Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Time to Rethink College (Part 2): Wasted Money, Wasted Time

 

As I mentioned yesterday, two of my kids are already through college, but I’m employing a new strategy with my third. If your children plan to jump straight from high school into college without work experience, let me share the perspective of a parent who has been there, done that, and paid the bills. I don’t want you to waste your money or your kids to waste their time.

27PercentI surveyed some of my peers (50+ age) and only half of them were working in a job related to the degree they got. But back in the ’70s, only a quarter of my cohort went to college, which means this smaller group would have been more careful in degree selection and more likely to get it right. It is worse now. A study by the New York Federal Reserve Bank found only 27 percent worked in a job even related to their degree. And, by the way, the study found almost no one with a History or Liberal Arts degree who actually work in their degreed fields.

A separate 2013 CareerBuilder study found 31 percent of all US degree holders have never had a job in their field of study a decade-plus after their degree. If we look only at recent graduates, 51 percent with degrees end up working at a job that doesn’t even need a degree! So, of the other 49 percent of recent graduates who actually got a job where a degree is needed, how many are working in the field of their study? The survey did not say, but the trend infers about one out of five. So did the other four out of five choose the wrong degree?

HaveJobExp

It is easy to understand why this is so screwed up. You can’t expect a high school senior to be able to determine what their career will be for the rest of their life. It is ridiculous to expect these children to figure this out, especially when most have never even held a job. Which brings me to my next advice: You should have job experience before college.

This does not necessarily mean post high school graduation jobs. If they have real summer jobs in high school, that counts. And boy does it help ground them in their decisions. A few high school summer jobs can forestall years of wasted college tuition. Every one of my children was forced to work in my company for at least one summer. That experience was formative for all of them.

The first one was clearly skilled and went into the same profession, getting a degree in architecture. The next one wasn’t a good candidate for architecture, so — knowing his skills and interests (I am his father, you know) — I set him to work on the website. That completely firmed up his desire and real ability in programming; he now has a degree in computer information systems and is a programmer. Two down, one to go.

The Hard Sell

This is where we go back to my daughter’s story. She did her stint in my firm, and was good, but did not want to be an architect. So as I said, by the end of high school, I knew her idea of becoming a graphic artist was but a placeholder. I did not want to pay for a placeholder. So as the college time approached, I went into super-parent mode. I pitched that she should take a gap year between high school and college.

That was the hardest sell I have ever made. She was against it, her mom was against it, her peers were against it, her school counselor was certainly against, the college counselor was against it (yes, she was already accepted to a college). Fortunately I had the support of her two older siblings. I had to do several seminar-level presentations with graphics, spreadsheets, and lists of reasons, and my daughter bravely (and I mean it) decided to follow the less-trodden path. That was a hard decision and the hardest part was telling her school friends and teachers at high school, who she felt would be let down.

Fast-forward three months. She got a bottom-level job at an internationally known design firm and is doing computer tasks in the industrial design department. The experience for her has been incredible and is completely changing her career interests and her self confidence is somewhere in the sky. As of this evening, she wants to be an industrial designer. (Yeah!) So this is my next advice to the young adults: If you are not firm in your degree decision, do not go immediately to college; go to work first. Get paid and save up for college, while you make up your mind. You will learn a lot and will be getting paid to boot.

Tomorrow, Ricochet will post “Time to Rethink College (Part 3): Do-It-Yourself Gap Year”

Read “Time to Rethink College (Part 1): Don’t Be a Lemming.”

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  1. Karen Humiston Member
    Karen HumistonJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    All four of my kids have been a bit difficult to launch, but I think the learning process has been productive. The only one to go directly to college was my oldest, and it was a bit of a disaster. He was not ready: he had health problems, depression, and dismal grades, and dropped out after a year. The good news is that the work and life experience he got in the next few years was invaluable in shaping his character and motivation. He’s finally finishing college now, and preparing for dental school admission. He has been told by the admissions folks that the real world experience he got in his gap years is a definite plus (though his lousy freshmen grades have been a challenge to overcome). The next two kids also have had frustrating false starts at college, but finally seem to be on their way. The youngest, who has observed his siblings’ trials and tribulations, made a conscious decision to take a year off to look about him before college. EVERYONE expected him to go straight into one of the music schools that were recruiting him, but he took a pass. He is currently working hard at a job and at his musical skills, and is gaining maturity and awareness of real life.

