people might STILL think it was a waste of my time.

    For students who are really academically focused, who really want to be in higher education, absolutely. Go to college. But for every one of those students I taught there were four kids in my class who were just there because it was expected of them and who couldn’t give a damn about sociology, philosophy, or literature. There’s nothing wrong with that at all. But they could have just taken the core classes they needed for their chosen career at a community college and saved themselves and their parents a lot of time and money. They’re only there because they feel it’s expected of them. And while I understand all the experiences commenters like marienevada are talking about, the eye opening changes mostly apply to the kids who want to be in college to learn. For the others, the ones who are just there because they think they should be though who knows why, most of those experiences could just as easily be had living in an apartment building with other young professionals while working an entry level marketing/support/whatever job.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is “bravo.” I really appreciate your take and I wish it was something more people were talking about. Are four year degrees really a good use of personal and cultural resources for some students? Absolutely. But at best I think maybe 50% of students in 4-year programs today really need or even want it. Half would be better served by apprenticeship type programs. If we could bring down the size of higher education as a whole and remove the expectations that a BA is necessary across the board (Employers, families. and schools) we would better be able to focus our resources on the best ROI for each individual student. Better academia for those students who really do want to be there, and better options for those who don’t. Oh, and less debt for everyone.

    • P.R

      Really nicely put together. You are so right about many students being there because it is expected of them; I know I was one of them

  29. Heather

    Another side here — I went to university (I live in Canada) and lived in residence for three of my four school years, first as a resident and the next two years as a floor “don” (which paid for my room and board). What I saw there made me determined that even if I am able to pay 100% of my kids’ tuition, I will not. There seemed to be (in many cases, of course not all) a strong correlation between the amount people had to work to earn money to pay their own tuition, and the amount of work they put into their courses. I saw an awful lot of people who partied their way through school with the attitude that if they failed a course, they could just take it again.

    Neither my husband nor I had parents who were able to help us much with our tuition. My husband was lucky enough to be in a program that included co-op terms, which meant that he alternated between four months of school and four months of work over a period of five years. I found full-time jobs each summer term and part-time jobs during the school year. We both graduated debt-free. We want our kids to develop a good work ethic, and to learn to appreciate what they are accomplishing and not take it for granted.

    We are saving money to help our three kids through post-secondary education should they choose to pursue it, and have been since each of them was born; but it will be a helping hand, not nearly full coverage.

  30. Ruby

    Thanks for this! Colleges are a business and they are often selling false hope and a big pile of debt and subject material that may be fun or interesting but of little practical use. My husband went to a good film school years ago and failed to graduate a few credits short of a degree with $45,000 in loans.

    He went back in his late 30s and finished his degree, but he has never actually landed a job in the film industry and has been working crappy temp jobs with no benefits paying $15-$18/hr for years (with intermittent periods of long-term unemployment). Finally getting the degree—which we had thought would really improve his resume and hiring prospects—has had no positive career effect for him.

    Then again, certain schools really can help advance your career, sometimes just based on name recognition. I know my education has helped my career—I went to an Ivy League school that had a needs-based financial aid policy and paid full need—no merit scholarships.

    So even though my parents had very little put away, they paid about $8,000/year, I did some work-study jobs and I graduated with only $7,000 in debt and an Ivy League degree that I know has helped me get my foot in the door on some great and fulfilling jobs—just not great enough to balance out my husband’s earning struggles and debt load.

    We have one small child and considering having another and I honestly just don’t think putting away fully for college is going to be possible or a priority for us—we’re paying childcare expenses until she’s old enough for public school, and STILL paying off the student loans for my husband.

    If my daughter wants to go that route, she can help by working and living at home, and there are cheaper in-state colleges—or maybe she can get into an Ivy like I did, who knows?

    But I think overall while the lack of a degree can be a hard barrier in many industries or professions, it’s far from guaranteed that college degrees will help people earn enough $$$ to be worth all those loans … so it’s less that the degree often helps than the lack of a degree can hurt?

