Why More are Saying “No!” to College and “Yes!” to Now Careers


I thought my brand new B.S in Engineering was going to be worth something. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was three decades ago. I remember the dryness on my tongue as I sat there, mouth open in astonishment, listening to the salary they wanted to offer me.

I was on the interview circuit- off to start my career after four long years of college. I had just graduated from Arizona State University with an Aerospace Engineering Degree, I had earned all the flight certificates possible, I was one of the youngest Certified Flight Instructors in the country at the time, and I figured I was going to be getting an awesome job, making some awesome bucks.

Throughout my 4 years in Tempe I worked nights as a waiter, always at the best places in town, so my tip income was good. I probably took home $300/weekend in tips. For a part-time waiter who really was a full-time student, that was decent income! Combined with the free lobster tails and wine every night, I had a pretty good living as a starving student.

I didn’t know just HOW good I had until I graduated, and started interviewing.

I was thrilled when Lear Jet in Wichita told me they wanted me to work for them. The job had sounded awesome–I’d be flying Lear Jets for a living, I’d be with a super brand in aviation, and I thought I could figure out a way to make boring-Wichita fun. It all sounded wonderful, until they mentioned the starting salary.

“Whaaaaat?” I said fighting desperately for saliva. “I make that in a week waiting tables at the Windjammer in Tempe! You’re saying that would be my MONTHLY salary?”

“Yes,” the President of Lear Jet responded, “you’ll find that’s what recent graduates with a B.S. in Engineering get as a starting salary.”

“But I can make more money than that waiting tables part time!” I said in exasperation. “And you don’t need a college degree to be a waiter!”

“Well” he said, “after you’ve paid your dues, in a few years, you’ll start seeing some increases.”

Pay my dues? Hadn’t I already “paid my dues” for four years? So I declined the job offer, and went into real estate instead, leaving my B.S. in Engineering as a diploma only, a framed memory of what might have been the worst investment in my life.

What I discovered first hand thirty years ago, is even more true today. The University model is broken. The investment is way too high for such a low pay out. If you doubt that, ask any parent.

The cost to send just one child to a typical state University is more than the cost of buying a new car each year. If we then expanded the category to that of private Universities, it’s like buying a new condo each year. Seriously, to send just one child to a decent University for 4 ½ years (yes, the time keeps increasing along with the costs) the average family will have to come up with over $125,000*. If you happen to have 4 kids you’ll need a half a million dollars, not counting things the little things like food and clothing.

Over three years ago, Forbes was one of the first to suggest that the University promise was a myth, when they published their famous “5 Reasons to Skip College”, summarized here:
1. You’ll be losing four working years in college, accumulating debt;
2. You won’t necessarily make more money after you graduate;
3. You could make more money skipping college;
4. You can learn in other ways, outside the classroom;
5. Plenty of other people did fine without college.

Today it’s even worse. It’s not like there are jobs just waiting for all these college graduates in 2009. States are laying off administrators, teachers, and city planners in record numbers, while at latest count, America’s leading corporations have let over 1 million employees go. Our country has way too many lawyers per capita, (according to their own associations), way too many people with “Political Science” degrees, and way too many Vetrinarians. In today’s new socialized medicine environment, a career in medicine no longer pays, (unless you come from India), and the majority of “want ads” in the health industry are for low-level nurses willing to move and work the night shift.

Many graduates today are faced with three horrifying choices after investing over $100,000 in their future. They can:
1. Go work at a restaurant or retail store;
2. Take a professional job in their chosen field for minimum wage, in a place like Wichita;
3. Go to graduate school. (And keep spending money.)

It’s no wonder many high-school graduates today are saying “No way!” to the University Myth, and shouting “Yes!” to the immediacy of a high-paying career without the need for college.

In short, let me conclude with a question. What do the following people have in common?

• Michael Dell
• Henry Ford
• Rachel Ray
• John D. Rockefeller Sr.
• Bill Gates

You guessed it – no college!

