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The Third Myth Of College

By Professor Doom

In times past, it was true that to get into college and pursue formal higher learning, you needed good grades. It was also true that you needed to work hard to stay in college. Those are now merely myths, and certainly not true today. Administrations in higher education have changed policies, so that literally anyone can go to college, and stay there for years…provided they’re willing to take on debt through student loans. Two truths turned into two myths via changes in policy, but there’s more.

 While these became myths through changes in policy, the next myth probably never had meaningful truth to it, and is a myth today through a change in the economy.
 Myth #3:  “College degree earners earn a million more dollars over a lifetime.”
 “You pay your fee and get your B.”
 --description of less than reputable schools in my area
      This myth was posted on the walls at my college and, I suspect, is posted at many institutions. Money is a powerful motivator, for learning or anything else, so the intentions are good by posting it…but this is a deceptive myth. There’s nothing wrong with viewing a college degree as a financial investment, any more than viewing a college education as a source of personal growth. Unfortunately, institutions are not above using the myth of making so much more money with a degree to justify the ever increasing cost of tuition, and, in turn, the likewise increasing loans taken on by students.

      This myth is far more damaging than the others, and people honestly believe that because they’ll be ultimately making more money, it’s worthwhile to take out loans. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even quotes this myth in a speech on college affordability (implicitly justifying the cost of college), so it must be true, right?  There’s a grain of truth to this insidious myth, but only a grain. If you subtract “super-earners” from the college graduates (the upper 1% of the top 1% of college degree holders), the rare souls that earn a great many millions or even billions, the actual average would drop substantially, but the true deception is the “over a lifetime” part of it. Allow me to write something that terrifies my students, and many administrators: let’s do some math!

       The average annual income for a janitor is $25,000, and there aren’t any “super earner” janitors. Consider the six years it takes an “above average” student to get a degree. If, instead of going to college, an 18 year old coming out of high school worked for six years as a janitor ($150,000), took that money and invested it for forty years, at 4%, compounded annually, he’d have over $720,000, more than what an average college graduate would make, not counting the super-earners. (As an aside, most incoming students, even with a calculator and the formula directly in front of them, cannot perform this calculation.) If this janitor could get 5% annually, he’d have over a million dollars and still not be 65 years old, better off than a college graduate, according to the myth, and with another decade or so of life still to live!

       So, in terms of money-making, the average 18 year old will generally do better as a janitor than he will as a college graduate. And yet going to college is presented as economically a good idea for everyone.

      Think about that: many a college graduate would be better off financially if he had just scrubbed toilets instead, and that’s not even factoring in the student loan, or accounting for those that don’t graduate. Granted, in the 2013 economy making a secure 5% a year is not a given—but with over half of college graduates unable to find a relevant job in the current economy, scrubbing toilets is still a better deal than being un- or under-employed with a vast student loan to pay off. If children were told a more honest myth, that “People that go to college generally don’t do as well financially as janitors,” would so many be willing to sacrifice years of their life and enter eternal debt slavery to go to college?

      Particular jobs (engineering, for example) do require a college degree, and those jobs tend to be higher paying. If you’re specifically going to college for the specific degree for exactly one of these jobs, and you can get that degree, and that job, then college and a loan does make financial sense. But to extend the favorable risk/reward calculation for these particular jobs to all degrees, even those in such wildly unprofitable fields as Ethnomusicology (yes, that’s an actual college degree, with courses like “Queer Musicology” that focus on the musical preferences of homosexuals), is fraud.

      Even if this myth was true in the past, the data shows unarguably that it’s not true today, and won’t be true for future college graduates in the vast majority of fields taught at the local university or college.

      To repeat the myth of how much money there is to be made just because of having a degree, any degree, is to repeat a lie. For institutions to rationalize raising all tuition for all coursework on the basis of higher salaries for a few jobs based on a tiny minority of that coursework is unethical at the very least, and just pulls in suckers with bad grades and no work ethic, believing that as long as they grab some degree out of the institution, they’ll be fine.

      Those in control of education know the million dollar myth is a lie, but nonetheless repeat the lie, put up posters claiming the lie, and use this known lie to justify raising prices on “education.” Why should you trust your children or your future to a system controlled by people that lie knowingly and relentlessly?

 Think about it. 





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