I had an interesting conversation with a young man yesterday who had just dropped out of college, much to his parents’ consternation. But since I didn’t know the young fellow, and had no emotional investment in his future, I think I was able to listen to his reasoning with an open mind. He made some very good points.
He had started school with the goal of becoming an optometrist, and is currently working as an optician, dispensing eyeglasses and contacts under an optometrist’s direction. With two years of college under his belt, he said he was still facing two more years to get his bachelor’s degree, and then up to four years of school to get an Optometry degree. However, because he needs to work to support himself, he was not able to carry a full course load, and was actually looking at more like eight years before he would graduate.
He said he would then have $130,000 or more of student loans to pay off. He told me he is currently making in the neighborhood of $30,000 a year part time working four days a week, and graduating optometrists he has talked to are getting job offers, if they can get job offers at all, of about $75,000 a year. He reasoned that it would take him too many years just to break even, between what he could make working fulltime now and paying off the student loans he would incur, to make it worth it to him. “I don’t want to be 34 years old before I can pay off my education,” he reasoned. “Besides, I really love what I’m doing right now. Doesn’t that count for something?”
Yes, it counts for a hell of a lot. I’ve always thought that it is crazy that we take an eighteen year old kid, send him or her off to college, and expect them to choose a career path to devote the rest of their life to. I turned 57 years old today, and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up!
I have long believed that higher education is a scam. As a publisher, I know what it costs to produce a book. For less than $10 a copy I can put a hardcover 300 page book on store shelves. Yet, college students are ripped off for $150 and even more a copy on textbooks! Why?
An article on the Iowa State Daily website says that college football coaches’ salaries average over a million dollars a year. Why? Even the college president doesn’t make half that usually!
And I have to be honest, I have used maybe 5% of what I learned in college in my career. Yet I spent hundreds of hours in classes that didn’t do me a bit of good. The argument is that college makes a person “well rounded.” I don’t buy that. I think we could turn out perfectly good accountants, attorneys, dentists, and even doctors without making them invest time and money reading Dante’s Inferno or listening to some tired old tenured professor droning on about something that has no relevance in today’s world.
We keep telling our kids that to get a good job, they need to get a good education. I was at Sam’s Club the other day, and listened to three employees talking about the fact that they graduated from college, only to discover that the best jobs they could find were stocking shelves and working cash registers. It takes a long time to pay student loans off on that kind of salary!
Even if one can land a job in their chosen career, all too often they are disappointed to learn how little it pays. I constantly had college kids coming to my weekly newspapers as summer interns, and I tried to tell them that they were facing years of at, or near, minimum wage labor before they could ever hope to move up in the industry. I pointed out to them that the folks who took home the biggest paychecks were not my reporters and editors, but rather my advertising sales representatives.
What we seem to have forgotten, and never tell our children, is that the world also needs people skilled in trades. Carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, heavy equipment operators. All jobs that pay well, and that don’t come with a huge investment in years of schooling and the subsequent burden of huge student loans.
If I had a son or daughter getting out of high school today, I’d urge them to go to a trade school, or look toward a career in sales if they want to make real money.
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