I am here to tell you something that has been lingering through my mind now for some time. That is college, the standard form of US formal education to be exact. I think it’s dying. Now I know what you are saying, “what do you mean college is dead? what is this guy talking about, what are his credentials, how is the frugal nerd Joey Graziano qualified to make this statement on higher education blah, blah”.
Please hear me out. Do understand that this is one man’s observation and this post does have facts and frugal resources. I am not trying to start a Fight Club style Cult of unconventional higher-ed learners that bruise each other daily and then transform the movement into a political revolution. I could never do that, I bruise like a peach.
Exactly how is college dead?
I have seen many reports that state most college graduates that aren’t able to find work in their area of study. Moreover, I remember learning computer programming in school, the programming languages and techniques that the university was teaching was not bleeding edge soft skills but yet old practices and outdated methods. After polling a few of my peers in the same field, I believe my experience is indicative of a larger problem. Most colleges aren’t keeping up with technology. I am sure that there are exceptions, but after reading a post from Fortune magazine stating that college enrollment is down for the 5th year in a row. I started to ponder of reasons why this is happening. My conclusions are, perhaps people are diversifying and learning trade based careers as well as using online learning alternatives. I could be wrong but below is my rationale.
High-income Trade based jobs
As referenced here, there is a blog by an author called Mr. Money Mustache (MMM). And he references plenty of credible Blue Collar jobs that pay $50,000 per year. These jobs don’t require a high-brow college education and most of which give you on-the-job training. The timing of me writing this post is impeccable, because just this weekend, I am writing my brother a check for $2,500 to do highly skilled HVAC work on my investment property. My brother is doing this work as a side-gig in addition to his normal 9-5 weekday job being an HVAC Technician. My brother estimates that this will be 10 hours of labor and $2000 of this cost will be materials. If you subtract the cost of materials from the total price, you are left with $500. Now, divide that amount into the ten hours of labor (500 /10) my brother is making $50 per hour and has no formal college education! If you do the math, that equates to an annual salary of $104,000 working 40 hours per week:
$50 * 8 hours a day = $400.
$400 * 52 = 104,000 (Gross).
What!?!? How is this possible? My brother is making more money on his freelance job than most of my friends who went heavily into debt and obtained a four-year degree or more. OK, let’s be objective, maybe my brother is charging me too much. Well, he is saving me from having to replace my entire furnace and all the duct work since my furnace is covered in mold. In my local market, replacing the furnace and all the duct-work would cost me $10,000. And there are no other HVAC technicians in my area that are willing to rehabilitate my existing furnace. So my brother is simply capitalizing on a market demand at the moment. Good for him! As of right now, he has a monopoly on this work and I am considering switching occupations so I can cash in on this newly discovered market demand.
Here’s another example, I need hardwood floor installed in my new house. I found a local guy who has a great reputation and he is willing to do this work for $1.50 per square foot. I have a 1500 square foot home and I am redoing the entire floor. If I go with this new contractor, he estimates that the work will take 25 hours to complete. If you add the cost of labor, $1.50 x 1500 (size of the home) The total price of labor will cost me $2,250. Now, divide $1500 by the 25 hours of work and you’ll get $90 per hour. Again, this is another individual that has no “formal” college education and in my situation, he is making $90 per hour and gets to be his own boss, plus work when he wants to (so long as deadlines are met). I don’t have that flexibility.
Online learning based jobs
In addition to colleges offering online programs, the job market is now becoming a specialized economy meaning that most of the jobs are switching from labor jobs into specialized skilled work. For instance, do a quick search on careerbuilder.com for agricultural related jobs vs software engineers. You will find thousands of jobs related to IT and Software engineering and I bet you would be hard pressed to find many open positions related to picking cotton or plowing fields.
How do we prepare for this revolution in higher education?
As of now, there are many online learning based solutions that I have personally used to brush up on my skills and challenge myself for new endeavors. My list below is not comprehensive but is highly informative nonetheless. Check them out.
- khanacademy.org There are so many great things to learn here. But their Computer courses are fantastic and competency in these courses could easily help someone land a good paying IT job or even prove their worth for a raise. This site is 100% free.
- lynda.com is another great IT/business focused site with high-quality videos, downloadable content, and transcripts. This site has a fee but very affordable and you are not locked into any contracts. You can cancel at any time.
- itpro.tv is similar to lynda.com where this is primary IT focused courses professionally narrated with code snippets available and access to on-demand content. A free membership lets you watch live videos. This luxury gives you a free way to see if you like the style of the videos.
- Lastly, don’t forget about Youtube.com. There are so many great free resources here. If you are looking to learn a new skill or hobby do a keyword search and see what is available. I would use Youtube as a sample to get a taste in a particular area. I do believe there is professional content on here, but if you are going to invest some serious time into learning a new skill, I would like to know with absolute certainty that the teacher is qualified. Use your judgment here.
Most of these resources, are mobile friendly and offer offline usage. If you are learning a particular skill like woodworking or computer programming, I highly recommend that you connect with a Facebook Group to ensure you have the proper support system.
I think that standard universities will be around for a while but I think their old strategies are dying. And I would be so bold to say that if the old universities don’t adopt the newer forms of alternative education they will in fact die. For example, I was able to graduate college at WGU with an online based four-year fully accredited degree for less than 10k.
The internet is here like a force that is not going away. This is the age of information and the stat about college enrollment listed in the beginning of this post indicates that something wild is happening in higher education. As a fan of frugality, I think that this change is for the better as I am seeing prices drop and accessibility increase in the realm of education. If you have been impacted by this revolution, please share with me in the comments. I would like to know more about this topic for future posts. Thanks for reading!
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