The Higher Education Bubble, the Uncollege Movement and My Current Plan for Educating Three Children
A few years ago it occurred to me that college tuition had reached bubble territory. Why would anyone pay $50,000 per year plus living expenses only to find themselves waiting tables or working as a barista at Starbucks after graduation? And I don’t mean to imply that there’s something wrong with these jobs – there’s not. In fact, being a waiter can be a great experience because it teaches sales, customer service, communication and team work. But why spend 4+ years and $200,000 when the payoff might be a job that pays less than $10 per hour? At some point tuition reaches heights that forces you to re-evaluate the equation. I think we reached that point sometime in the past 5-10 years. When student debt is higher than credit card debt, when almost no one objects to the notion that a college degree is a good pursuit at any price and when it’s too easy to borrow money for college I think we have all the ingredients of a bubble. Parallels with housing – huge debt to equity ratios, everyone thinks owning a house is the only way to go and banks make it too easy to get a mortgage.
James Altucher does a great job of describing the problems with the current education system and what he considers to be better alternatives – 8 ideas here and 10 more ideas here. I asked him recently via Twitter if he thought that Community Colleges still represented a good bargain but he replied that community college is a waste of time as well and recommended that I take a look at Uncollege.org. James is a very smart guy and I can’t disagree with his analysis but something about telling my kids to completely skip college worries me. James might say that it’s the cultural brainwashing that has taken place over the course of my lifetime. But what if one of my children wants to become a college professor? Or what if her dream is be a veterinarian? What then? Then she has to go to college, right? Not everyone can pull off a Zuckerberg, Dell, Gates, or Jobs rise to glory. What if she doesn’t come to this realization until her mid 20s and by steering her away from college I’ve limited her options or cost her a ton of time?
My oldest is about to turn 12 years old so I have a little time to ponder the options but it will go by in a hurry. In the meantime I need to figure out how to prepare her for life in a time where Twitter trumps the telephone and I need to be prepared to provide decent guidance when she’s old enough to make her own decisions. It’s not an easy puzzle to solve but here’s my plan.