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Is College That Guy on eBay Who Never Paid For the Crap You Sent Him?

Recently, I spoke to a group of accounting students in a Cost II class. One woman asked me a great question: “Do you regret anything?”

The question came up after I told the students that I left my last employer (PwC) to start my own company after working only a few years. While I don’t think the professor liked my response, I candidly answered:

“Yes. If I could go back in time, I would never have gone to University. By going to University I accumulated around $55,000 in student loan debt, that after having received about 58% off the retail price of my University’s annual tuition rate of ~$32K. But the real problem was that almost nothing I learned in University was applicable to my work at PwC or to what I do now. All that time I spent in University was time I could have spent earning a full-time income and learning real skills in a job.”

The class was more than a little shocked and I can’t blame them. Most are in the tail end of their college careers, many with the same debt I had. As ironic as it was to share this in a college class, I can think of no greater scam that I have been suckered into than that of a college education.

Yes, I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
Yes, I wouldn’t have a CPA license.
Yes, I could never have worked at a Big 4 firm without it.

I still regret it. The only real valuable things I learned in the four years I spent in University were due to the following experiences (it’s not a typo, University courses and projects were purposefully omitted):

  • The Internet
  • Work Experience
  • Running Student Organizations

The woman asked me a follow-up question, which further emphasized the point:

“Why did you decide to go to University?”

I answered:

“I was afraid. I had lived outside of the U.S. for my last two years of high school in a Costa Rican boarding school and I had never had a job. Most people starting out in University had already had a part-time job, full-time job, or at least some real-life work experience. I was afraid to not do what everyone said was best for me to do—go to college.”

Most of my college experience had nothing to do with learning anything of value. I find it ironic that many colleges now require students to take ethics courses, particularly those students who are studying accounting. These courses never question the moral implications of loading students up with debt (that can take them a lifetime to pay back and can’t even be wiped out in bankruptcy, unless you can meet special criterion), teaching them non-applicable skills, and sending them out into a workforce that lacks the real employee demand to support them. When I spoke to the professor after the class, she said a large portion of the students in the class won’t be able to find a job. Not only will they not be able to find a job, half the class will be among the 45% of all University graduates ages 18-24 who live with their parents.

When I was eighteen years old, I sold a golf club on eBay for $132 and the person who I sold it to never paid me. I knew the deal was a little suspect, especially when he asked me to mail the product before he paid me. I went along with it and was scammed out of the money. I don’t blame the guy; I was naïve. However, I wouldn’t hold the man up as a paradigm of virtue. And I certainly wouldn’t want him teaching an ethics class.

Similarly, I don’t blame my professors, or even the school, for my decisions and my education in general. That being said, it’s still a scam.

I was scammed into believing that University was a place to develop skills and ethics while gaining knowledge. In the end, I realized that there is no substitute for experience and hard work. No amount of books, lectures, and papers can substitute for that.

36% of graduates who find jobs are in positions that don’t require a degree. Don’t believe the data? Well we have the anecdotal evidence that with an accounting major, you may end up tarot card reading.

Instead of trusting my instinct and passing on University, I was too afraid to break from the pack and do something different.

Was it a good financial bargain for me? Maybe, but that’s debatable. I graduated with $55K in debt, a CPA license, a Masters degree, and a $49K starting salary at a Big 4 firm.

However, that’s not the deal most people get, not even most people in accounting. So I would highly encourage you to weigh all of your options before following the right path and going to University. So yes, if you didn’t get it by now, I think college is a scam, I just wish my debt was closer to the amount I lose on golf club scams on eBay.