  31. JayBee

    I think it depends upon the individual and what they want to do in terms of career. And the thing is, most people right out of high school have no idea.

    For those who have no idea, I suggest joining a volunteer organization or travel such as World Wide Work on Organic Farms (WWWOOFing). Basically, young people can get all kinds of work-holiday visas and find themselves doing a broad range of work as a WWWOOFer. And, in between WWWOOFing gigs, a lot of young people actually find all kinds of diverse work which pays for their travel expenses.

    I think it’s an incredible education in thrift and resourcefulness, and usually people finish their travels with a deep sense of who they are and what they want to do with their lives. At this point, many have to “go back” for degrees, becuase the degree they have doesn’t serve that end.

    Sending a young person to *travel first* would give them the opportunity to figure it out and then go to university with a sense of purpose.

    Or, they might discover that they don’t need university and want to learn trades. Or, they discover other ways to earn income that doesn’t require any form of degree or certification.

    In terms of saving for education — yes — it is important. But in our case, it’s taken a back seat to paying off debt and putting in for retirement. But now that we feel confident in those numbers (ie, debt is gone, retirement is comfortable and continuing to grow), we have earmarked $1k/month to put toward DS’s education.

    We feel blessed that we are able to do this.

  32. DJ

    I’m with Alexa–nobody, except for outliers, start at $20/hr. I’m 23 and graduated May 2012 from a private university with a degree in biblical studies. I intended to pursue a degree in academia but decided that the $100k+ debt load wasn’t worth it. All of my professors, by the way, urged anyone who was considering this career path to abandon ship as the future of academia is uncertain, adjuncts are the norm, and if you can find a full time gig the starting salary is ~$40K.

    After months of searching I ended up with a graphic design job–a skill that I taught myself in high school–at $12/hr. At 6 months I went to $13.50 and am about to go to $14.

    Now, if college is “worth it”, I am very torn on this issue. I am obviously not using the content of my degree but I am using the skills I honed. Were they worth $40k in debt? Again, I’m not sure. Is the social capital I gained worth the debt? Maybe. I think about this every day and it’s a constant source of confusion for me.

    Now I am learning to program and am taking control of my own education/career. We’ll see how it goes.

    • Peter Butler

      If you’re doing graphic design at $12 – $14/hr, there are better (and probably more fulfilling) opportunities out there.

      Learning to program is a great way to increase your value – but if you’re confident in your work, you should be able to charge $30+/hr as a freelance graphic designer.

      If you’re not confident in your work, then hustle until you are.

