Vocational Training Can Beat the Old College Try
I read several things this week that raised my blood pressure again about the student loan debt scam that so many colleges are running on many students.
First, I read an column by John Stossel (of 20/20 fame) published at the Town Hall called the “College Scam.” Stossel’s piece contains information that reinforces my belief that too many people go to college to begin with. For them, going after the B.S. degree is not a good educational or money strategy. Indeed, Stossel quotes one educational consultant who says the B.S. degree is “America’s most overrated product.”
Then there is that worn out mantra that college graduates have lifetime earnings that exceed those of non-graduates by at least $1 million. That statistic is grossly misused by the colleges as well. First, it is a statistical mean that is heavily skewed upward by data that includes the extreme top multi-millionaire earners. Second, as Stossel’ s educational consultant points out, many financially successful college graduates would have been equally successful – based on their personal qualities – had they not gone to college.
The second article I read was from CNN, reporting the difficulties of an unemployed 35 year old. She had left her $80,000/year job. Why? To attend law school, which she ended up not liking after the first year. Now she is broke and can’t find work. Please don’t go law school for the money. Please. For that matter, please think three or four times (or more) before throwing any of your hard-earned money into a costly MBA program.
The third article – which is more to the point of this post – is from Forbes, reporting on occupations in which you can earn a six figure income without a college degree. These are quality jobs for which a specialized two year degree or certificate program from a local community college, technical college, or vocational school is all you need. Interestingly, the survey (linked above) reports the highest satisfaction levels by students who attended community colleges. You can find more data on occupations and earnings at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Before some of you respond with testimony to the non-tangible benefits of a four-year college degree, let’s please be honest about it. Many (perhaps most) students go to college to increase their earning capacity. That’s why colleges keep hitting us over the head with the “million dollar future” statistic. If we want to focus on the intangible benefits of a college education, then let’s ban the continued misuse of the earnings statistics.
What people seem to overlook is that colleges and universities are part of a competitive industry just like any other. This means that they have two overriding goals: (1) to justify and sustain their continued existence; and (2) to market themselves to prospective students to get those precious tuition dollars. What they don’t tell these prospective students are key facts – such as that all of you don’t really need to go to college and that many of you will be unhappy that you did. As the Stossel piece reminds us, high school students in the bottom 40% of their class are highly unlikely to graduate from college, even after trying for 8 years. Yet many colleges heavily market themselves to these same students when in fact many of them would be much better off with vocational training (and without the student loan debt.)
Sadly, the 2009 stimulus package includes even more money intended to herd all high school graduates along a path through a four year college, as if that were the only path. What the stimulus plan should fund instead are “college and money truth squads.” Their mission would be to counteract the misleading marketing pitches from self-interested universities while explaining that there are other, less costly (and sometimes better) vocational training options out there.
Image credit: Sigurd Decroos