Let’s do a thought experiment for a second. Imagine what the country would look like if 60+ percent of high school graduates had the opportunity upon graduation, instead of going to college, to start a business. They would each get 4 years of guaranteed food and shelter, $20,000 in seed money, up to $18,000 in federally backed interest-deferred loans, and no expectation of any revenue until the 5th year. Would anybody turn down such an opportunity?
As it turns out, the United States of America would turn down such an opportunity to fuel our creativity and entrepreneurial spirit. This is something that we, as a nation could afford to do. I know we could afford it, because that’s exactly what we spend to send our workforce to college.
That is the opportunity cost (to the country) of a college education. According to CNN, the average cost of attendance at 4-year public colleges is over $5000 per year (x4=$20000), and USA Today reports (based on census data) that 63% of our high school students attend college after graduation.
Students are also eligible get up to $18500 in student loans over the course of a four-year education – $3500 for the first year followed by $5000 for each of the subsequent 3 years. They (we) aren’t expected to pay back the loans – or to generate any kind of return on their education at all – until after they graduate.
To add fuel to the fire, we have this bizarre notion that anybody with a college education is more qualified to do anything than anybody without one. I just don’t believe that 63% of the jobs that are being done in this country actually benefit from a college education.
And yet the numbers speak for themselves – is this really how we as a nation have chosen to invest in our future?
[Update: I suppose I ought to clarify that I’m not anti-education. Education is a great thing, and absolutely necessary in certain professions. I do think, though, that there are a great many of the jobs that are being done by college graduates that don’t benefit much or at all from an extra four years of classroom education.
I think that in many cases, our society uses success in college as a way to identify people who are hardworking, diligent, self-motivated individuals rather than a way to actually teach people necessary skills. The problem, then, is that sending people to college is a woefully inefficient and only marginally effective way of assessing their personality traits.]
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