There are many options for today’s High School graduates who want to start a career now, many of which produce significant first-year income. In Part II of this series I’ll present some of those in detail.


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About The Author: Geoffrey Thompson is an owner and founding partner of Express Schools, LLC. Since 1996 the companies under this banner have offered online real estate licensing and insurance licensing courses as well as online real estate exam prep and insurance exam prep.

*According to a recent article by “Inside Higher Ed” the average cost for a University degree in Florida was $170,831 for “multidisciplinary studies” and $259,781 for an M.D. Complete Report here (pdf):

Here’s a cool little widget that will tell you how much College costs in your state:

Here’s an article entitled: “The Four Year College Myth” by the Boston Globe:

Comments / Questions

  1. Tali says:

    I am in suprising agreement with this post. I loved college and if I could I would be back in a heartbeat. But, the perpetuated myth that once you get a bachelors degree you are guaranteed a job is entirely false, especially in your field of study. Just getting an entry level position at an office that had nothing to do with my Major took about a year. That was in 2005 and I am sure that the job market is even worse now for newly graduated students. I am looking forward to the solutions that will be provided in the next blog.

  2. Ha, Great article in the Boston Globe.
    I have to admit it took me a slight bit after 4 years to graduate (I had to take a couple of classes to finish up).
    Hey at least I moved away from home and got my own apartment, and paid for the classes myself 🙂

  3. Well put…most of us loved the college experience and buoyed by the promise of job opportunities upon graduation, we invested what it took to complete the four years (or more.) It was only after we actually entered the job market with our new shiny degree did we find out that the University system was a propoganda machine, that the so called “placement office” was a sham, and that our vaunted, flaunted Bachelor’s degrees were nothing more than single lines on resumes. I tell most young people today not to rule out college immediately, but to look at all the options with eyes wide open. In many cases, the cost and time do not justify the payback.

  4. Chris says:

    Well, I agree and disagree. Say yes to a job choice and see if it works for you without a college degree. If your path starts getting cluttered with obstacles or you find another path that is available through the education and training you can only get in a college classroom, then there’s your answer. College should not be an automatic response to what one does when done with high school–it should be a conscious choice for specific reasons. Not all 18-year-olds are capable (nor should we necessarily expect them to be) of seeing

    I don’t hire anyone without a college degree, preferably a master’s degree. Along with job experience, a degree proves to me that you have done work that requires critical thinking and development of ideas and concepts.

    If you are going out into the world to sell something (and face it, at the end of the day, you’re selling your time to someone) you may get away without a college degree, but this should be as much a conscious choice as choosing to enter college.

    BTW, of the list of successful non-college graduates, it’s not as if Bill Gates and Michael Dell did not go to college–they did. They just got a little sidetracked 😉

  5. You make some very valid points, Chris. I could also add that although my B.S. degree didn’t open any vocational doors for me, the learning experience of undergraduate studies DID in fact teach me a lot. And like you have pointed out, at least in the USA, for many professional career-paths a minimum prerequisite is a Bachelor’s degree. I didn’t really find value in the University system until I was in my mid-thirties, and re-entered the arena to pursue a Master’s Degree. That 2-year night-school course of study probably WAS a good investment, because I found that the M.A. really did open a lot more doors of opportunity. Thanks for your fair and balanced comments!

  6. Kathy Simon says:

    I didn’t go to college, but I worked at a university for 30 years. I’ve seen graduates become successful in their field and others who couldn’t quite cut it, for not everyone graduates at the top of their class. I’ve known people who were hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because they thought they had to go to the most prestigious school to become successful, and I’ve known others who went to small colleges and did well. I think a lot depends on who you know, confidence in your field, the economy, job situation, personal drive and most of all, how you apply yourself. I’ve had my real estate license for almost 30 years also. I know a lot of money can be made in this field too, depending, of course, on the same things listed above.

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