Every middle school in America emphasizes “college for everyone”.
There are very few middle schools without college banners, college themed days, college information nights, or other “college propaganda” littering the hallways and classrooms.
At my school, we even have a “Where Did You Go To College?” board displaying the alma maters of the teachers.
Students often stop by to take a look at the prestigious and impressive institutions our staff has attended.
Many teachers get into the mix in their respective classrooms as well.
I am no different.
When I first began my teaching career in the Fall of 2004, I was a “college is great” blowhard, dispelling the virtues of the importance of a college degree to every kid who crossed my path.
With 12 years in the classroom, and 3 years as a business owner under my belt, it’s shockingly obvious:
There is nothing inherently wrong with college.
But college isn’t a requirement for success.
And in many cases, it could be what’s holding you back from reaching your full potential.
The Problems With College
Problem #1 ==> “Inside The Box Thinking”
Perhaps the most glaring issue with college is continuation of the educational system which has been arbitrarily placed on us since birth.
What used to be a means by which to learn the necessary life skills for job performance has become a massive conglomerate to teach compliance and passivity.
From the minute a child enters the classroom, they are told to “sit down, shut up, and work hard”.
They eventually move on to middle school, where someone (like me) tells them to “sit down, shut up, and work hard”.
In high school, they are told to “sit down, shut up, and work hard” so they can gain admittance into a great college.
When they walk onto campus for the first time, they are told by EVERYONE to “sit down, shut up, and work hard” so they can get an entry level job upon graduation.
Guess what happens when they (maybe) land that gig?
Yup. “Sit down, shut up, and work hard” to get a mediocre raise, which likely isn’t even a cost of living increase.
If the purpose of a job is to earn money, and the purpose of money is to purchase back your time and your freedom, there are better ways to increasing your earnings than being a corporate slave.
But with the “college mindset”, outside the box thinking is rarely utilized. Your professors may claim “outside the box thinking”, but if they really thought this way, would they be at a university, or running their own company?
After completion of college, I never even dreamed I would one day own an online fitness business which would be running laps around my teacher’s salary.
I didn’t even know it was possible.
College sure as hell didn’t tell me this.
Problem #2 ==> Excessive Debt
When I was 15, my Dad asked me the infamous question every teenager dreads:
What are you going to do after high school?
He informed me I didn’t have to go to college. But if I didn’t, I would start paying rent after high school graduation.
College it was.
I had 3 options, according to him.
- Get an athletic scholarship.
- Get an academic scholarship.
- Apply for loans.
Through a combination of #1, and #3, I had roughly half of my college expenses paid for while attending school.
I also went to an inexpensive college (Eastern Michigan) which gave Ohio residents in-state tuition (score!).
I still graduated with $25,000 in student loan debt.
My wife graduated from the University of Michigan with $80,000 in student loan debt.
I know many people who are graduating from universities, going directly into graduate programs, and graduating with well into the 6-figures of debt.
All for a job with a starting salary of $40,000.
This madness must stop.
We need to start paying our way through college, choosing colleges based on finances instead of their football teams, or looking for other ways to accumulate life skills.
My wife and I made decent salaries starting out – my wife more so than me. She’s a computer engineer, and I’m a teacher.
Even with the solid combined income, a modest suburban house, and frugal lifestyle, we were both only able to make minimum payments on our student loans.
We have two children, and lots of bills. We really didn’t have tons of extra money to pay the debt down.
Luckily, my side business boomed and we’ve been able to toss nearly all of the extra revenue at the student loans, and we’re now paid up.
It took us 12 years to get rid of that debt.
It takes many people 30 years or more.
College provided me with a salary, which was all but eaten up by “life” – mortgages, car notes, student loans, and daycare bills.
It was only when I started utilizing skills I learned outside of college that our family’s financial outlook began to change for the better.
Problem #3 ==> Drinking
I feel so old saying this.
I watched a documentary recently on Ohio University and the drinking problem many of its students have.
As I watched the documentary, it was glaringly obvious: The documentary was pretty much about me from 1999-2004 as I completed my graduate studies.
We got over our hangovers from the previous week on Sunday. By Tuesday, we were back at the bar with trivia or karaoke. Thursday and Friday nights were bar nights. Saturday night was reserved for house parties or frat parties.
This replayed itself about pretty much every weekend for 5 straight years.
By the time my senior year rolled around, the instances of “drunken stupor” were thinned out a bit, although they still happened.
My freshman year? As an 18 year old fresh out of a Catholic high school?
It wasn’t pretty.
Binge drinking is the norm in a college campus. It’s a strange period of time where if you don’t binge drink, you’re seen as strange.
Alcoholism is 100% normal during this stage in your life.
Drink like that in high school, and you’ll be sent to a counselor. Drink like that post-college, and your friends will have an intervention.
But drink like that IN COLLEGE? And you’re just another college kid, doing what college kids do.
It’s a remarkable that I am still alive.
When intoxicated, it’s easy to make dumb decisions. We’ve all done it before.
With the blending of alcohol and schooling on college campuses not likely to cease, it may be time to look at alternatives to on campus housing.
Problem #4 ==> Entitlement Mentality
People often have to learn life lessons the hard way.
I am no excpetion.
When I was in college, ironically, I changed my major from business to education halfway through my freshman year.
I decided I didn’t want to work for “the man”, and I wanted to teach others.
In a bit of twisted fate, I ended up working for the public educational system, which is more “the man” than any corporation on earth. (More on that at a later date.)
Michigan used to have excellent salaries and benefits for teachers. When I was in college, a teacher on year 10 would be earning $80,000 with zero health care cost and premium coverage.
Combine that financial package with the excellent teacher pensions, and it was a deal that couldn’t be beaten.
A lot has changed since then.
The laws all changed.
I’m in year 12, and that $80,000 is right around $50,000.
Insurance sucks and we pay 20% of the costs.
We pay 7% of our salaries into our pensions.
Our pay scale has been frozen without increases numerous times.
And here is where I get controversial.
I don’t disagree with these changes. They are for the better good of our state’s finances.
This may make some of my fellow teachers upset with me, and I’m fine with that.
It became crystal clear to me a few years into my teaching career that the “gravy train” was almost over. The Democratic Governor and State Congress were swept out of office by the right winged contingent, and the hits started coming.
Decreased spending per pupil, mandatory insurance costs, increased pension contributions, etc.
I spent about two years worrying about my future, yelling and screaming for more respect (and money), and crying that I was worth more than I was making.
After wasting an enormous amount of time, energy, and heartache making lots of “noise”, I took a different approach.
I decided to try to earn money on my own, and opened my own business.
Opening my own business has helped to erase the mindset that education, specifically college, had instilled in me.
For years, we are told that if we “sit down, shut up, and work hard”, all will be great.
And this is often a blatant lie. It won’t always be great.
You aren’t entitled to anything.
A college degree means you have a piece of paper that may get you an interview somewhere.
That’s about it.
It will be up to you to take it from there.