The crippling cost of college

One of the themes we keep emphasizing has to do with the crippling costs of a college education today in America. Sure, college campuses are much nicer with all the new buildings and new technologies, but they are failing in their basic mission if students leave there with massive student debt that will hang over them for the rest of their lives.

More publications are doing good work discussing these problems. In Newsweek, Megan McArdle asks whether college is a lousy investment.

Why are we spending so much money on college?

And why are we so unhappy about it? We all seem to agree that a college education is wonderful, and yet strangely we worry when we see families investing so much in this supposedly essential good. Maybe it’s time to ask a question that seems almost sacrilegious: is all this investment in college education really worth it?

The answer, I fear, is that it’s not. For an increasing number of kids, the extra time and money spent pursuing a college diploma will leave them worse off than they were before they set foot on campus.

Given the costs, it’s hard to argue with her on this point. She discusses how college was critical for many families in building a better life for the next generation. But sitting on an English degree with $150,000 of debt seems like a pretty bad deal.

That said, we can’t overreact to the current economic conditions. When the economy improves, more of these kids will get jobs with their degrees.

Yet something has to give, and it was very encouraging to hear President Obama challenge colleges to slow down tuition inflation.

Also, the future of free college courses looms on the horizon. Universities would be wise to start figuring out how to lower costs, or they might really have a problem in the future.


Start-ups offer free college education

The cost of college tuition is skyrocketing, so it’s not surprising that some entrepreneurs are trying to fill the void.

Technology start-ups are cracking into the higher education market and there pitch is an enticing one: A college education for anyone at almost no cost.

Sound to good to be true? The founders of tech start-ups behind this revolutionary idea say they have already had success with their models, but they say there needs to be more momentum if their idea is to succeed.
“The 99% should be protesting college campuses,” says Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford University artificial intelligence professor, who recently co-founded Udacity, a technology start-up dedicated to providing higher education at a very low cost.

Two companies doing this are Udemy and Udacity. The new trend is self-education with all of the tools out there, including free lectures on iTunes and Khan Academy.

Smart employers will start to figure this out as well, and I suspect in the future we’ll see job applicants will put a Self-Education section on their resumes. It shows initiative and prospective employers can always quiz applicants on what they learned for verification.


The value of your major in college

This is a very controversial topic. What should you have in mind when choosing a college major?

On the one hand, it’s very important to study something you enjoy. If you do that you will likely excel or at least do better, and then you can think about how to turn that degree into a career. If you love English or History, this thinking says you should pursue these majors.

On the other hand, particularly if you’re taking out big loans, to what extent is it important to study something that will lead to an actual career? Majors like engineering and accounting come to mind.

This article examines the topic from the perspective of turning your major into a career.

The student might say, “English,” “psychology,” “political science” or “engineering.”

And then, in my mind, after factoring in some other information, I say to myself “job” or “no job,” depending on the major.

An English major with no internships or any plan of what she might do with the major to earn a living? No job.

A political science major with no internships that could lead to a specific job opportunity? No job, I think.

Engineering major with three relevant internships in the engineering field? Ding. Ding. We have a winner. Job.

Read the entire article.

In one sense, it tilts too far to the career area. Yet it brings up an important point. Too many college students have no idea how they can earn a living after college, and WAY too many of them are taking out huge loans and then selecting majors that will make it very difficult for them to repay those loans whiles earning a living.

The bottom line is that all factors have to be considered. I think it’s important that college students pursue an education. College has to be much more than just a vocational program.

Yet you have to have common sense. Maybe you can get that English degree at a great public university instead of a small liberal arts school that costs $50,000 per year. This way if you decide that grad school makes sense for your career after you get that English or History degree, you’ll be in a much better position financially to make that decision.


Can I get a good job without a 4-year degree?

Not everyone can (or wants to) go to college. For those that don’t think college is for them, it’s perfectly ok to feel this way. The only issue at hand is, how do you earn a decent living in America today without a 4-year degree? You’ll have to keep an open mind and expect to earn a certificate, 2-year degree or go through a training program to get a job with a future and benefits. The list below is by no means complete, but it does give you an idea of the types of jobs that do not require a 4-year degree. Some of the most popular jobs include:

  • -Armed Forces
  • -Artist
  • -Correctional Officers
  • -Dental Assistants
  • -Information Processing

Armed Forces
Did you know that there are literally thousands of positions in the military? Do you remember the draft? If not, here’s a refresher. Between 1948 and 1973, men could be drafted into the armed forces whether they wanted to go or not. These men were not all fighters. Some were carpenters, others were mechanics, some were dispatchers or typists while others worked in health care. If you had a special skill, chances are, you would not end up in combat because the armed forces could better utilize you in other areas. What does this mean for individuals considering entering the armed forces today? Your skills in any given area could lead to job stability (for 4 years or more), free housing, free health care, a salary, and if you do decide to go back to school, the military will foot the bill. Want more information? Go to or

“Artist” is one of the broadest career fields in the world. Painters, musicians, writers, animators, filmmakers, sculptors, illustrators, cartoonists, sketch artists, and painting restorers are a part of this massive industry. This is one of the few industries where (in many cases) talent and artistic ability may very well outweigh education. If you have artistic ability and you would like to explore this career field further, visit the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics at to learn more about each individual area of the industry.

