Thinking about University? Think Again

College Lies and the Higher-Education Bubble

Student debt in the United States is approaching $1 trillion—$25,000 per graduate on average—but more people just keep on coming. The fall 2011 semester saw a record 20 million students in American higher education, all while a quarter of retail salespeople and more than 300,000 waiters and waitresses were out working while possessing college degrees.

If that sounds confusing—people taking on debt and forgoing years of their lives so they can wait tables or be unemployed—that’s because it is. This devotion to the cult of university has perplexed me for years now. While I was on an athletic scholarship at Boston University, others were forking out well over $USD 40,000 each year, not to mention all the add-ons like text books; I could hardly believe it. I used to imagine what people could do with that money—travel the world, for starters. They could also receive a comparable education in other parts of the world at a fraction of the price.

Arvin Vohra

More recently, though, I’ve read Lies, Damned Lies, and College Admissions by Arvin Vohra, and in this book he lays waste to the state of conventional higher education in the United States. I dare any college administrator or instructor to read this book and hold onto the elitism that comes with these institutions.

An educational entrepreneur in Maryland, Vohra has also written The Equation for Excellence: How to Make Your Child Excel at Mathand I was pleased to have him on the latest episode of The Stateless Man to explain what he means when he refers to lies of higher education. We covered so much ground; do listen (41 minutes, MP3): [audio:|titles=Arvin Vohra]

One of the key points was that tuition at most universities, particularly in the United States, has become expensive well beyond financial prudence. When one can hire the instructors one-on-one for the same price as the group lectures, the value for money is beyond questionable.

Even with the expense, these institutions have tended to focus on selection of students, exclusivity, rather than their treatment or teaching ability. And Vohra notes numerous ways administrators fail to utilize new innovations while tricking students into forgoing more of their money.

He highly recommends alternatives, particularly starting a business or travel, and his book even has a chapter on “Higher Education without College.” This includes easy ways to get through a degree, should it be necessary, without much of the time and expense. For example, he hardly bought a text book during his college years, relying on study guides, while still achieving near perfect grades.

James Altucher

My next guest contributed to what may have been the most inspiring episode yet. Not only did I have a friend and fellow radio host with me, Yaël Ossowski, in the second hour I had the prolific blogger, author, and investor, James Altucher, of The Altucher Confidential. This man does not mince his words, and he says outright that he does not want his children going to college (18 minutes, MP3).

[audio:|titles=James Altucher]

“My chief problem is it just simply costs too much money and it wastes too much time.” I would add that it confines you to one place, unless you choose to study abroad, which would make it a relatively richer experience.

“What 18-year-old knows what they want to do with their life?” he says. Even in the case of becoming a medical doctor, he recommends getting some form of internship or position working in a hospital so that one can really assess whether it is worth the expense involved.

One of the most popular articles on his site is “8 Alternatives to College,” and recently Georgetown University sought to refute his criticisms. While that did little to quell Altucher’s concerns and those of his readers, it did indicate that his work is getting traction. He is not sure, though, what will happen to the bubble in higher education. He acknowledges that people are wasting money on higher education, similar to the housing bubble and others, but he would not make a prediction about when the mysticism surrounding higher education will diminish, particularly when there is so much government coercion in favor of it continuing.

“The tagline of your show is individual liberty. One by one, individuals make a society, and so each one of us has to come to terms with our individual liberty in order for society to change, and I don’t how fast that will happen in this case.”

One of his ideas that caught my attention was to write a book, rather than go to college, and he recommended CreateSpace.Com as an easy way to get started.

“You’ll learn how to observe people. Writing is a meditation on life. You’ll live each day, interpret it, write it. What a great education!”

Yaël Ossowski

If you enjoyed Yaël’s presence on the show, do check out his podcast, “Liberty In Exile.” You can hear his perspective on the military-industrial complex, the American Empire, the erosion of personal privacy, gender relations, Québec sovereignty, Canadian politics, euroscepticism, and much more.

