All About College

10 December 2013

I was recently asked by my youth group to provide resources for high school students considering college. Here’s what I came up with…

Why College?

People usually go to college for a combination of a few reasons:

  1. It’s expected of you (by your parents, family, friends, etc)
  2. You’ve heard it’s the only/guaranteed way to get a good job and career.
  3. It’s how you “become an adult”
  4. You love to learn
  5. You don’t know what you want to do, and colleges help you find out.

Colleges are Valuable

Colleges and universities have incredible value.

Learning, research, exploration. That sounds awesome. It is.

Unfortunately, college comes with painful trade-offs.

Colleges are Expensive

College is expensive. Really expensive.

There’s no one reason for this. There are several:

  1. Federal and state funding for colleges has gone down over the past decade, so tuition went up to make up the shortfall.
  2. Colleges are in a race to be ‘prestigious’, so they built fancy dorms for billions of dollars, stadiums, and hired like crazy.
  3. College sports cost lots of money, more than they ever make.
  4. Colleges are full of highly-paid people who don’t teach (administrators, advisors, etc)
  5. For-profit colleges take money from students and give it to shareholders. And they get away with it.
  6. Colleges are so deep in debt that many of them will probably be bankrupt in the next 15 years.
  7. There are entire industries that make money off of college students. They don’t want anything to change.

Which One?

Picking a College is Hard. You’re 17 or 18 and making choices that will affect your future for decades.

There are 2 brilliant sources of data that look at the cost of college vs. the payoff: Payscale and Priceonomics.

There are lots of bad choices, and only a few good ones

Public Universities

Private, Nonprofit Universities

Private, For-Profit Universities


The Real Problem

What are the Alternatives?

Well, the future of learning is all about choice.

Community College & then transfer

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs)

Debt is Evil

Debt is one of the most subtly evil and destructive forces around. If you owe lots of money, you can end up in a painful cycle of always struggling to make payments and never getting free.

The average student graduates with $29,400 in debt. With normal interest rates, that is $225 a month for 20 years, for a total of $53,900.

Student debt is particularly nasty because it’s so hard to get rid of. You can’t get rid of it by declaring bankruptcy. Lenders can garnish your wages. And if anything happens to you, your parents and future spouse can end up with the debt.

It’s Worse Than You Think

The trap is guaranteed. The escape route isn’t

For-profit colleges are particularly bad

Graduate Degrees Don’t Help

Financial Aid Is Going to the Wrong People

Lots of Debt, no guarantee of a good job

If You Want to Know More

College Metrics and Gaming the System

Tests Measure the Wrong Thing

Nobody Knows How to Fix This

Picking a College and Admissions

What should you ‘really’ learn in college?


This blog post presents a biased view; it emphasizes the financial aspects of higher education (cost to attend, ROI of a degree) far more than their value to society, the intrinsic value of a college experience to a young adult, and so forth.

That’s the point. Students already hear enough about the importance of going to college that I want to provide a counterpoint.

In addition, I haven’t looked at higher education in other countries, vocational schools, service learning, or apprenticeships. There are many, many options available to young people, but they require research and curiosity to find.

I expect smart young students to face different perspectives and narratives, analyze the merits of each, and come to their own conclusions.