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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29 Comments on The Higher Education Scam

  1. Greg W says:


    You are certainly right on this. A good plumber or mechanic can make $75,000 a year. A good dog groomer can make $50,000.

    Another good job tip. Find something you love to do, and then figure out how to get people to pay you to do it.

    And isn’t that exactly what you’ve done?

    BTW Happy Birthday!

  2. Jerry Ray says:

    Happy Birthday Nick,

    If I had known it was today I would have said it earlier, but better late then never. :-)

    Jerry Ray

  3. Rex says:

    I agree with you. We have entirely too many educated idiots in this world, just look at the Congress and Washington D.C.

    I think our country would be a lot better off if every kid, boy or girl, straight or gay, had to do 2 years of service upon leaving high school. This service could be in the military or caring for the elderly or caring for the babies of those that had kids, but the kids need to learn that freedom is not free. They could be working on the bridges, highways, sewers and anything else that needs done, but let them get a taste of what the real world is like and then let them go to college if they want too.

  4. MichaelG says:

    Yes, the country could use some more kids going into trades and other blue collar work. But it doesn’t need millions more. And the world definitely has an oversupply of people with those skills.

    For anything that can be imported, your kids are going to be competing with the entire world. So they’d better have skills you can’t get just anywhere. That means going to college. If you don’t do that, say hello to hundreds of millions of people who can do the same jobs you can, and will do it for a lot less.

    The problem isn’t education. The problem is the bloated budgets and salaries in colleges, leading to absurd costs. The problem is the poor teaching, and unmotivated students, which lead to a worthless degree.

    But that factory job will be eliminated by clever people (here and abroad) who automate it out of existence. There are only so many bridges to be built and roads to be repaired. We have to find another solution, not just wish things still looked like the 1950s.

  5. Ed Hackenbruch says:

    When my grades were low in high school my father, who had several businesses, would ask me if i wanted to grow up to be a ditch digger, ( # 2 shovel and made a buck an hour back then.) 45 years later i can make $35 an hour digging ditches with a machine. He died 30 years ago. He would be amazed at the money i can make if i work all year.

  6. Sandy Stoltz says:

    Happy Birthday Bad Nick!!!

    Be sure to share your cake with your “other” side of your personality.

    Probably should not tell you that it is 76 in San Antonio @ 7:16 am. If I have a marguarita today, I shall salute you!

    Safe travels!

  7. Bill Joyce says:

    I guess I come from a different viewpoint since I have a technical education with a degree in Math and graduate work in Mechanical Engineering. Plus my education did help me make the money to retire early and enjoy fulltime RVing.
    Engineers and scientists do need their college education since it takes years to build up the knowledge. There are people who learn it on their own, which is why there is a way to get a Professional Engineers license without a degree, but most are not that disciplined.
    I do think a lot of degrees are useless. A high school friend started in the Physics program at college with me, decided it was too much work and switched to getting a degree in “Social Work”. It got him nowhere, but he is the one who took the lazy way out.

  8. There’s a need for both college-educated and trade-educated folks. And yes, MichaelG, there WILL always be roads to repair and bridges to be built, if the roads continue to be built as poorly as so many we’ve driven on. Why, for heaven’s sake, is it nearly always true that, once a new road is finished or an older road repaved, that some jerk comes along and digs up the new pavement? You can almost count on it! I’m waiting for the brand new sections of I-10 through Tucson to be dug up any day now for a sewer repair.

  9. Norah says:

    Yes, I agree there are problems with higher education today. But, getting a college education is not just about getting a high paying job, if it was there wouldn’t be any teachers ;-).

    Happy Birthday Nick; hope it is the best one ever.

  10. James Palm says:

    Find a job that you Love and you’ll never work a day in your life.

  11. carroll says:

    Spot on, Rex. Sorry MichaelG, there may not be millions of blue collar jobs (I disagree); but there will always be truck drivers, repairers(autos, computers, appliances…), electricians, construction,— and these JOBS will never be outsourced!

    Too many higher education students study weak liberal art majors (underwater basket weaving, navel contemplation, ad nauseam) and many want to return to their small, medium, large towns and use their degrees.[PhD-aerospace engineering in Quartzsite, AZ; BS-philosophy in Heber Springs, AR; MS-Biology in Powell, WY?? —-yeah, I know it has happened: maybe—1 in 10000.

