Imagine for a moment that I decided to open a football school. And my school’s deeply-held conviction is that it can turn anyone into an NFL caliber player. So it doesn’t matter how fast, strong, big, tough, or athletic a potential student may be. Just give my school four years, and my staff can turn just about any 18-year-old into a head-turning phenom at the NFL combine.
And let’s further imagine that I charge big bucks for my football school. Four years at my football school will cost about $100k—and that assumes the student doesn’t need any remedial training. If a student has a subprime bench press or vertical jump, for instance, he or she will need a year or two of remedial training. And remedial training is no less expensive than standard training. Six years at my football school runs about $150K.
Anyone with a pulse knows my hypothetical football school would be a farce. No football school, regardless of how terrific its coaches and trainers are, can turn any schmoe off the street into an NFL draft prospect. NFL players are freaks of nature. We’re talking about 300-pound linemen who can run the 40 yard dash in 5.0 seconds and squat 600 pounds. So unless you have freakish physical attributes, freakish athletic skills, and freakish workout habits, you don’t belong anywhere near a football school. And if my hypothetical football school did exist, and I took money from students who had lottery-like odds of making it to the NFL, I would be guilty of extreme scumbaggery.
My position here is that most of the colleges in this country are no different than my hypothetical football school. They claim they can take any schmoe off the street and turn him or her into an intellectual force, gushing with critical thinking skills. But this is a lie. They have as much chance of turning a slacker with a 90 IQ into Harvard Law or Google material as my hypothetical football school would have turning a short, weak dude who runs the 40 in 5.5 seconds into an all-pro NFL receiver. The critical mass of talent and drive isn’t there. And because our colleges routinely take tens of thousands of dollars from students with marginal cognitive abilities and lousy study habits, they are every bit as disreputable as the thieves on Wall Street.
Whoa! That’s quite a charge. Are our colleges really guilty of extreme scumbaggery?
Granted, I can get a little overwrought from time to time. But I don’t think that’s the case here. Our colleges simply lie to and take advantage of the unwary. Here are three prominent lies.
Real higher education isn’t hard. As a sociology major, I took a handful of mildly difficult classes at Buffalo University—calculus, economics, statistics, etc. But these classes were complete puff classes compared to the classes taken by my peers majoring in engineering—organic chemistry, thermodynamics, applied electromagnetics, etc. Or how about Math 55 at Harvard University? This class covers four years of advanced mathematics in two semesters. The attrition rate is over 70 percent. The typical student who survives it devotes over 24 hours a week just answering the problem sets. Nuts! If I had to take classes as difficult as organic chemistry or Math 55, there’s no way I’d have a college degree today.
SAT scores aren’t critical to college success. If I remember correctly, my SAT score was 1080. My engineering friends at Buffalo University had SAT scores in the 1200 to 1300 range. Some even had SAT scores above 1400. But my GPA of 2.8 was higher than just about every one of them. Most had GPAs in the 2.5 to 2.7 range. Does that mean the SAT is a joke? After all, my SAT score was lower than my engineering buddies’, but my GPA was higher. No. The notion that SAT scores have no bearing on college success is utter bullcrap. The only reason I had a higher GPA is because I had an easy major (sociology). If Buffalo University didn’t have easy majors, and I had to major in engineering or something equally as hard, I would have flunked out.
A college degree is a slam-dunk ticket to a middle-class job and income. Roughly half of college graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 are employed in jobs that don’t require a college degree. In 1970, 1 percent of cab drivers had a college degree. Today, 15 percent do. And there are roughly 1.7 million college graduates out there who are employed as retail sales clerks, cashiers, or waiters. But wait, it gets even better. There are tons of college graduates out there who are employed in their fields of study but still can’t command wages above the poverty level. Check out the YouTube clip below.
How To Protect Yourself from the College-Industrial Complex
If a college really cared about its students—both real and potential—it would publish data on how students of varying cognitive abilities would likely fare on its campus and in the real world (i.e., post college). To show what I mean, here’s a hypothetical. Imagine that a college provided the following data on its students.
|SAT Score||Percent Who Graduate in Four Years||Percent Who Graduate with a STEM Degree||Mean Income at Age 25||Mean Income at Age 25 as a Percentage of Mean Income of All Non-College Graduates at Age 25||Mean Student Loan Debt as a Percentage of Mean Income at Age 25|
|900 - 999||15%||3%||$26,000||104%||115%|
|1000 - 1099||25%||11%||$31,000||124%||97%|
|1100 - 1199||33%||17%||$44,000||176%||68%|
|1200 - 1299||55%||31%||$59,000||236%||51%|
Wouldn’t potential students, and even existing students, find this information helpful? Wouldn’t it help them be better consumers of higher education? Of course it would. So why doesn’t any college in the country provide this information? Why doesn’t any college even try to provide this information?
The sad truth is that college is no longer a noble institution. It’s a business. And it has no ethical qualms about taking money from unqualified students and spitting them out into the real world with useless degrees and mountains of non-dischargeable debt.
So how does one protect oneself from the ravenous maw of the college-industrial complex?
Simple. Potential students and parents of potential students have to be brutally honest with themselves. College is a cognitive endeavor. And only those with excellent cognitive abilities and excellent study habits are likely to benefit from it.
So here’s the Groovy Guide to Knowing if You’re College Material.
If your SAT or ACT score is in the 80th percentile or higher, you’re college material. A four-year college education should prove very beneficial. But don’t waste your money and time on a candy-ass degree. Major in something hard. And be very wary of student loans. The main beneficiary of a college education should be you—not administrators, professors, and bankers.
If your SAT or ACT score is below the 80th percentile, you’re not college material. You can give a four-year college a try, but the odds are you won’t end up with a bachelor’s degree. And if you do manage to get a bachelor’s degree, it will likely be in a major that commands little respect in the labor market. For a better return on your money and time, go to a trade school or a community college. And don’t discount the idea of foregoing post-secondary education altogether. You can just get a job or start a business and work your ass off. Millions of Americans have gone this route and done pretty well for themselves.
Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. What say you? Do colleges lie? Do they take advantage of people who really aren’t college material? Or am I just a jerk who couldn’t be more wrong about college? Let me know what you think when you get a chance. Peace.