The Great University Pageant Resumes

Happy Hump Day!

Nearly climbed the mountain that is this week.

I ran across a topic I’ve wrestled with for a long time.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about it at asksean@paradigm.press.

Is paying the equivalent of the median American yearly income ($67,521) or more worth it for a year of university?

“And They’re Off!”

Here come the university rankings.

As I was thumbing through The Wall Street Journal on my iPhone this morning, the inevitable university rankings for 2021 came up.

As a holder of bachelor’s and master’s degrees, I find myself in a bit of a bind when I talk about what my university degrees mean to me.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t feel any tangible advantage that either of the two schools I attended gave to me.

To be fair, Villanova is a good school.  

Unfortunately, it’s ranked at a woeful 100 in The Wall Street Journal rankings.  It’s a much more respectable number 49 than in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, the ones that really matter.  (Of course, you’d say that, Seanie!)

How Much?

At the time, I was paying, or I should say my family was paying, $22,000 a year for me to attend. 

I thought it was idiotic at the time, but I “knew” it had to be done.

I know Harvard was roughly as expensive at the time, but I can’t believe that it now costs almost $60,000 a year in tuition and another $15,000 a year in room and board.

I’ll be frank, I don’t think it’s worth it, even when you account for all the inflation that’s taken place over the last 30 years.

I don’t know what tangible benefits you receive from a university of education that you can’t get from going online.

To be fair, I say that because Villanova’s and London Business School’s alumni network isn’t nearly as old, strong, or committed as Harvard’s is.

To wit, my Uncle Carl just sent around an email he received as a Harvard Business School alumnus.  Class of 1968.  And they’re still going.  He’s 85 years old.

I don’t even get emails – other than for fundraising – from either ‘Nova or LBS.

Now the view of the day, and many people who have attended good schools share this view, is that university is no longer worth the money you pay for it.

Of course, we benefit from owning our degrees and have not taken the risk of not going to college.

Almost every study ever conducted seems to prove that going to college gives you an income advantage for life, and I do believe that those studies were correct 30 years ago.

Debt, The Poor, and The Rich

I’m just not sure that putting yourself into a mountain of debt in the hopes that you’re going to be able to pay back this debt is okay.

Of course, we don’t want education to become the purview of the rich, and that’s self-evidently bad.

Funnily enough, a friend of mine shared this story: Many Hong Kong parents are extraordinarily disappointed that after they send their kids to an Ivy League school, those kids become socialists.

Of course, that goes against everything that any Hong Konger ever learned about making money. Hong Kong, of course, is – or was, sadly – the bastion of capitalism in Asia.

I applaud people like Mike Rowe, who have echoed the sentiments, “Listen, maybe university isn’t for everybody.”

Male enrollment in university is dropping like a stone, and who can blame guys?

Why would you want to go to school to be told that you are white and privileged while you’re in $100,000 of debt trying to get a degree?

It’s far wiser economically to learn a trade nowadays, whether you’re going to be a butcher, baker, candlestick maker, plumber, or electrician.

You’ll run your own business and have zero debt because the schooling is entirely affordable.

You often get paid in cash, and you’ll receive all the tax advantages that come from running your own business.

What If…?

My father, as you know, is a truck driver, and my mother did everything that she could discourage me from being a truck driver.

I’m grateful in some ways for it because I did get my education, and I did get to work on Wall Street and in the City of London, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

I got to travel the world.

But there’s a small part of me that wonders right now – today – if I followed in my father’s footsteps, would we have owned a trucking company by now?

Would I have been entrepreneurial enough to see the opportunities in the logistics sector, of which there are an abundant many?

Would I have pivoted away from truck driving to open a more comprehensive logistics company?

Would I have never left the United States?

I’m sure my mother occasionally wrestles with that last question, especially.

I think in the ’80s and ’90s, it was somehow clear to people if you worked and got dirty during the day, then you weren’t educated, and you were limiting the amount of money you could provide for your family.

Therefore, your children must go to university and become white-collar workers.

I understand why my mother felt that way.

But it’s incredible how many of my friends back home in old Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, are very successful in running their own businesses.

I couldn’t be happier for them.

Keep It Simple, Silly…

My old friends didn’t move around the world and they didn’t get fancy degrees, both of which are costly habits.

They just stayed at home, built businesses, got married, raised their families, and thrived.

Now, not all of them are thriving, I’m sure, but it seems to me that they’re all doing great.

Some are landscapers; some are construction workers, some own car dealerships.

They’ve made great money without following the new “conventional wisdom.”

You may have children. Either you’ve already paid for their university education, or you are wondering how much money you’re going to have to drop out of your retirement portfolio to pay for their educations.

I’m interested to hear your views on the whole thing.

What Next?

Personally, we will probably homeschool Micah, at least sometime during his childhood.

We want to send him to activities and maybe a pre-K when we get to Italy because he must learn the language, and we need to integrate into the community, and for me also to learn Italian.

Honestly, do I want him to follow in my footsteps to be a banker?

God, no.

I hope he’s not into it unless he will go into proper investment banking like origination or M&A.

Those are fine because you can come home and run your own business after a couple of years of that.

But I’m much keener for him to find his own way, and I will not at all pressure him to go to university.

If he wants to go, great.

If he doesn’t want to go to university and wants to run his own business, even better.  The name of the game is how you can support a family.

I think the big question parents have to answer is this: “If I don’t pay for university, what will I do with this money to ensure my kid(s) have a great start to their adulthood?”

Answer this question well, and you’ve made it.

No matter what the pink-haired among us claim, family is the foundational unit of our civilization.

Going to university and getting yourself into an enormous amount of debt is silly.  Then waiting to get married until you’re 40 because you can’t afford to get married, because the woman you want to marry is also $200,000 in debt, makes absolutely no sense anymore.

I’m cheering for a Henry VIII-style “Dissolution of the Universities.”

It’s high time for that.

Have a great day!

All the best,

Sean

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