  33. whocindylou

    Mark, thank you so much for opening this dialogue.
    My husband is a mechanical engineer by degree, by trade and by nature :>).
    My son (20s) is also very technically/mechanically gifted. When he was 16 we had the “normal” discussion about college and what kind of engineer he wanted to become and where he was going to school (notice I assumed he was a) going to college and b) going to become an engineer). He had the benefit, as did I, of a great private school education and I assumed he would just keep right on going!
    My husband and I both paid for our own schooling, without debt, and my son knew he would do the same. We worked our “gap year” to save, worked part time in school and full time summers, just like our parents did before us. We drove beater cars, lived extremely cheap and certainly didn’t live the high life that most of the kids we see now live on campus.
    He was quite forthright that HIS dream was to enlist in the Coast Guard and serve as either a Gunner’s Mate or Aviation Tech. He was heartbroken when he found out he couldn’t do either job, or anything similar, in any branch of the military as he is profoundly color blind. He was already doing the rebuild a car thing at this age and loving it, so he said his next choice was automotive tech for luxury import cars (BMW and Mercedes specifically).
    I initially had a very hard time with his choice, and continued to ask him to give engineering a try. He stuck to his guns and went to a tech school to get a two-year degree in auto tech (the high end dealerships gave preference to techs who did this and started them at higher wages). He got a scholarship for the school and worked 20 hours week to pay for his life expenses. He lived at home.
    He made $45k first year and is up to almost $80k now, has great benefits and fully funded 401k/Roth accounts, is debt free and just paid cash for a new home. Most important of all–he loves what he does. He also buys older BMWs and fixes them up “for fun” and makes about $10k/year doing that as side work.
    Something to note: my friends looked down on my son for choosing a blue collar career and he was even snubbed by some of his peers. My friends’ children were made to go to college, even if it was an obviously poor fit. Over half of those adult children (all late 20s) are still living at home or with lots of roommates and not earning enough to survive solo and pay their loans. All but one earn less than my son and most do not like their jobs (because they didn’t get to start as managers/CEOs making huge wages).
    The ROI issue needs to include not just the financial side of education and career, but the “I look forward to going to work” side of it as well. I have a friend who is a stylist who makes $40k/year but loves what she does and is happy and another who is a happy organic farm manager making even less than that. My engineer husband makes a six figure income and hates his job.
    Whether a college, trade/tech school education is worth it depends on the person pursuing that education. If they are spoiled, entitled, lazy people, no degree in the world is going to get them a great job. If they are ethical, diligent, motivated and hard-working they may or may not need a degree (I surely do want my surgeon to have a medical degree). I remember all my fun poli sci and liberal arts degree friends who were waiters and waitresses (and most still have those kinds of jobs) and wondered why they were spending all that money on those degrees.
    If you or your family can afford to spend money on a degree and you want it, go for it. But if you have to incur even a dollar of debt for college you need to do some serious research on whether you will ever get a job in your field, ever make any money at that job and more important whether you will make enough at said job to live AND pay your debt.
    I listen to both Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman and am always flabbergasted when people call in with $50-$200k in student loan debts for a liberal arts or philosophy degree. They inevitably start by explaining they either can’t find work or are making $25k/year. It is easy to research what jobs are in demand and what they pay. A good look at the ever-available help wanted ads is a good start.
    BTW, Alexa is right about your estimated starting wages for the various degrees. No one I know is coming out of college and making that kind of money (if they can even get a job) unless they have an “in” at a company.
    Best to everyone working through their options on this topic.

    • Julie Hart Davis

      These are great points. I have visions of what my children will be when they grow up, but ultimately, I want them to do what makes them happy. If going to a tech school to learn a trade makes them happy, then I’m all for it. Thanks for posting your thoughts.

  34. ww

    My goal is to help my children achieve their goals. One, entering college in a few weeks, aspires to be a psychiatrist. This isn’t something that will happen without significant education and money, and is not likely to be achieved without loans, at least I don’t know anyone that has done med school and residency without loans. So, I don’t think we can say that there is never a place for loans in education. The other, hopes to be a college professor of Ancient Languages and Archeology. I think she too is likely to need loans in the process of completing a PhD. I for one, am glad I’ve made a priority of education over retirement (though I have not neglected our retirement by any means), because I think with scholarships and my kids working, we can get them through undergrad without loans. But then the education money will be exhausted, and they will need to be on their own for grad school. And I will still have time to meet my financial goals for retirement.

    I would also suggest students/parents look beyond state schools. My daughter is going to a school that costs about twice our local state university. But with scholarships, the overall cost to us is less from the strong liberal arts college than it would have been at the state University. So you can’t just look at the originating sticker price. Many smaller schools are more heavily endowed and have better scholarship programs.

    • Sara B.

      I agree with not overlooking private schools. I went to a pretty big private school for my bachelor’s (after getting a 2 yr degree at a community college). I had already shown that I could get excellent grades and they gave me many scholarships…enough to make the cost equivalent to attending a state university.

      As for PhD programs…in my experience schools offer research and teaching assistantships to their students to cover almost all (if not all) of the tuition. This may not be the case for some schools that will just accept any student to take their money, but I’ve found that for the rigorous schools this is the case. For example, my PhD program (in psychology) fully funded every accepted student with some sort of assistantship. This should be considered and asked about when searching for graduate schools. I did not know enough about the process to ask but luckily ended up getting into a school that did this. I have also heard of MDs (psychiatrists, dermatologists, etc.) completing a PhD simultaneously with their medical degree in order to pay for part of their education. Not sure how much it covers though and these seem to be SUPER smart and motivated people who do that!

