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4 reasons college isn't for everyone

The cost of earning a college degree can be a really bad investment. Some of you may be wise to consider the alternatives.

By MSN Money Partner Oct 5, 2012 1:37PM

This post comes from Len Penzo at partner blog Len Penzo dot Com.


Len Penzo dot Com logoSome things in life are painfully overrated.


Take camping, for instance. Or iPhones. I've never understood the allure of luxury cars or the baby boomer generation's collective fascination with Bob Dylan either.


And although it pains me to say this -- because it will probably ruin any chance I'll ever have of scoring a date with her -- let's not forget singer Katy Perry too.


Here's one more thing that's overrated: college.

I know. They told you that if you want to be successful, you've got to earn a sheepskin from one of those hallowed venerable institutions of higher learning.


Guess what? They lied.


Don't believe me? Well, here are a few reasons why you should:


For most people, college is a really bad investment. Over the past 30 years, the cost of college has risen more than 1,000%, far outpacing inflation in general. If the price of other products rose as quickly as college costs have, today we'd be paying $13 per gallon for gasoline and $22 for a gallon of milk. As the price of college continues to go through the roof it becomes more and more difficult -- if not impossible -- for folks to realize a decent return on their investment unless they pursue a technical degree, or study to become a doctor or lawyer.


That's why there's an army of shellshocked graduates out there right now with a worthless college degree and nothing to show for it other than a relatively low-paying job and a boatload of student debt.


Image: Student studying (© PNC/Brand X Pictures/Jupiterimages)Not everybody is college material. If they were, 54% of all Americans who enroll in college wouldn't eventually become dropouts. Look, college is hard enough for those who are motivated; for people attending who don't really want to be there, it's almost impossible. So it makes little sense for anybody to attend a university unless they're fully committed to getting a college education, especially when you consider that the average cost of tuition, room and board for a four-year college is about $20,000 annually.


The time spent in college earning a degree can often be put to better use gaining experience. True, certain professions, like medicine and engineering, require college degrees. But there are plenty of jobs out there where it makes more sense to skip college and immediately embark on a career, because on-the-job experience is more valuable than a post-high school education. And while those who decide to skip college won't have a college degree after four years, they will have accrued four years of valuable experience.


Even better, they'll be $180,000 ahead in the ledger book, assuming they earned a modest average salary of $25,000 annually over that same period.


There are plenty of relatively well-paying jobs available that don't require a college degree. According to U.S. Labor Department projections, 63% of all new jobs that will be created between 2010 and 2020 won't require a college degree. In fact, Forbes identified 20 surprisingly well-paying jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree.


Many of those listed require just a high school diploma or equivalent, including administrative services manager (median income of $79,540), construction supervisor ($59,150), wholesale and manufacturing sales rep ($53,540), electrician ($49,320), plumber ($47,750), and insurance sales agent ($47,450).


Of course, I'm not advocating that everybody skip college. I'm just saying it's not for everyone.


Statistics show that people with a bachelor's degree will earn 1.66 times more over their lifetime than someone with only a high school education.


Then again, there are plenty of millionaires out there -- and approximately 30 billionaires -- without college degrees.


Ultimately, what's most important is that you find a career or vocation that you really enjoy because when you're passionate about what you do, the money becomes almost irrelevant.


More on Len Penzo dot Com and MSN Money:

