College: Don’t Waste Your Money

In writing this article, I expect I will get more than one angry note from a parent trying to convince their kid that college is an important, nay necessary, goal to pursue. Because of that reality, I will caveat this article by saying that I have a college savings plan for my daughters. That said, they will be given the option to go to college, but they also will be encouraged to consider entrepreneurship.

On of the biggest reasons I don't support all kids going to college, is the debt associated with college education.   In fact close to 70% of students that graduate from college will leave college with debt.   Many parents wanting their kids to go to college underestimate the costs and overestimate the benefits, due to the fact that many graduates do not work in their field and only about 60% of students graduate in 6 years.  In fact, a survey by Consumer Reports found that 45% of college borrowers said that their college experience was not worth the cost.

For those wanting a college education, fortunately alternatives to cripling debt are starting to emerge.   Starbucks offers employees who work 20 hours per week the ability to get a free online education from Arizona State University.  Employees of Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat and Jeep dealerships and their families can received free education from Strayer University.  The state of Tennessee offers both free technical education and community college for high school graduates.

I won’t deny there is plenty of data to support a return on investment for a college education. However, there is also data that The Millionaire Next Door is more likely to own a small business than be a doctor, lawyer or college professor.

Can you be both a college graduate AND a small business owner down the street? Of course. Personally however, I would like to see a larger investment in vocational education that prepares students, not for studies in the standard liberal arts education, but for industrial trades such as plumbing, electrical, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning).

When I look at where I want to invest my own time and wisdom into younger professionals, I personally would like to be involved in programs that target trade education in order to run a business. While it doesn't have the same 'flash' as being a technology start-up, I expect I am not the only one that would be excited about the availability of one more reliable roofer, plumber or electrician in my neighborhood.

As a society, we need to find ways to help youth discover something about which they can be passionate.  Recently, I found inspiration when I was listening to the EntreLeadership Podcast where the host interviewed Britnie Turner. Turner is a 27-year-old founder and CEO of Aerial Development Group, a multimillion-dollar urban revitalization real estate company that donates a percentage of its profits to improve lives locally and globally. Britnie cares about orphans and this drives her to be successful in her business.  College was not part of her path to success.

In my own personal life, I have enjoyed watching my sister work hard to achieve her dream of running a salsa dance studio. She pursued her dream with a remarkable work ethic and dedication that impresses me daily. To fulfil her dream, she now serves adults in the Charlotte, NC area by making accessible Latin dance to have fun and make new friends. In fact, if you are in Charlotte and looking to have some fun, check out Charlotte Latin Dance.  (The picture for this article is her logo.)

I am a fan of Mike Rowe, the guy make famous by the show Dirty Jobs.  He is not against college, he is just against debt.  He counters the notions the working smart (college) is better than working hard (trades).  Mike is fond of saying that if you want to build something of your life, learn to weld and move to Minnesota. You can basically write your own ticket to prosperity. Mike says the problem is that because we as a society have such a negative view of blue collar work, people would rather shun a fulfilling life and six figure income in order to pursue a college degree in the humanities and ring up a $200,000 debt while learning basically nothing that can recompense that debt.

Looking ahead (and here is my pitch to you), one of my dreams is to invest in a worthy startup trade business, such as plumbing or HVAC. Along with start-up capital, I intend to offer mentoring to the business's owner(s) and to offer a future equity stake with an opportunity to own the company outright over time. I am looking for an individual that is driven to grow a successful business in the D.C area. This individual should be licensed or willing get a license. They should be of high character and have a strong work ethic, leadership potential, a strong desire to learn.

I am looking for individuals that have taken routes in life that are different from the standard college + MBA school path. If I met a younger me, I likely would have encouraged myself not have invested $30,000 in an MBA. Instead, I would have taken my younger self to the book store to purchase a copy of the book, Scaling Up, by Verne Varnish. I learned more from this book (including 5 other books he recommends) about running a company than I did from my entire MBA coursework.

Do you know somebody that is competent, works hard, and has opted to spurn the traditional college + MBA route in order to follow their dream?

Let's talk.