    It’s so true, Wiley, that this path is not the expected one, and that it takes a certain amount of faith, hope and prayers. You do have to deal with the doubts of friends, family, and teachers, and it’s hard to see so many scholarship opportunities go by the wayside. But, as I remind myself, I always taught my kids that they should not be conformists and always go with the cookie-cutter expectations of how they’ll live their lives. Now the gut-check comes, when, for once, they’re taking my advice.

    • #1
    • October 29, 2015, at 1:22 PM PDT
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  2. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This is great! We’re in a very similar situation with our oldest daughter. Waiting with great anticipation for the next installment.

    • #2
    • October 29, 2015, at 1:33 PM PDT
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  3. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Karen Humiston: and it’s hard to see so many scholarship opportunities go by the wayside.

    There is a way to preserve scholarships awarded from the high school or granted by a college AND take a gap year. This is in tomorrow’s post.

    • #3
    • October 29, 2015, at 2:21 PM PDT
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  4. Brian Wyneken Member

    I was a philosophy major in college, and like all philosophy majors I got a job at K-Mart after I graduated.

    (These are good posts! Thank you for doing this series).

    • #4
    • October 29, 2015, at 2:57 PM PDT
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  5. Karen Humiston Member
    Karen HumistonJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Brian Wyneken:I was a philosophy major in college, and like all philosophy majors I got a job at K-Mart after I graduated.

    Gulp . . . My middle son wants to major in philosophy. Fine, we say, but he’ll have to pay for most of it, unless he adds in some marketable skills around the edges.

    I don’t have a lot of credibility on this issue with my kids, since I was a theater major.

    • #5
    • October 29, 2015, at 3:19 PM PDT
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  6. Kephalithos Member

    Wiley: I pitched that she should take a gap year between high school and college.

    A gap year is most useful for those who know something about their future career.

    We poor, foresight-bereft idlers are left with one choice — the service industry.

    • #6
    • October 29, 2015, at 3:56 PM PDT
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  7. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Christopher Riley: A gap year is most useful for those who know something about their future career.

    Yes I get your point, how can job experience be useful if you don’t know what you want to do? I counter, how can college experience be useful if you don’t know what you want to do? Work is the better option, since I prefer to be paid while doing useless stuff.

    • #7
    • October 29, 2015, at 4:19 PM PDT
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  8. Karen Humiston Member
    Karen HumistonJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wiley:

    Christopher Riley: A gap year is most useful for those who know something about their future career.

    Yes I get your point, how can job experience be useful if you don’t know what you want to do? I counter, how can college experience be useful if

    Just the experience of working for a paycheck and paying real bills (my son moved into his own apartment) can be very helpful. It makes the concept of life after education much more real. If they do know what they want in a career and can use the time to work on those skills, all the better.

    • #8
    • October 29, 2015, at 4:35 PM PDT
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  9. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Karen Humiston: Just the experience of working for a paycheck and paying real bills (my son moved into his own apartment) can be very helpful. It makes the concept of life after education much more real. If they do know what they want in a career and can use the time to work on those skills, all the better.

    I could not have said it better.

    • #9
    • October 29, 2015, at 4:48 PM PDT
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  10. Kephalithos Member

    Wiley: I counter, how can college experience be useful if you don’t know what you want to do? Work is the better option, since I prefer to be paid while doing useless stuff.

    All learning tangential to a person’s career, then, is useless?

    I’d rather take classes (and, with a bit of luck, learn something about my abilities and inabilities) than languish at a McDonald’s.

    • #10
    • October 29, 2015, at 4:50 PM PDT
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  11. Kephalithos Member

    Some careers require a modicum of training for even entry-level jobs. An aspiring chemist can’t simply intern in high school; he must first pay $60,000 and finish three years of coursework.

    If he takes a few classes and realizes he is, at best, a mediocre chemist (but a competent academic), what then?

    • #11
    • October 29, 2015, at 5:01 PM PDT
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  12. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Christopher Riley:

    Wiley: I counter, how can college experience be useful if you don’t know what you want to do? Work is the better option, since I prefer to be paid while doing useless stuff.

    All learning tangential to a person’s career, then, is useless?

    I’d rather take classes (and, with a bit of luck, learn something about my abilities and inabilities) than languish at a McDonald’s.

    Both portrayals are inaccurate extremes: that the job one would get would be at McDonalds and that I am inferring all non-career knowledge is useless.

    Christopher Riley: We poor, foresight-bereft idlers are left with one choice — the service industry.