    When the spouse and I worked at Virginia Tech in the 70’s, there were 35 BS-Biology degrees awarded (1 commencement) and 9 of the graduates had a job/job offer. Some of these 9 Biology grad “jobs” were in insurance, driving a Yellow Cab in northern VA, and or working in the family’s auto parts business.

    Possibly 600-1000 colleges/universities offer cooperative education programs………e.g. students working (for pay) with employers and alternating their academic semesters/quarters for a 5-5 1/2 year program. Hey, graduate with a degree, experience in your field (chosen line of work) and little, or no student loans.

    Northeastern Univ (downtown Boston), U-Illinois, New Mexico State U, Virginia Tech, UTEP, U of Cincinnati and many other schools have great co-op programs. I hired these future chemists, business admin, engineers(any major), accountants, physists, etc for Lockheed Missile & Space Co. by the hundreds each year. Many business, science and engineering degreed graduates (w/o summer work and/or co-op work) quit LMSC within weeks or months of hire. These inexperienced grads had limited (or no) ideas of what their employers expected of their majors.


    PS Happy birthday Nick. Enjoyed your 1st GJ rally in Casa Grande.

  12. John says:

    Although there are several very good comments here, I have to agree with Nick and Rex. Especially with Rex’s comment about everyone being required to do service. I’m not a world traveler but I have heard that in many other countries being a skilled tradesman is a respected profession. Here it seems that if you don’t go to college you’re not as important or useful. Then again, when my mother-in-law’s TV went out I didn’t take it to a lawyer.
    Happy birthday Bad Nick. Your buddy Nick and his wife should take you out for dinner.

  13. BryanR says:

    The entire education system is in poor condition. I am taking care of my 8 year old grandson this week as he was sent home from school for the week. He took a math test on Mon. and made a 100 on it so they gave him extra computer time. He really is good with the computer and likes it. He was trying to start a program, and it would not open, so he keep hitting return. Well it did open with 32 copies of the program running and shut down 4 computers. He was sent to the office and expelled for the week.
    I think it is a very poor school system that has no in school punishment, that they have to send a child home for something like this. I would think that not letting him on the computer for a week or something of this nature would be the thing to do.
    The biggest problem the school had with the computers was that they had to reboot 4 of them, and they were up and running.
    This lad may have made some good points about not finishing college.
    I saw this week that a 1st grader was sent home and sentenced to 45 day in a correction school for taking his Cub Scout lunch took to school. American education system is not up to par, and I feel sorry for our children and grandchildren

  14. Dale says:

    Agreed, college is not for everyone, nor should it be.

    Even when you get a degree in a field that is offering jobs, there can still be problems. E.G., nursing. There is a shortage in that field, or so they say on TV, yet the hospital where our daughter works has a wage freeze and limited overtime and hires outside contractors when necessary. And, a nursing degree is not cheap.

    Recently, Dell moved a proposed expansion from North Carolina to Mexico. Approx. 900 jobs lost in N.C.

    Maybe one of the subjects that should be required in college is not literature, but the ethics of economics. Short term gains do not necessarily equate to long term success. As has been often said, outsource our jobs and who’s going to buy your product?

  15. Tom Westerfield says:

    College is an self-serving industry, and as such should be held to the same standards of quality, if no one buys your product, like GM or Chrysler, then you should probably improve it.
    The idea that college is the only post-secondary option for career preparation leaves out a lot of other effective programs, such as technical schools, military, OJT, and one of America’s best kept secrets, Apprenticeship. Earn as you learn,a concept that could be modified to prepare professional as well as trade and technical people, with no educational loans or football teams.
    The K-12 community mjght do well to redirect the “No Child Left Behind” legislation from just high stakes testing in academic subjects like math and english to a more useful performance evaluation which allow students to apply academic concepts to solve problems. This might provide the answer to the question “why do I need to know this”? and how will I use this in my life or career.

  16. Claire says:

    You hit it right out of the ballpark with this one, Nick! Chuck and I were just saying that the last thing we would do with a kid today is send them to college right out of high school. Everyone wants a “career.” We say, “how about a JOB.” The trades are the way to go. Or follow your passion. Chuck “retired” in his 30’s and took up his passion and earned enough to be happy, raise three kids, pay off the house, buy and RV and travel! One of our kids has a masters degree (which she paid for herself) but does not work at anything related. Another follows his passion, struggles but is happy. The third barely made it out of highschool, still can’t spell and is a millionaire! Go figure.