Oct 5, 2012 3:06PM
We especially don't need college grads with 100k debt with degrees in dance, philosophy, painting etc.  
If you're smart and talented with or without a degree you'll be successful, more likely with a degree.
If you're lazy and dumb nothing can help you.  And yes dumb people get degrees all the time.  D is still passing.
Oct 5, 2012 7:08PM
I have a college degree in Business Administration. l also have a message for people who don't: seriously think about not going college. You won't miss much. The big American lie is that you have to have a college degree to get a good job. This lie has been floating around for decades and it has never been true. I hated high school and I hated college, but I did believe this lie, much like most teenageers do. If you do skip college, you must be absolutely certain about where to go after high school, even if it isn't a perfect place. Most of the time, four years of work trumps four years of college. If I could do it again I would be a certified auto mechanic because I really liked doing this with my buddies after high school. My 4 years of listening to college lectures could have been better spent. Here is another lie: some people believe their college is great because they have a great football team. I am not kidding about this....
Oct 5, 2012 4:38PM
I'm an old guy who always seemed to be a day late and a dollar short.  When I graduated high school at 17, I worked blue-collar jobs for 15 years; construction, truck driving, etc.  When I got laid off from a truck-driving job, I thought I would go to college, get a degree or two, and be secure in a career because of my education.  I completed an associate's and a bachelor's degree and worked for 25 years in my chosen profession.  But now, I find that with my age, even with a college education and work experience, I can't buy a job.  Whose making the money now?  You guessed it, it's the truck drivers, construction workers, and tradespeople.  I would have been better off learning to be a plumber, electrician, or something similar.  At least I'd still be working.
Oct 5, 2012 4:34PM
In too many cases, a degree is a crutch for people who don't have much to offer otherwise.  The country is full of overeducated idiots.  It makes much more sense to go to trade school or get an apprenticeship, and round out your education by pursuing other interests at your leisure. 
Oct 5, 2012 4:32PM

College is  simply a unit of measurement that you accomplished a certain level/standard.


It took me 26 years to complete my undergrad because of relocation, working part time and raising kids.  I recently completed a Masters in a one year condensed program while raising kids and working two part time jobs.


My gpa was 3.9


After three years of looking for  a job I landed a temporary full time position at a university making less then I did when I was a secretary with only a high school diploma. 


Now judge for yourself whether college is worth it. 



Oct 5, 2012 2:45PM
The world needs ditch diggers also.
   One thing I hate about college is that there's never enough time to study!  I figured I'd learn more on my own, and there's no pressure to get grades.
Oct 5, 2012 6:43PM

I agree with this article. I never finished high school in the 70's, got my GED. Worked my butt off all these years and proved myself to everyone that employed me. On the job experience teachs things that books do not. Now i have a management position in a very large company and i make over 60,000 dollars a year with great benefits. Worked with a lot of college graduates that came right from college and thought they could start at the top even though they had no experience in the field. I think colleges give them that idea.

They have validate the high cost somehow.


Oct 5, 2012 6:12PM
Years ago, I was talking to my niece, who was 11 or 12 at the time.  I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, and without batting an eye, she said, "I want to me an executive!"  I laughed myself silly, but have come to realize that what she said reflected the unrealistic view of many young college graduates today.  They want to start at the top.  Working your way up doesn't enter their minds.  My niece got pregnant and married at 16, and has grown up to be an uneducated 300 lb. housewife living in a crappy rental with a worthless husband and three kids.  Really sad to see.  So much for her "executive" dreams.
Oct 5, 2012 4:50PM

The biggest return on investment resulting from my undergraduate and graduate college education was realized from; (a) the development of my mind which has since become my favorite toy and (b) the acquisition of a network of friends and colleagues which served me well and lasted a lifetime. 


My college experience not only taught me to  acquire knowledge through academic discipline, but to THINK critically and to become relentless in the search for knowledge and by extension...truth.  This experience validated (and in many more cases discredited) some long held assumptions and world view that I'd previously accepted as fact. 


I'm just NOT the same person that entered college and I'm grateful.  I believe it's virtually impossible to remain the same  after such an experience.  Even if the entire financial expense of my college education had provided a zero ROI (it didn't) far more importantly it provided an infinite return on investment in the areas of my life that were mentioned. 

Oct 5, 2012 8:02PM
This article have a point.  I never went to college, i did finish high school in 1969, got a job working in a bank as a teller, than as a head teller, did 4 years in the Army with an honorable discharge, had a brief job in state correction, became a Police officer for 20 years making over $60,000. a year, and retired with a pension, and now in December, i will be collecting my Social Security. So, for me, i did not need college, that would have been a big waste of time and money, at least for me.  I think most people (not all) go to college for the wrong reasons.  I think going to college to get a better job is not a good reason, i feel going to college is for learning, and becoming a mature person, not getting a job.
Oct 9, 2012 3:04PM

Grateful, I went to college, as one poster pointed out, it taught me critical thinking and logic application. I talk to most non college attendees and there is a big difference in approach to life. Most times they are defensive about not going to college and critical of college degree holders...its almost as if they are trying to validate the fact that they didnt go. Whereas I speak to college graduates and they are non defensive and more open minded to all paths of life. They never speak of those who chose not to or couldnt go to college and treat them with respect as they should.