    I looked at your Bio. You are in a great college with an excellent moral and intellectual tradition, and you have great skills. You personally would NEVER end up working at McDonalds, and I think the moral education you get at that great college will be beneficial no matter what you do. So let me move back to my point. If for example, you or any person had an interest in architecture, I would have taken a person like you as an architectural intern for the summer during high school. If someone graduates from high school and is uncertain of their career, but has some interests (everyone has interests) then I recommend that person get a job in that industry even if it is sweeping floors, because one would learn so much from the exposure… then to college.

    • #12
    • October 29, 2015, at 5:20 PM PDT
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  13. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Christopher Riley:Some careers require a modicum of training for even entry-level jobs. An aspiring chemist can’t simply intern in high school; he must first pay $60,000 and finish three years of coursework.

    You have drunk the koolaid, in believing without a degree one can’t get a job. I personally hire on ability, then attitude, and lastly credentials like a degree. Forgive me for putting words in your mouth, but if you had said “An aspiring architect, or industrial designer, or graphic designer can’t simply intern… he must first pay $60,000 and finish three years of coursework.” I can tell you without a doubt, that statement is wrong. However you said, chemist, so I can’t be as authoritative, but I suspect there are low level jobs that do not require a degree in all industries where one can see and experience the industry.

    • #13
    • October 29, 2015, at 5:35 PM PDT
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  14. Kephalithos Member

    Wiley: Both portrayals are inaccurate extremes: that the job one would get would be at McDonalds and that I am inferring all non-career knowledge is useless.

    I apologize.

    I’ve merely become frustrated with the idea, which seems popular among conservatives, that college is worthwhile only insofar as it is useful.

    • #14
    • October 29, 2015, at 5:44 PM PDT
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  15. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Christopher Riley:

    Wiley: Both portrayals are inaccurate extremes: that the job one would get would be at McDonalds and that I am inferring all non-career knowledge is useless.

    I apologize.

    I’ve merely become frustrated with the idea, which seems popular among conservatives, that college is worthwhile only insofar as it is useful.

    I understand. I am not against college, I am against it becoming a person’s ruin through debt accumulation, which is an increasing problem in our current culture. I am trying to articulate a way to find one’s career path other than flailing about in various courses and spending $20K to $40K a year. Part III in this series will explain the damage college debt has done to so many.

    Thanks for your comments.

    • #15
    • October 29, 2015, at 6:03 PM PDT
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  16. profdlp Inactive

    I graduated from college two years ago with a degree in Information Systems. I was 54 years old. I knew what I wanted to do at that point.

    I had classmates who seemingly had chosen their major by tossing darts at the catalog and going with the first one they hit. Most of them were miserable by their Junior year. I even saw one guy stand up in the middle of class after we had been handed our test results on the midterm and begin to complain bitterly about even having to take any programming classes. He didn’t want to be a programmer and apparently wasn’t aware that the school wasn’t going to let him off easy just “because”. Had he worked a year mopping floors for an IT company he might have made a better choice in majors.

    • #16
    • October 29, 2015, at 7:01 PM PDT
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  17. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    profdlp:I graduated from college two years ago with a degree in Information Systems. I was 54 years old. I knew what I wanted to do at that point.

    I had classmates who seemingly had chosen their major by tossing darts at the catalog and going with the first one they hit. Most of them were miserable by their Junior year. I even saw one guy stand up in the middle of class after we had been handed our test results on the midterm and begin to complain bitterly about even having to take any programming classes. He didn’t want to be a programmer and apparently wasn’t aware that the school wasn’t going to let him off easy just “because”. Had he worked a year mopping floors for an IT company he might have made a better choice in majors.

    Thanks for confirming that you see the problem also. Your comment “Had he worked a year mopping floors for an IT company he might have made a better choice in majors” is right on and exactly the point I hope to make. Experience to the industry they are interested in, even indirect exposure (as in your janitor example), could weed out the false career paths.

    • #17
    • October 29, 2015, at 7:42 PM PDT
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  18. Brian Wyneken Member

    Your focus on college as skills preparation for a specified career is mainly warranted by two modern developments: (1) the exorbitant cost makes the return on investment a crucial question, and (2) the decline in value of a liberal arts education with the demise of any rigor in learning about western civilization.

    The four year liberal arts degree (which is what I did) was not so expensive or silly 35 years ago, but the signs of decline were there. Now it is a model much corrupted and out of date for most people’s use, but a four year program remains one of the principal standards for claiming to be educated. I see it all the time as I scan job postings.

    My youngest son is in a hybrid type of program, a big focus on technical skills with a scattering of electives and most of those emphasize communication skills. It’s still a four year degree, so that’s four years of tuition, etc. An exclusively technical program could be done in two years, but by federal regulation his public sector career choice requires a four year degree.