    Happy Birthday, Nick. Stay warm!


  17. Jan Chilson says:

    I agree with almost all the comments. I think there is room in this country for everyone – degree or not. We certainly need all types to make things operate smoothly. We did not graduate from college, but both our daughters did. One had a job in her degree field immediately and has worked in that field for almost 20 years now and doing very well. Our other daughter has done a lot of different jobs and has returned to take classes periodically. However, she was hired by her Dad and worked there for over 20 years. When we retired and closed our shop, she was able to get a very good job at a college because of her experience.

    I worked in a large corporation for a while in the Human Resouces Dept. One of my responsibilities was sifting through the thousands of applications we would receive for one or two job openings. My instructions were to eliminate anyone without a college degree first. Then there were other criteria to follow. It struck me as very interesting that a friend without a degree (he had some college) but exactly the experience required for the job, was turned down and the person hired had a degree in music. This was a computer type job. When I asked why that made any sense, I was told the degree, no matter what field, showed the person had personal responsibility, integrity, and the desire to finish a project. What a bunch of bull!! BTW, I soon lost that job because all too frequently, I tried to think for myself and not follow the footprints of the person who was fired from my position. Go figure! I think technical schools are the way to go. Get your education in your chosen field and get out and get your job. A mechanic doesn’t need music appreciation to graduate.

  18. Connie Braidh says:

    First Happy Birthday Nick!!!!
    Next, I have a master’s degree in marine botany. I taught for 22 years in a community college before I retired. So I came from “the college environment”. I would just like to include my 2 cents worth of opinion and observations from my years in education.
    Many of my students who came to college directly from high school were not prepared for college either emotionally or in needed academic skills. I agree with those who think a 2 year service program for high school graduates is needed. Like the old CCC, they could do many useful things for the country in those two years and get paid by the government for their work or get credits towards future education. Or the military is a great place to grow up and get some skills.
    Not every student should go to college. But all students need further education. They need skills to get jobs to support themselves. Both technical (trade) schools and academic colleges and universities are needed to train young people. And testing is needed to discover individual interest and capability. So many students want to be a doctor or scientist who frankly do not have the mental or emotional capability for the profession. They could be directed toward what they are most capable of doing.
    Young people need to find a profession they love. Too many of them go into professions that are supposed to be high paying. They are then miserable for the next 30-40 years. Educators need to do more to help direct young people into what is the best fit of profession and student. That’s not easy to do especially when Momma or Daddy thinks Junior is the next great heart surgeon and he is not mentally capable of doing that.
    By the way, educators are POORLY PAID. I know. Been there, looked at the pay check. My highest salary year was $44,000. I didn’t teach for the money (although I do like to eat and pay my bills), I taught because I loved teaching. When I started to burn out, I retired. Most of my friends who were or are teachers were the same. Dealing with parents, administrators, school, state, national rules all took time away from the classroom. But you continue on as long as you can because you do it to help the students. There is nothing more satisfying than having a student come back years later and give you a compliment about your class.
    And yes, you do need all those different classes. Everyone of you needs Biology (I taught Bio). Why, because when you go to the MD, dentist, etc., you need to understand what they are talking about. You need English and Speech to communicate. You need History to understand the past and hopefully not make the same mistakes in the future. You need all those courses you took. And yes, they do make you well rounded. And yes, you need to be well rounded. It helps make you a more aware, complete human being.
    I loved going to school. I loved learning. It has all helped me throughout my life. I am interested in lots of different areas, many of them introduced to me in school. It am not bored with life. There is too much to do, see and learn about. Education helped me to expand my self and my life. Education can be that way for all students. We just need to find the ways to find the “on button” for each student. All kids need to “find themselves.” When we in education do it right, the students succeed. And that’s what education is all about, helping each student succeed in their lives.
    I would challenge each of you to really look back on your life and ask yourself if there wasn’t at least one educator who helped you get where you are now. Each of you has succeeded in life. Did you do it alone? Who helped you? Mom? Dad? Some of your teachers? I think, we who are educators helped you somewhere along the way. And that’s why we do what we do.

  19. George Stoltz says:

    I am convinced that some of the most thoughtful and intelligent people read Nicki’s blog. These answers are truly insightful.
    My addition here is that we could use a lot more skilled RV technicians and a whole lot more people who build RVs to love what they do and to do it correctly.

