This is going to seem like an odd question to many of you, and I even debated whether I should ask it here. On the other hand, this might be the perfect place to ask it. It's about the opportunity cost of college.
I'm asking as the father of two young men, ages 11 and 13 (6th and 8th grade). College hasn't really entered the conversation for my youngest, but it's looming large for my oldest now. They attend an upper crust private school, so by the 8th grade there is already pressure to get straight A's and max out test scores.
Let me preface this by saying that they will not be bankers (I would be astonished if they went into any field even related to finance). I realize that banking requires not only a degree, but the right degree from the right school. In other words, if your worldview is exclusively that of a banker, you can probably bail out of this post now. I'm asking on behalf of those mere mortals who don't aspire to Excel mastery and make up the rest of the population at large.
Plenty of ink has been spilled over the past several years suggesting that the juice of a degree is no longer worth the squeeze of attending college. There's no doubt that we're waist-deep in a student loan bubble, and probably the only thing keeping it from bursting is the inability to discharge student loans in bankruptcy. Then there's the abysmal job market for recent grads. I'm actually writing this in a Starbucks, and all four of the baristas have degrees (I asked them).
More and more, I'm hearing from friends with kids in college that they're being told to strap in for grad school tuition, because a bachelor's degree just doesn't cut it anymore. The bachelor's degree has become the high school diploma of my day.
The average cost of private college in the US last year was $32,405. State schools are cheaper, but not by much. They came in at $24,000 a year for out-of-state residents. I live in Louisiana (there's no state school here worth throwing any shekels at), so that's what my kids would be paying to attend a state school elsewhere. Assume even the current rate of tuition inflation, and my kids are well into the six figures by the time they go to school, at a minimum.
Aside from that, they have to give up four (and more likely five) years of their life just to get a lambskin. If they take out student loans to help finance the expense, then they enter at least a decade of indenture upon graduation. They'll literally have to spend years of their life just getting back to zero.
As a parent, I'd like to help them avoid that outcome. That desire has sent me in search of alternatives.
The Alternatives I've Found
Probably the best alternative I've found is coding bootcamp. Right now coders are in such demand that several bootcamps offer an employment guarantee to successful graduates. Hack Reactor grads make an average of $104,000, and their program is only 12 weeks long and costs less than $20,000. Several of the bootcamps even defer your tuition until you get hired.
I realize coding isn't for everyone, but if I'm having a heart-to-heart with my kid about life after high school, part of that conversations is going to be "you can gut this out if it means you're making $72,000 a year three months later."
I've even started looking into alternatives to the school they're in now. To me, it's ridiculous that a kid has to "go" to school anymore. As in, physically go to a building somewhere and spend six hours a day being lectured to and forced to memorize useless shit, considering from this point forward they'll never spend a day of their lives without a supercomputer in their pocket. Hell, the Louisiana legislature just made cursive writing a requirement, so at least they're focused on the right things. SMH.
One of the alternatives I'm giving a hard look is Connections Academy. They're in about two-thirds of the US states (I'm shocked to report that Louisiana is one of them), and it's an accredited K-12 education that takes place 100% online. Students work at their own pace, there's no homework (or all the work is homework, depending on your point of view), and graduates have gong on to all the Ivies and virtually every other school in America. On top of all that, it's free.
My Questions For You
I realize that many of you are in college or recently graduated, so a lot of this stuff has to be top of mind for you. If you will, take a step back and think about what advice you wish you'd been given knowing what you know now.
- Have you ever stopped to consider the opportunity costs of college and whether it was/is worth it?
- Did you give any thought to alternatives? I'm constantly bombarded with videos from Mike Rowe extolling the virtues of becoming a plumber. Were the trades ever a part of your calculus?
- I never went to college. I worked as an aircraft mechanic before I broke into finance, and I know I'll never starve because I can always go back to bending a wrench if things get really bad. How valuable do you think it is to develop an evergreen skill like coding (or aircraft maintenance, for that matter) before shouldering the burden of college?
- What do you think is the biggest thing someone misses by skipping college? I'm not talking about a degree or job prospects, I mean what do you gain from the college experience itself that you miss otherwise?
- Are you happy with the choices you made, or would you have rather gone a different route?
I can't help feeling that it's getting harder and harder for young people and, like every parent, I'd like to help my kids avoid the worst of it if possible.
Thanks in advance for your input.