As of June 2020, I firmly believe that the traditional 4 year university experience is outrageously over valued. In my mind, you are basically paying for an opportunity to be submerged in a party oriented culture of your peers, while trying to regurgitate information that you probably could care less about. After reading my opening remarks I know I have lost a lot of people because it sounds like I am against going to college. That is quite the contrary. I love being in college and it has had many beneficial impacts on my life. However, that doesn’t mean we aren’t paying WAY too much for it!
The traditional 4 year university is over valued because of the opportunity cost at hand. For me, I am paying out of state tuition at Clemson University. Anyone reading this who attends Clemson knows that I am paying A LOT of money to pursue my degree at this great institution. However, for the average of the country the yearly cost at a university is less, but still a gouging amount. According to CollegeBoard.org, the average cost for out of state tuition/fees at a public 4 year university is $23,890 and at a private university it is $32,410. These numbers are plainly way too high, and they don’t even include rent or living expenses.
The cost is very high, yes, but the return reflects the investment...to an extent. Having a degree from Clemson University will surely hold some weight in the real world and give me some edge to find a job, but it won’t guarantee me a career like it once did. When my parents' generation (ages 53 and 51) were graduating college they came into the workforce as coveted assets because their degree was a differentiator that many people didn’t have. It meant that you had the capabilities and education needed to fill the positions the work environment was looking for and they could count on it. In 2020, this is no longer the case. Everyone and their cousin goes to a 4 year institution to get a degree nowadays and it doesn’t hold the same pedigree because of this. As an economics major I am ironically using some of what I have learned in college to make this point, but the labor market has been over saturated with college degrees. When a company is hiring for a position today they aren’t even taking applications if you don’t have a degree, so how is it that my degree alone is supposed to land me the position if everyone else applying has a degree just like mine.
A lot of our parents benefited immensely from their degrees, building financial security for their families, but at the same time they preached that college is the only pathway to financial freedom. For me, when I was a kid that was what I was told over and over again. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I figured I’d follow the only pathway that was lined up for me. What I know now is that there were so many other options for me to choose from. Some that I have come across include: Real Estate, Day Trading, Trade School, Apprenticeship, Entrepreneurship, Social Media Branding/Marketing, Whole Selling, Dropshipping, Cryptocurrency, Coding, Video/Picture Editing, etc. The list really goes on and on. I have tried some of these and most of my attempts have been successful enough to grow my wealth in ways that a college degree has had no relevance. In fact, to a point me being enrolled in college has hindered my ability to grow my wealth in these other areas to the fullest. This is because of the mental, emotional, financial and time commitments college demands from its students. With all this energy poured into getting my degree it is impossible for me to choose the most efficient allocation of my time and resources.
I’m sure you aren’t familiar with ALL the possible career paths I listed, but I’d bet you know someone who makes their living in one of them. So if you know someone with a foot in the door in any of these pathways it's always an option to “eat shit” and work under someone to learn an industry, and the skills you need to eventually branch out on your own. The term “eat shit” I use to describe what I call the time period where you put in insane amounts of hard work and don’t reap the benefits to match that hard work in the short term. This time is an investment just like your time and resources being used on a college degree are. This time period of grinding away at perfecting a craft or learning an industry is often much less than 4 years if you're a hard worker and have some natural talents; not to mention, you usually earn an income during this period rather than taking out student loans like me. It's often the case that in a path like this, once you do branch out on your own, you have learned enough skills and how to manage your money well enough that you are in a better long term financial situation than you would be searching for a job with your lousy degree for months on end with college debt sitting on your shoulder.
There’s always risk in any path you choose, and I’m not claiming to have an answer that points to one choice as the golden egg. There isn’t one choice that fits all. Everybody is different and everybody has to decide what's best for them. I just hope by reading this, you take a step back and take a real close look at how much pursuing your degree is costing you and you consider the opportunity costs you're missing out on. College is a VERY expensive endeavor, and I’d hate for you to be one of those people that gets that real nice piece of paper at graduation, and thinks to themselves, “Why did I pay all that money for this piece of paper again?”