College at Any Price

This is an important chart, and one worth sharing. Why? Because it’s utterly irrelevant, inherently stupid, deliberately flawed, and completely predictable. Indeed, the ubiquity of this chart, and the nonsense therein, is precisely why the cost of a four-year degree in America has risen faster than the cost of food, real-estate, energy, and healthcare.

In short, this chart and the attached article is another advertisement for “college at any price,” and sadly, it’s effective. Propaganda like this is very good at reinforcing the pernicious idea that a college degree is the proximate cause of a healthy paycheck, and a mandatory purchase for anyone who is serious about their career. The author, Emily Peck, is very concerned that Americans are beginning “to fall out of love with a four-degree.” She wants us to know that people with four-year degrees are more likely to earn more money than people with just a high school degree. But of course, that’s like saying people who work out at an expensive health club are more likely to be physically fit than those who stop exercising when they leave high school. Obviously, there are many ways to stay fit and healthy that are a hell of a lot cheaper than joining an expensive health club. Just as there are many ways to attain useful knowledge, that don’t require the purchase of a four-year degree.

The other obvious problem with Ms. Peck’s analysis, is that she only compares college graduates with four-year degrees, to a single cohort – high school graduates with no additional training. She doesn’t mention skilled workers who graduated from trade schools or apprentice programs, and often go on to out-earn many people with advanced degrees. Nor does she mention small business owners who took myriad home study courses, or successful entrepreneurs who enrolled in community colleges or took any number of courses and seminars that prepared them to earn a handsome living. She simply ignores all other forms of learning. She also makes no mention of the $1.7 trillion dollars of outstanding student loans, or the weekly scandals that continue to humiliate the university system, or the fact that 41% of those who enroll in four-year universities drop out before they graduate, or the fact that the overwhelming majority of college graduates don’t find work in their chosen field, or the fact that the average GPA at Harvard in 1955 was 2.5, but has since risen to 3.8. (Credential inflation, anyone?) All she does in this article, is compare the median earnings of people with four-year degrees, with the median earnings of people who did nothing to advance their education after high school. She then leaps to the conclusion that there’s a terrible “wage gap,” that can only be solved if everyone gets a four-year degree.

Not to belabor the point, but let’s again compare the importance of being healthy and fit, with the importance of being educated. I think we can all agree that education and physical fitness are both vitally important to living a productive life. But how ridiculous would it be if society elevated health clubs the same way that we’ve elevated universities that offer four-year degrees? How ridiculous would it be if Ms. Peck published a chart that “proves” members who join expensive health clubs are healthier than people who don’t exercise at all, and then concluded that the best way for the most people to stay fit and healthy, is to borrow whatever amount of money it takes to join the most expensive club in town? How unconscionable would it then be, to pressure high school graduates to pay thousands of dollars a month to work out at the most expensive gym in town, when we all know that anyone who wants to get healthy and fit can do so without going into debt?
This is the reason I’ve avoided politics. Like Ms. Peck, our elected officials like to paint with a very broad brush. They say things like, “everyone should go to college,” or “all unions are good,” or “all student loans should be forgiven,” or “all jobs should pay at least $20 an hour,” and so forth. They don’t talk to individuals; they talk to groups. And the moment they start talking to groups, they wind up pointing to articles like this and promising “to close the wage gap, and get every single kid on the college track, no matter what the cost!” Is it any wonder universities keep raising their tuition? Is it any wonder kids keep going further into debt? Is it any wonder we have nearly 10 million open positions, most of which DON’T require a four-year degree?
At mikeroweWORKS, we don’t care about the wage gap between various groups, because we don’t care about groups. We care about individuals. And right now, we’re offering another million dollars in work ethic scholarships to those individuals who want to learn a skill that’s in demand. Specifically, a skill that doesn’t require a four-year degree. From welding to cosmetology, healthcare to the construction trades, we’ve so far assisted nearly 2,000 individuals with over $8 million dollars in scholarships. You can apply for one right now, at You can also donate, if you share my suspicion that the best path for the most people, has to be the most expensive. – Show this chart to anyone who tells you college isn’t worth it