I have friends who didnt go and almost every conversation is a stab at my college degree (MS Accounting). I ignore them as I realize its not about me but thier own dissatisfaction with their path.


I also noticed that those who go away to school become more independent and self sufficient. Whether they make 30k or 100k they are self sustaining, intelligent, non combative, and productive. They never take subsidy or need mommy and daddy's help...which I respect regardless of major!


My point is that college is a lot more than pumping out degrees. I respect those who choose not to go as well. As long as you are happy and self sufficient and explore areas for growth like anyone else would.


I got news for those who bash college graduates, a lot of your adjectives are subjective. Smart to you is not smart to someone else. There is no absolute "smart" .  What you would consider intelligent is not what somoene else might.  Keep your opinions in thier rightful opinion.



Oct 5, 2012 3:29PM
College may not be for everyone.  Scratch that, $30k per year college may not be for everyone.  Everyone should at least attempt further education after high school.  That may come in the form of junior college which is a few thousand per semester or a trade school or something.  Doing nothing after high school will just guarantee that you will never make more than $30k per year.  I went to a 2 year school and did well then went to a 4 year school.  My parents paid for both, but I commuted and saved them a lot of money.  A lot of companies just require some college to get in, that means you could have gone for a year and quit, but it still shows that you tried.  With so many people getting their masters now, eventually a bachelors degree will be worth what a high school diploma is worth now and a high school diploma will be worth less than nothing.  The jobs you used to be able to get as a high school graduate have left this country and they aren't coming back.
Oct 5, 2012 3:06PM
The world needs all types of workers. While I agree college isn't for everyone for those that can afford to go, have the skills and brainpower, it is well worth their time. I was shocked to hear community colleges offering degrees in construction but it makes sense. They have to read intense blue prints as they escalate their task load, college isn't necessary but it's nice to see advanced education available. I just hope kids to count it out automatically. A little challenge is a good thing for those up for it!
Oct 12, 2012 4:48PM

The multinationals are sorting people by degree earned, psychological profile and age. So, if you got a degree, are young and get along they want you. If your older, have some moxie, not a finished degree,  your sunk.


The technical areas like engineering, accounting and medicine go up and down too. No guarantee there.


But, doing a good job and being productive doesn't seem to work anymore. Your just a sucker. Start your own business when your young.

Oct 5, 2012 8:24PM
I tried it both ways I tried to get experience and after 20 years of working companies rarely hired me based simply on experience. I did get my Bach. in Health Administration and was working in a hospital. I never got out of housekeeping, and many of my supervisors had High School diplomas or less. I became tired of them asking me to solve issues because they had no idea how, so I did use what I learned in my undergrad studies. After spending five years trying to get out of housekeeping I finally decided to meet with our HR Rep and talk to an Administrator at one of the hospitals I worked at. All of them said the same thing experience or a Masters Degree. I have yet to meet an Health Administrator who does not have a Masters Degree. So I think it does depend on what industry one works in. I can't do construction or labor as my body will not handle the stress so this is my last attempt.
Oct 5, 2012 6:59PM
I wonder if they offer a really good Bible college for Wall Streeters, criminal shyster politicians and banksters, corporate oligarchs, and the powers that be, because what we really need are some born again, fundamentalist, evil doers. The old fashioned evil doers have become so un-inspiring. 
Oct 12, 2012 8:31PM
I am a CFO and make very good money.  None of this would be possible without a degree.  This advice from the author is stupid if you want to be a professional.  If you are fine with laying bricks and nannying (all respectable vocations) then don't go to college.  If you are mentally inept, then skip college.  If you are lazy and smoke weed, then skip college.  Otherwise it's a great investment as long as it's not Devry or Sally Struthers online tech.  Pick a real school with real teaching.
Oct 12, 2012 9:06PM
Liberals and domoRATS aren't smart enough for college. If they do go, they drop out or get a useless fine arts degree.
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