Shane Hachey

My go-to man regarding all things Ivy League is Shane Hachey—a liberty-minded musician who lives in New Orleans. He spent five years in the army before graduating from Columbia University and then Harvard Law School. However, he ended up hating work in the legal profession and deserted.

In recent times he has had a range of work, but now he is in the band “Remedy Krewe.” When I got to know him in Louisiana, he expressed frustration with the financial challenges resulting from his college experience, and he had wisdom to share on the matter (21 minutes, MP3)

[audio:|titles=Shane Hachey]

He does believe he received an excellent education, particularly because he was eager to learn, but the cost was not justified.

“[Others] should emulate me [by pursuing elite universities], if they have parents who can afford to pay for most of it, or if they can get a free or mostly free ride. And if not, I think they’d be better off finding a trade and learning a job skill.”

Fergus Hodgson About Fergus Hodgson

Fergus Hodgson is an economic consultant, financial editor, athlete, and traveler. He holds degrees in economics, finance, and political science from the United States and New Zealand, and he has lived in eight countries. Follow @FergHodgson.


  1. Tim Doyle says:

    I could not agree more with you Fergus!

    Even in New Zealand, Universities have such a monopoly over the education system, that without a degree you will also be out of a “job”. Unless you are an entrepreneur and have the ability to start something yourself to generate income. There are university graduates applying for retail jobs here. Even someone with a 4 year degree is starting work as a receptionist on Monday!

    Having now worked full time for the past three years as an Accountant, I wonder why I am still studying (part time) and going to class, wasting $4000 a semester, when what I am learning has absolutely no relevance to not only my job.

    I guess with only 1 year to go – it makes sense to get my expensive piece of paper and play it “safely”.

    Hopefully I won’t have to use it in a “job” though and will create my own financial gain outside of an office!

    • Thanks so much for the comment, Tim. The monopoly you mention is really unfortunate, since it crowds out innovative competitors. Seriously, consider trying to take on the universities without subsidies, student loans, student allowances, national accreditation. I get a headache just thinking about it.

      I remember when I was tutoring for a family back in Waikato, and the mother managed a gym. I can’t remember which one it was, but she told me she had no problem getting university graduates at minimum wage, which was $12 NZD an hour at the time. I hope more people are becoming aware of the lack of return, and stories like the receptionist you mentioned seem to be everywhere.

      You will get out of the office—no doubt. I admire your confidence in financial matters, and I look forward to more good to come.

  2. Do you have a Facebook fan page for your site?

  3. Ryan Nadeau says:

    Great article!

  4. The Stateless Man says:

    James Altucher’s interview, the man who laughs at universities. He is intense!

  5. Ricardo Campelo de Magalhaes says:

    Community College seems a nice option. No?

  6. The Stateless Man says:

    It’s definitely a cheaper option. In fact, while I was in Louisiana I covered a report recommending more people go there:

  7. The Stateless Man says:
  8. Excellent podcast. I think we can talk about abolishing Federal financial aid and the DOE in order to lower the tuition cost of higher education overall and help students to graduate quicker. In addition it would decrease demand for higher education at tuition prices right now. Colleges would be forced to slash tuition rates for students to attend. Slashing these two agencies might also give better bureaucratic efficiency in colleges. Recently I was reading of colleges that used tuition funds to purchase rock climbing walls, jacuzzis and other wasteful luxuries that have little to do with the goal of educating students. I also think that having the student pay for his own education would increase his or awareness of the return on investment. But colleges in the U.S. and many abroad are completely statist to the core and have become more like brainwashing institutions than actually teaching students how to think and find information on their own. I find it appalling that in our society today, n ot having a college degree instills so much fear of not being able to have a good career. I think we have way too many people in college right now and less emphasis should be placed on formal education for success. But the state needs education for indoctrination by intellectuals so I’m not confident that they will loosen their grip anytime soon

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