Don’t Get Too Close to the Bubble, Lest you Get Caught in the Burst

16 May

When I graduated high school in 1970, nearly 40% of H.S. grads continued on to college. It was considered a necessity to finish high school, probably justifiably, and there was already a good bit of propaganda circulating about a college degree being necessary if one hoped to land a “good” job. That 40% is now over 70%. Is that a sign of a more educated society? You be the judge.

***

The last three years of my public school, I was working for $1.00 an hour, and glad to get it. I worked an average of 50 hours per week, and gas was only about 36 cents per gallon, so I was feeling fairly flush.

Unfortunately (depending upon your point of view), it was the sixties, and free love and Timothy O’Leary got a lot more of my attention than my textbooks. I wasn’t terribly motivated during my senior year, and my grades fell dramatically. Any hopes I (my parents, actually) might have had of a scholarship went up in smoke, so to speak.

Still, after getting an extraordinary education, courtesy of the U.S. Navy, I was able to get a decent job after my discharge, and worked my way up to a nearly $250K annual income. Many times, I chuckled about my high school counselors singing their doom and gloom song about my future, if I didn’t knuckle down and get that sheepskin.

Finally, though, in the mid-80s, I did hit a wall, and was told that the company just couldn’t have a vice-president of marketing with only a H.S. diploma. So I left, and went back to school. Let me tell you, being the only 30-some year old in a college classroom leaves a lot to be desired. I think most of my professors were younger than I was.

That time around, I thoroughly enjoyed the studying, though. So much so, that once I got my BS in engineering, I decided that I’d get a short-term job and go back for my MBA. Surprising everyone, including myself, I did just that.

Most of my bachelor’s degree studies were funded by my G.I. Bill, thanks to my eleven years in the Navy. My costs consisted of only living expenses. When it came time to return for my business degree, however, everything was out of pocket, as I’d long since exhausted my G.I. benefits.

Before finishing business school, I already had an offer, starting at $200K, so I felt like I’d wasted a lot of years. If only I’d gone to college right out of high school, instead of a couple of years of vacation in Southeast Asia. ;)

But my perspective changed, once I found myself in a management role. Young college grads brought nothing to the table but buzzwords and stylish haircuts. Their lack of experience left the majority of them severely lacking the bare essentials for survival in business. And amazingly, when discussing basics with them that I had studied at my university, I found that most of them had been exposed to almost nothing of practical value. Statistical analysis is critical for some positions, but not for those I was trying to fill. Hell, most of those kids STILL hadn’t ever learned how to balance their checkbook!

I also found that the majority of them had been forced to take out student loans, usually with their parents as co-signers, in amounts that seemed to me to be intimidating for someone just starting a career. $25K was a typical number, as I recall, and around 5 years to pay it back. Five or six hundred dollars a month was enough to keep most of them in a shared apartment.

I thought then how fortunate I was that between the Navy and my savings, I’d been able to pay my own way, and not be saddled with that sort of debt. In those days, $25K could buy a decent house. In fact, that’s exactly what I paid for my first home.

Shoot forward a few years… about twenty. Last year a client asked me to write a feature article on higher education in the U.S. A little research left me reeling in shock.

One resource I stumbled across during that process was the National Inflation Association. I signed up for their newsletter then and still get it regularly. A couple of weeks ago, they announced that they were releasing a documentary entitled “College Conspiracy”, and offered a preview. That preview sparked my interest, as it delved deeply into some bits of “common knowledge” that I had long suspected of being fallacies.

Today, I got to view the entire film, and I can’t begin to paint the picture as well as their film does, but I will share just a few verifiable statistics with you.

  • Today, a public 4 year college charges an in-state student an average of $7,020 per year in tuition and fees.
  • For out-of-state enrollees, add an average of $11,528 surcharge per year.
  • A private 4-year college charges an average of $26,293 per year in tuition and fees.
  • In any of those cases, you can figure on spending around $200 per textbook. That’s triple what it was a decade ago.
  • The typical 4-year degree in the U.S. has a total cost of more than $460K. That doesn’t include textbooks or living expenses. I know –  that doesn’t match the numbers above – watch the film to understand the difference.

I could go on and on, but if you trust my recommendations at all, then please do yourself a favor and watch this movie…. especially if you or someone in your family is planning to attend college. It may be the most educational hour you have spent in a long time.

View “College Conspiracy” now.

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2 Responses to “Don’t Get Too Close to the Bubble, Lest you Get Caught in the Burst”

  1. Rob Jones June 18, 2011 at 7:12 pm #

    I avoided the crushing student loan thing by working my way thru… but it took a helluvalot longer doing it that way. I cant believe theyre charging the kind of figures you’re talking about for a degree these days though. For that sort of price I’d have expected to kids to seem a lot more knowledgeable when they get out.

    • Doc June 18, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

      I paid as I went, too, with a little help from my G.I. Bill the first time around. Didn’t take me any longer, really, as I was financially stable by then (although, I guess perpetually broke could be considered stable too, huh?). You’re right, though… for that kind of money, they should be dazzlingly brilliant!

      Ya think maybe we’re just gettin’ jaded in our old age, bud?

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