What Does a College Degree Get You?

by George N Romey

Mr Romey is right. A college degree is a bad move for most people these days and a VERY bad move if you have to go into debt to get it. Even if you have a kindly father who pays your fees it is not necessarily a good move.  It means that you are out of the workforce for four years when you could have been earning money.

The obvious alternative is taking a trade apprenticeship. Plumbers and electricians are an aristocracy of labour and are usually among the high earners. But what say you are either clumsy or a bit of a snob so don't want a trade?  What then?

There is a way forward but you have to be interested in SOMETHING.  You go online and talk to people who do that thing  until you know a heap about it.  There are even MOOCs (online courses) that tell you university level stuff about various subjects.  Maybe take one of them.  You then apply for jobs in that field.  If you show that you really know your stuff without having studied it formally that will really impress a lot of employers.  Employers value keen-ness much more than a bit of paper.

And if you are looking at government employment, cover yourself by investing in a diploma mill degree.  Bureaucrats don't give a damn so will probably give it a quick glance and tick the relevant box that says you are qualified.  They mightn't even want to see it at all.

But whatever you do, you must learn frugality if you want to have an easy life ahead of you.  You have porridge for breakfast instead of bacon & eggs, for instance.  I myself lived on tiny amounts of money when I was young and always had savings.  Now that I am well established I can have whatever I want.  And if you think you can get rich by spending a significant slice of your income on beer and cigarettes (to say nothing of drugs) you haven't got a clue.

So the options for the average person today are actually more limited than they once were. In my day, kids worked their way through college (I did), hopefully with a bit of support from scholarships, bursaries etc.  Nowadays, though, fees have become so expensive that kids from most families can't make that work -- unless Dad can chip in too.

So why is that?  Why have options become worse?  It is because of credentialism.  The formal requirements for most jobs have been jacked up beyong all reason.  To become a teacher in the old days, for instance, you just did a one-year apprenticeship and then taught stuff you were good at.  Now you have to have a 4 year degree.  So there is now a HUGE DEMAND for college courses.  And what happens when demand rises?  Prices rise.  That relationship is as old as the hills.

But, as I say, you can circumvent the blockages just by knowing your stuff  -- maybe with the help of a diploma mill degree. Twice in my life I got jobs for which I had no formal qualifications.

My son spent 8 years in the university system studying mathematics but got nowhere.  He didn't have the stellar ability that you need to get far in that field.  So he did a one year course in computer programming and is now a high earner.  He does sometimes think of what might have been if he had gone  into IT straight out of high school.

In a recent presentation on Youtube by economists Richard D Wolff he discussed a new Amazon warehouse that opened in Northern Massachusetts with financing and tax breaks from the state and with great fanfare.  The warehouse mostly automated had openings for jobs paying from $12 an hour to $14.75 an hour.  All of the jobs were 30 hours or less a week (presumably to avoid providing healthcare.)

The jobs on the upper end were team leader jobs that required a college degree.  So the college graduate likely with thousands in student loan and credit card debt was looking at about $23K a year.  Needless to say this would likely prohibit independent living unless there was a spouse making at least that if not more.

Unfortunately the jobs at the Amazon warehouse are representational of most jobs today.  Let's say we have two college graduates either living together or married working at Amazon.  Out of their $46K a year they will pay FICA, state taxes and possibly a local tax.  They will have rent (in Northern MA it runs about $1K a month for a one bedroom apartment), utilities, at least one car payment, student loan and credit card debt incurred while going to school and healthcare insurance not provided by Amazon.  Add into the mix gas, food and other expenses and you quickly see two people that probably don't have $100 sitting in a savings account.  One incident away from financial disaster.

If you want to understand our economy here is a hypothetical example based on a real world job.  Mr. Bezos made of billions and collects companies like some people collect antiques.  What's he going to do for customers when the bulk of Americans are finally squeezed into his type of employment?  Will the robots at Amazon Prime sit rusting waiting for orders that are now longer coming?

When I graduated from college in 1981 I started in banking a princely sum of $11K a year, probably adjusted for inflation close to $23K a year now.  Of course I had fully paid medical, dental vision, pension, paid time off and short term disability which would cover a full paycheck for up to 60 days.  Within 3 years with the same employer I was up to $25K a year.  Do you think Mr. Bezo's $14.75 an hour employees will more than double their pay within three years?  Likely not.


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