  20. Wayne says:

    I had a career in construction of building homes and commercial buildings. I started out as a laborer to carpenter to job superintendent. I made a fairly good living. Nowadays I would not recommend being a laborer or a carpenter because of cheap labor paid now. If people wanted to be in construction I would recommend in going to be a plumber ( he needs to know just 2 things. Payday is on friday and shit runs down hill) or better yet to be an electrician.

  21. Cheryl says:

    Happy B’day, big guy!!!

    I think the 2 years of service right out of high school is a great idea. Maybe they could work on repairing the roads in this country, thus saving RVers the expensive repair bills from all the “shake, rattle and rolling.” I think we have enough engineers already to “plan” the repairs needed to this countries infrastructures, but where will we get the laborers to do the work? Hard work, dirty hands and sweat equity are foreign concepts to the younger generation (along with customer service).

  22. Jim Burnett says:

    Yes … there is a problem and its a creature with many heads. Parents and peers who push kids into Higher Ed, employers who regard a degree being mor important than experience, the high costs and the high compensation of the upper crust in Ed. Its an insane viscious circle.
    I did not go to college and I paid for that “omission” throughout my career. And now my retirement income is far less than it would had been if I had been able to earn more like most college grads did in the industries I worked in. Employers valued a brand new sheepskin more than fifteen years of proven hands on experience … and guess who had to provide the hand-on training for the newby?
    We need a new set of values, top to bottom.

  23. Larry H50 says:

    Right on Nick! I’ve been saying this for years. It’s a scam. Used to be college was for doctors and lawyers. Then, the colleges discovered what a good gig thay had ($$$$$$$.) The public recited the mantra, “you;ve got to go to college”, and they took their focus off the ridiculous, skyrocketing price tag.

    I was sent to boilerman’s school straight out of boot camp. I was angry, and didn’t want to go. A Chief Petty Officer told me, “This may not be glamorous, but you’ll make a good living with theses skills.” Right on. I also graduated from Rickover’s nuclear program, and was able to make my way in this world just fine.

    NOT saying some folks shouldn’t go to college, but it’s a scam for the majority. Even many college loans are part of the economic collapse: mom and dad borrowed against their home to send their child to school. Now the family home is upside-down.

    Thank you,
    Enjoy the journey

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  26. Jack says:

    The politicians tell us to go into service industries now that our manufacturing is leaving. The funny is that services don’t produce wealth for a nation. Manufacturing and resource processing does. Services are a complement. Is it any coincidence that we’re losing all our manfuacturing, have crippling national debt, and our politicians keep telling us to get into services and rack up debt on our homes and educational tuition costs? Its to make us all debt slaves. It’s to make our country bankrupt while places like China take our lifeblood. It is insanity,.

  27. Mark says:

    For the most part its true, higher education is a scam but there are some degrees where what you learn in class will actually be needed in the real world. Engineering degrees, Dental degrees, Medical degrees, Nursing, come to mind, but those are practical real world skills not English Literature, Sociology or theoretical sciences. And its true that the vast majority of things that undergraduates in Liberal Arts programs learn is useless in the real world. Higher education in some other countries is free or low cost, say in Germany where they have technical schools which are a cross between a trade school and a college but actually provide a practical education.

  28. BAP says:

    When it cost a person $23,000+ a year to attend a traditional public university—–money seeps its way into the picture. If you believe that a student should be there for the “learning experience” alone and money has nothing to do with it fill free to donate a part of your salary to a graduate that is now crippled with student loans. Oh yeah and the universities “professional advisors” job should be to protect the students future instead of lying just to maintain department funding. Nobody ever talks about this conflict of interest now do they. No they blame the student. “only a stupid person would want to be a psychology major”. Really? It had nothing to do with their advisors telling them that they had great job prospects and to not worry about their loans now. “Focus on this semester and get your GPA up as much as you can.”

  29. Joe says:

    Way to go Bad Nick. You said it.

    I met a guy recently, an Asian guy. He was really smart, he took out a lot of loans to go learn technical skills at a technical college in Atlanta, GA. After speaking with him for a while I began to realize his skills were superior to those of a lot of individuals I had worked with in the IT Sector. He had been on many interviews and was working as a personal trainer. It’s depressing to see so many people buy into the myth of increased salary via higher education. It’s sold that way and many people buy it. I strongly believe that among the people who achieve it, it creates a sense of entitlement and superiority. The attitude that: “I did my 4 years, I have my bachelors, I get to sit around and get paid while others work.”

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