College plan: don't go

College Success for Less Bulletin

I’m going to go out on a limb and wager that you’re on my email list because you believe that a college degree will help you or your child succeed in life.

It’s not the best business model for a college counselor to suggest “College ain’t for everybody,” but I feel it’s worth discussing the value of a degree.

This ground has been trampled many times over by numerous smarter folks, so I want to suggest a few other ways of looking at the value of a college degree…

…not some stupid academic, political or abstract way of looking at it…

…but the reality here on Planet Earth, TODAY.

As I write this in mid 2014, jobs are on most people’s minds. Just this morning, over a typical relaxing, quiet breakfast at home with my four docile, well-mannered children, I half-read yet another one of those articles – you know, about how it’s better to have a college degree than not, because those with a degree are far less likely to be unemployed without a sheepskin!

(There are many statistics “proving” this -although the earnings gap between degreed and non-degreed people is narrowing – so I’ll spare you and me the full discussion.)

The kicker was buried midway down the piece: many college grads were working in jobs that don’t require college degrees!

One study claimed that 48% of college grads were employed in non-degree fields. I’ve seen other articles that pegged this number at 50%.

Yet, there’s a shortage of electricians, plumbers and other similar service providers.

(Don’t ask me for the source – it’s not that kind of newsletter. Research, schmee-search.)

The Center for College Affordability reported that 115,000 janitors, sorry, custodians, had college bachelor’s degrees.

Nothing against custodians, they are among the most underappreciated employees anywhere. I spent several hours per week in college doing janitor work-study jobs, it was not exactly glamorous or attractive to Wesleyan’s hotties (population:  6).

One of the coolest aspects of our college consulting business is that about 40% of our clients are self-employed in a wide variety of businesses.  We see everyone’s tax returns and other financial information.

Our clients include doctors, lawyers and accountants. And plumbers, electricians and auto body shop owners.

Frequently, the second group does better, in terms of assets!

You’d be surprised at who’s really wealthy, and who doesn’t have two nickels to rub together. I’ll leave it at that, but if you want more information on why, read The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley.

Better yet, make your kids read it.  Pay them if you have to.

Seriously, read it.

Back to the article:  in summary, the good news is that it’s easier to find work with a college degree.  The bad news is that you don’t need one for the work you can readily find.

If you have a boatload of student loans to pay off while you’re waiting tables or serving half-caff soy mochachinos, then you may not be better off than someone who never went to college who’s working the shift before you.

But I’m not one of these guys who thinks that the purpose of going to college is to get a job.  Although it would absolutely blow to get out of school with $150,000-plus of loans and not have any prospects.

I question myself and my clients whether it’s worth paying more for some colleges than others, in the hopes that prestige or other factors will make chances of post-college success greater.

I’m asked this question frequently, in the form of Is it worth the extra $30,000 per year to attend Duke instead of SUNY Binghamton (or other state’s flagship public university)?

There are at least two ways to look at this question.  On one hand, studies (Stanford did one that’s referenced frequently) show that kids who were admitted to both a prestigious college and a state university, but chose the state university, are just as financially successful five years out as their counterparts who went the prestige route.

On the other hand, there’s an argument that I think about in terms of my wife’s experience.

Pearl attended Skidmore College (she transferred to Cornell after her freshman year).  The guy down the hall from her came from a successful family – his dad was Ralph Lauren.

Pearl’s friend went to SUNY Binghamton, the “public Ivy” of New York State.  The girl on her hall’s father was an accountant in Bellmore.

Personally, I don’t attribute too much weight to the “you’ll meet a higher quality of person” at a private school thought, but I can’t deny that it’s true.

I just don’t know that it’s worth an extra 30 G’s per year to attend a snooty private college when you could attend a great college that will discount you.

Because it matters where you finish, not where you start.

Your Correspondent,

– Andy Lockwood

P.S.  Class of 2015 and 2016 parents:  what is your plan? The college train is a rollin’, whether or not you’re on board. The more you delay, the fewer options you’ll have.

Schedule a complimentary 20-minute “Mini Strategy Session,” no charge (in case you didn’t know what “complimentary” meant).  The only catch is that you may have to wait a few weeks, and I have to cap the number of appointments at 12.