Financial columnist James Altucher recently published a column wherein he challenged the conventional wisdom regarding the value of a college education. He oversimplifies the argument to some degree and throws in a bit of hyperbole, but I believe his point is nevertheless made effectively. Altucher points out that the college degree industry is just that, an industry, and has, in a very mercenary fashion, capitalized on the long-held cultural notion that anyone without a college degree is certain to be economically diminished as a result. Altrucher trashes that idea in his piece, which you can read here:
While I don’t personally agree with everything Altrucher says, I applaud his effort at bringing attention to the very real financial challenges , both short- and long-term, facing the huge numbers of academically-average young people contemplating attendance at one of the thousands of mediocre colleges and universities that dot the countryside.
Those who view the value of a college education as something that exists in its own right, without regard to its role in career preparation, will always take offense at any hard-line approach to economically evaluating the worthwhileness of its pursuit, but the reality is that the number of people attending college principally for the intellectual and horizon-broadening benefits of receiving a well-rounded, liberal education is statistically insignificant. Even those who sincerely cite that as one of their reasons for attending college typically do so as a subordinate reason to that of being better prepared for the career marketplace.
The issue, of course, isn’t exclusively the money…there are quality state schools that cost far less than practically all of the private institutions out there…but rather the matter of the money, combined with the quality of the school, as well as the student’s choice of program of study. Depending on the totality of those considerations, a college education might make a lot of sense for someone, or it might make no sense at all. It’s the latter group that Altucher is clearly addressing here.
I think that most sane people would agree that, as a general rule, having more education is preferable to having less, employment considerations aside. However, I know of no one who has the financial luxury to pursue a college education exclusively on that basis, although I will concede that a few of those people are out there somewhere. The real issue, for me, is the watering down of the quality of higher education that has occurred with the trend of putting a four-year school on every corner (that may be only a mild exaggeration; the community college located at the end of my street was recently “converted” into a four-year school). Even if one agreed that a college education should be every bit as much about the less practical but still beneficial knowledge that comes with the effort, we’re still left to question the quality of even that part of the education, as well, given the unfortunately high number of poor schools out there now.
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Bob Yetman, Editor-at-Large at Christian Money.com (www.christianmoney.com), is an author of a variety of materials on personal finance and investing, as well as on topics of fitness and self defense, to include the recently-released book Investor's Passport to Hedge Fund Profits (John Wiley & Sons, Inc; www.investorspassport.com) and the new unarmed combat training DVD Thunderstrikes – How to Develop One Shot, One Kill Striking Power (Paladin Press; www.mikereevesonline.com).