Correctional Officer
Yes, you will have to complete a training program. Yes, you should be physically fit. And yes, you should have patience and excellent communication skills. And no, you do not need a degree to become a correctional officer. Most correctional officers are employed in state and federal prisons and unfortunately, the nation’s prisons are overcrowded and in desperate need of skilled officers. This means, the field offers tremendous job growth and plenty of stability to boot. Correctional officers may earn anywhere from $33,600 per year up to $70,990 or more per year depending on rank and facility. Want to learn more about becoming a correctional officer? Visit the American Correctional Association at

Dental Assistant
Certification or registration and completion of an accredited dental assistant program are required for entry into this field. In order to be accepted into a dental assistant program, you must have a high school diploma. Dental assistants are in high demand, so you can expect plenty of job opportunities in hospitals, private practices and offices, clinics, and schools. Dental assistants may also work in missions or “free” clinics supported by the U.S. government as well as other institutions such as correctional facilities.

Dental assistants also earn a pretty good salary to start. They earn an average salary $31,550 per year. The highest paid dental assistants average around $43,040 per year and the lowest paid dental assistants earn approximately $20,530 per year. For more information about dental assistants, visit the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics to learn more about this career field.

Information Processing
Hey, if you like peck, peck, pecking away at your computer all day, why not get paid for it? Data entry and information processing workers make a pretty penny processing information for companies and organizations and some even work from home. The catch? You just have to be accurate, fast, and open to performing other clerical duties. Information processing workers earn anywhere from $28,000 per year up to $45,000 per year. Salaries might be higher or lower based on skills, geographic location, and industry. For more information about jobs in this industry visit or the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics at

20 More Careers that don’t Require a 4-Year Degree

  • -Bank Teller
  • -Claims Adjuster
  • -Computer Support Specialists
  • -Cosmetologists
  • -Customer Service Representative
  • -Fire Fighter
  • -Interviewers (solicit and verify info, for banks, government programs, and medical facilities)
  • -Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
  • -Medical Assistants
  • -Payroll and Timekeeping Clerks
  • -Personal and Home Care Aides
  • -Pharmacy Technician
  • -Postal Service Workers
  • -Purchasing Manager
  • -Radiologic Technologists and Technicians
  • -Retail Salesperson
  • -Science Technicians
  • -Self-enrichment Teacher
  • -Teacher Assistant
  • -Telecommunications Equipment Installers and Repairers

How to Compare Colleges

One of the first things to consider when creating a targeted list of colleges is budget. If you plan to finance your education through loans and/or income from a full or part-time job, this will help narrow your search significantly. Many colleges offer grants and scholarships, so be sure to include these types of schools on your your list—even if the tuition is beyond your budget. If you want to find out about grants and scholarship programs, visit Just about every college website also lists grant, loan, and scholarship program information. Go to each website’s financial aid section for details.

After you have considered your budget, price, and the type of financial aid each college on your list offers, it’s time to think about location. Do you plan to live on campus? In state or out of state? Do you prefer to commute? Once you have decided on a location, this should eliminate a good number of schools on your list. At this point, comparing colleges should be somewhat easy, but an even shorter list will make comparing colleges even easier.

To trim the list to just a few, consider your career path. What do you plan to major in? Engineering? Literature? Architecture? Not all schools offer all programs, so this will help shorten your list to just a select few colleges. If you are unsure about your location, major, and price, you can still compare colleges using the comparison criteria below.

Comparing Colleges

Now that you have your shortlist ready, it’s time to compare colleges. A good way to keep things organized is to use the following comparison criteria:

-Admission Procedures and Requirements
-Campus Life
-Cost and Financial Aid
-Type of School

Admission Procedures and Requirements
The admission procedures and requirements for any given college discusses the percentage of students accepted. This will tell you how competitive the college is. You will also find out whether an interview and/or essay is required, and any SAT and ACT requirements. The school website will usually list the minimum acceptable SAT and ACT scores.

Campus Life
This information is also located on the school’s website and will tell you whether or not the school is in an urban, suburban, or rural setting. This section also includes enrollment figures, so you’ll know what to expect regarding class size, male/female ratio, etc.

Cost and Financial Aid
Cost and financial aid information covers tuition and fee information for both in-state and out-of-state students. It will also list costs for room and board or room only.

Location is all you need to determine whether you’ll have to commute, live on campus, or relocate to another state.

Type of School
The type of school affects price, financial aid, grant offerings, scholarship programs, and more. For example, private colleges cost more than public colleges, and public colleges offer more breaks on tuition than private colleges do.

When comparing colleges, the best place to find the most reliable and up-to-date information about any given college is the school’s official website. For a directory of colleges visit


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