  35. tannage888

    Wow, what a great post!

    I’m both a parent and an employer, and I can sort of see both sides of the coin here.

    On the one hand, going to college or university is a worthwhile experience, you make many friends that stick with you for a lifetime, you learn a lot about life and in some disciplines, the structure to your thinking is invaluable in your future career.

    On the other hand, just about everyone’s got a degree now, but they don’t have skills. When we hire, we put our candidates through the assessment grinder. You say you can code, prove it in front of us. You’re organised? How would you pull this project together? What we find is that a lot of graduates just don’t have many marketable skills, and the sad fact is that most of these skills can’t be learnt in university, as that’s an academic, and not a corporate environment.

    For me the jury is out on the value of college or university. I guess I’ll see what my child wants to do when he’s a bit older, and then decide if it’s worth paying for a university education.

    I’ve been thinking about what education doesn’t give our children. It doesn’t teach them how to learn for instance, and it certainly doesn’t give them any skills an employer might want. What I’m going to try to do in the meantime is to give my children some marketable skills, by the time they leave secondary or high school. If that means being a tiger father, I don’t care, they’re going to need something to make them different.

    Incidentally, I completely see the sense in saving for a college fund, but not at the expense of your retirement. My household saves, scrapes and scrounges every penny we can to fund both of those. My peers somehow think I’m insane. My son is three, he won’t be going to university any time soon, but in 15 years’ time where am I going to find that kind of money if I don’t save for it now?

    Love the blog, I am a new YNABber and loving it!

    • whocindylou

      Brilliant points and my friends who are in positions of leadership in businesses would agree with you about skills.
      Critical thinking is a core subject missing in our educational system. Integrity is best caught at home and practiced in the world. Life experiences are fabulous teachers and since we are all living each day there is much opportunity to learn.

  36. LuLessa8

    A college education’s worth is directly correlated with how much your child truly wants to go to college, to get a degree and enjoy the experience. It’s not *only* about how much you earn later. College can play a positive part in self-development and building a network.

    After college, it’s up to your children’s beliefs. If you are raising them to believe they need a college education to be paid well and live comfortably, then do make sure they go to college.

    Raise your children to believe they can leverage their skills (a.k.a., work) and learn whatever they need to learn to succeed and achieve their goals in life. Then, college is merely an option that could augment all that.

  37. Joe

    While I am not quite ready to sound the death knell for a college education, I do think it is sputtering. For many professions, I think the return on investment is evaporating or already zero (or worse, negative). I have a six year old son, and I am starting to have the first thoughts that, perhaps, steering him towards a path of college after high school is just not the best idea.

    Right now, I think it completely depends upon what type of occupation you want to enter. If you want to be a lawyer or doctor, I think it is a no brainer. After that, it gets cloudy. The Information Age is changing things dramatically.

    For someone set on going to college, I think a path in which they EARN their way into college is the way to go. I’m strongly thinking of steering my son towards learning a trade (electrician, plumber, carpenter, etc) first. Then, if he wants a college degree, you SAVE until you have the tuition. That can be done in parallel by going to college part-time. Not only do you avoid debt, but you learn a very practical skill that will save you money in life as well as giving you a fall-back plan.

  38. Christian

    I’m inclined to agree with you that it probably isn’t worth getting a degree unless it is a technical or professional degree required to do some specific work (i.e. computer science [not IT], law, engineering, etc) which has a very good salary and is in a field where there is lots of work to do.

    I think this has changed due to the increased cost to get those degrees. Twenty years ago I was paying about $5k/year for tuition and at that point it was a no-brainer to get whatever degree you wanted. By the time I was working on my master’s degree the cost had gone to $5k per class – and when my employer stopped paying for it, I couldn’t jusitfy the $20k for the last four classes.

    In other words, getting an expensive degree in music, social services, etc. today, is very hard to justify.