    I performed better in career path education after college (I could easily see the point), but I regret that there are so few schools that still offer a decent liberal arts education. For me, I still think it was worth the time.

    • #18
    • October 29, 2015, at 8:16 PM PDT
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  19. Brian Wyneken Member

    Karen Humiston:

    Brian Wyneken:I was a philosophy major in college, and like all philosophy majors I got a job at K-Mart after I graduated.

    Gulp . . . My middle son wants to major in philosophy. Fine, we say, but he’ll have to pay for most of it, unless he adds in some marketable skills around the edges.

    I don’t have a lot of credibility on this issue with my kids, since I was a theater major.

    He could do a lot worse than philosophy in college these days. Buy him Thomas Sowell’s “Basic Economics” (or just listen to the podcasts with Peter); that might spark interest in a double major or a minor if he can stand the school’s approach to the subject.

    Plus, K-Mart wasn’t so bad, and if it was I could have just been “philosophical” about it.

    • #19
    • October 29, 2015, at 8:28 PM PDT
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  20. Probable Cause Inactive

    Christopher Riley:I’ve merely become frustrated with the idea, which seems popular among conservatives, that college is worthwhile only insofar as it is useful.

    College provides two benefits — monetary and non-monetary. To the extent one pays for college in order to receive future monetary benefits, that’s called an “investment”. To the extent one pays for college in order to receive non-monetary benefits, that’s called a “luxury.”

    I am certainly in favor of luxuries such as diamond rings, liberal arts degrees, and vacations to Tahiti. Yes, they have worth. But they should be purchased by people who can afford them.

    • #20
    • October 29, 2015, at 9:28 PM PDT
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  21. Tedley Member

    Taking a job after high school can do more than flesh out how much one likes any specific job or line of work. Seeing how hard life can be for the uneducated provides motivation to study harder and get the most out of the time and money spent earning the degree.
    I was fortunate that my grades allowed me to get an ROTC scholarship for college, which led to a guaranteed job that ended up being a career in the military. I tried to get into a military specialty where I could use my degree, but things didn’t turn out that way. I was fortunate that I had lots of opportunities for travel and challenging jobs, and have no qualms with the result.

    • #21
    • October 29, 2015, at 9:41 PM PDT
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  22. Pony Convertible Member

    All my kids started working part time by 15. Full time in summers. I think having jobs as teenagers is vital. Raising the minimum wage is eliminating this vital opportunity for many.

    • #22
    • October 30, 2015, at 4:10 AM PDT
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  23. Wiley Inactive
    Wiley

    Pony Convertible:All my kids started working part time by 15.Full time in summers.I think having jobs as teenagers is vital.Raising the minimum wage is eliminating this vital opportunity for many.

    Two cheers of agreement, one for “vital” and the other about “minimum wage.” Even younger kids could benefit by working with their parents during the summer.

    • #23
    • October 30, 2015, at 5:18 AM PDT
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  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western ChauvinistJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Wiley:

    Pony Convertible:All my kids started working part time by 15.Full time in summers.I think having jobs as teenagers is vital.Raising the minimum wage is eliminating this vital opportunity for many.

    Two cheers of agreement, one for “vital” and the other about “minimum wage.” Even younger kids could benefit by working with their parents during the summer.

    My oldest has had a tough time getting a job and is attracted to the academic life. With her language skills and love of ideas, I can picture this working out over the long haul.

    My youngest is determined to have a job as soon as she turns 14 next year — she has just the personality and grit where I can imagine this happening.

    I guess I’m saying there’s a lot of variability in each child and one size does not fit all. But, I’m a big fan of not having college debt in any case.

    Now, if we could just get the oldest accepted to the (no-loan) University of Chicago…

    • #24
    • October 30, 2015, at 7:28 AM PDT
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  25. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    Christopher Riley:

    Wiley: Both portrayals are inaccurate extremes: that the job one would get would be at McDonalds and that I am inferring all non-career knowledge is useless.

    I apologize.

    I’ve merely become frustrated with the idea, which seems popular among conservatives, that college is worthwhile only insofar as it is useful.

    College as a general path to a grounding in Western civilization, so as to help the citizen lead a wise and good life once made sense. It continues to make sense, but only in certain circumstances:

    1. The student ought to be able to afford it. Taking out debt to finance the pursuit of wisdom and character is pretty much self-contradictory.
    2. The education needs to actually fulfill that hallowed promise, and while Hillsdale probably does that, most liberal arts degrees (I include those from my own alma mater) no longer do anything of the kind.
    • #25
    • October 30, 2015, at 9:57 AM PDT
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