    I’m still wondering why the cost of education has gone up so dramatically, much faster than the states have reduced the tax-payer subsidy for it. Perhaps the solution is that students must become more responsible consumers. They must become better at judging the value of the education (cost vs. benefit) and then making the most of the education they are paying for. Like healthcare, if the consumer would put more emphasis on that equation, we would get a better product for a lower price. In other words, I think it’s a good for ALL parties that our children’s education is paid for primarily by the recipients of that education (i.e. our children).

  39. NewtonFish

    I think you may be asking the wrong the question with this post. Let me explain why.

    1. Your argument about the relationship between degrees and starting salaries is missing something. Sure, starting salaries for graduates are relatively modest, but you should be looking at the difference in lifetime earnings for those with and without degrees. A few years ago in the UK some figures were released which showed that a degree was worth an average of £120K extra salary over a lifetime, when at the time a degree cost about £30k. On first glance, this looks like a degree is a wonderful investment, but as always the devil was in the detail. When you look at the extra salary by degree subject it showed that arts degrees added almost nothing to lifetime earnings and STEM degrees could add £250k or more to earnings. It really depends on the subject studied. In fact , it looks like the effect is even greater in the US (http://usgovinfo.about.com/od/moneymatters/a/edandearnings.htm). I’m sure with a bit more research you could find better figures to base your decision on :-)

    2. There are a lot of comments here arguing for and against the value of a degree, and lots of really good suggestions on how to pay for it. It also seems like you are not sure if the cost is worth it. In all honesty, by the time your kids are old enough to go to university things will have most likely changed. There are many careers that didn’t exist 10 years ago (some IT/Web jobs are a good example) so you are trying to make decisions when it is impossible to know what the job market will look like. Instead, change the category name in YNAB from ‘college fund’ to ‘seed money for kids’ or ‘financial head start for kids’. Then, when they are old enough to leave home they can decide (with some parental guidance) how to spend that money to improve their life prospects. They can start a business, buy a house, pay for training/college, the possibilities are endless. You might not be able to pay for everything, but you can certainly help them on the way.

    Apologies if this is all massively off topic.

  40. No Waste

    The college experience has transformed so much. It feels like it has become more of a right of passage, and just a thing that you do as part of the plan that was already laid out for you.

    This would be fine, if costs were significantly lower.

    But now, the cow’s out of the barn, everyone needs to go to college! Duh! It will take a generation to clean it up and find a balance again.

  41. Milo

    The problem is with the assumption, “You have to go to college.” The question that needs to be asked is “What do I want to do with my life?” The answer to that question will determine whether or not you go to college, a tech school, internship, enter the labor force directly, etc. Most kids, mine included have no idea what they want to do when they grow up. I didn’t decide until I was 23 and then I found the correct path so I could be in the field I wanted to be in. I did not rack up a mountain of debt just running off to college so I could “be in college”. I worked on the farm, in factories, even drove truck OTR until I had a career in mind.

    My son graduated last year. He is working at the lumber yard in town. He had a number of career thoughts, but didn’t know which one to pursue. Rather than head off to college where he could learn all about partying, drugs and sex, he is earning money and investigating options.

    Don’t have your child go to college just to be in college. Make sure that they have a goal, then make the plan to reach it. If higher education is called for, then pursue it. If online will do then get busy, if you need to be an apprentice, then find a mentor. Don’t buy into the propaganda spread by colleges that are after all, just businesses trying to get customers. You have to educate your child to be a wise consumer.

  42. whocindylou

    Forbes articles on which college majors are the least valuable in terms of career prospects and expected salary. Using data provided by the CEW from the 2009 and 2010 American Community Survey, Forbes discovered the 10 worst college majors based on high initial unemployment rates and low initial median earnings of full-time, full-year workers. The findings? While the arts may be good for the soul, artistic majors are terrible for the bank account.
    1. Anthropology and Archaeology
    2. Film, Video and Photographic Arts
    3. Fine Arts
    4. Philosophy and Religious Studies
    5. Liberal Arts
    6. Music
    7. Physical Fitness & Parks Recreation
    8. Commercial Art & Graphic Design
    9. History
    10. English Language & Literature

    So which college majors are most likely to land you a well-paying job right out of school? Analysts at PayScale compared its massive compensation database with 120 college majors and job growth projections through 2020 from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine the 15 most valuable majors in the current marketplace. Ranked by median starting pay, median mid-career pay (at least 10 years in), growth in salary and wealth of job opportunities, engineering and math reigned supreme. Engineering concentrations comprise one third of the most valuable majors. Math and science concentrations are also well-represented on this list.
    1. Biomedical Engineering
    2. Biochemistry
    3. Computer Science
    4. Software Engineering
    5. Environmental Engineering
    6. Civil Engineering
    7. Geology (this was the only one that surprised me)
    8. Management Information Systems
    9. Petroleum Engineering
    10. Applied Mathematics
    11. Mathematics
    12. Construction Management
    13. Finance
    14. Physics
    15. Statistics

    From a trade/votech perspective we have these 21 Highest Paying jobs that don’t require college degree:
    1. Margin Department Supervisor
    2. Air Traffic Controller
    3. Automotive Service Manager
    4. Real Estate Broker
    5. Landscape Architect
    6. Lead Carpenter
    7. Director of Security
    8. Elevator Mechanic
    9. Cable Supervisor
    10. Flight Service Manager
    11. Freelance Photographer
    12. Personal Trainer
    13. Funeral Director
    14. Commercial Pilot
    15. Truck Driver
    16. Salesperson
    17. Firefighter
    18. EMT
    19. Railroad Worker
    20. Medical Coder
    21. IT Tech

    There are all kinds of careers out there for both college grads and other-schooled folks (life school, tech school, trade school) depending on the color of your parachute :>),

  43. Eric Andrew

    Absolutely no reason why motivated kids can’t leave high school without college credits through AP courses. A family friend left high school with an associates degree. It just depends on how badly kids want it. If I had kids, I would help fit the bill if they took AP credits, and possibly attended a junior college before a 4 year school. There are many alternative ways to getting that degree without paying so much for it. My high school foreign language study prepared me for the CLEP exam which passed me to third year French after the test and granted me those two years of credits – for FREE. Just tell your kids that if they want to go to college and have you help pay for it, then their high school experience will look less like an episode of GLEE and more like a lot of hard work, study, AP classes and some diligent planning. It is possible to do in four years. I did it – and I attended five different campuses and studied abroad for a summer. It wasn’t easy, but it was possible.

  44. Minda

    It really all comes down to your career goals. Is the degree going to help you achieve your goals or not? If not the time and money you are going to put into it is going to actually delay your goals. For me it is clear that getting a bachelors degree is beneficial to my goals but going on to get a masters degree is not. I think having a goal in mind before beginning is important. That goal might change (mine did twice) but having one was helpful to me. Both me and my soon-to-be-husband were given a debt free education by our parents. I hope to give the same to my children but if tuition follows the trend it may not to feasible. I think I will probably start a fund for each of them when they are born. If they use it for college great but I won’t be disappointed if they want to use all or part of it to start a business or buy a house either. That’s how my parents handled it and I think it worked well.

  45. Tim

    Great article.

    I’m more of the Dave Ramsey mindset in that I will budget for retirement before I budget for college. Also, like Dave, loans for college are a non-option. Part of what has made college so expensive is the rampant growth of the student loan market. College is neither a right nor, as the article and everyone’s comments have pointed out, a necessity either, though it is still valuable if the right degree is pursued.

    We have three children, 6, 5 and 2. I’m 35 and make around 55k, while my wife is a freelance writer/stay at home mom bringing in another 13k. We have no retirement savings. My kids will be encouraged to work when they are old enough, such as babysitting, lawn mowing, etc. It is their job to do whatever they can to work toward saving for college and try to get as much as possible in terms of scholarships, grants, and by their own sweat. We will do what we can to help but in no way do I feel obligated as a parent to foot the entire bill. If they feel they want to take time off after high school, we’ll discuss that at that time.

Comments close automatically after 14 days.