The College Debt Alternative

This post is a follow up to The College Debt Trap where I pleaded the case to avoid becoming a debt slave to acquire a college degree. This post is about an alternative to college debt. If your Daddy, some scholarship or an employer is footing the bill then proceed with classes. Otherwise, read on.

I can count 3 things college provides.

  1. Knowledge in some discipline that may be utilized for future employment.
  2. Framework for the undisciplined learner.
  3. Certification that the student has completed the coursework for some program.

With the Internet, DVDs, books, lectures and other media, the colleges no longer have a lock on education. I can order a DVD set from Amazon that teaches me physics and then jump online to ask questions in a forum if I need help. Want to learn a foreign language? Many cities have community groups dedicated to foreign language instruction. Earlier this year I sat in a hospital lecture hall – side by side with doctors – and listened to a 3-hour lecture on nutrition. For free.

I could go on and on. Almost anything you want to learn you can without enrolling in college. That wasn’t true 10 years ago. The cost barrier for knowledge has plummeted outside the campuses.

College does provide a framework for the undisciplined learner. Sadly too many people need a test and a threat of a poor grade to motivate them into learning course material. Students throughout their learning career have been trained to follow orders instead of their passions. Committing to tens of thousands of dollars in debt to any learning without academic passion is foolish. Back when attending college was cheap, it made sense to find your calling during your freshman and sophomore years. Not anymore. Figure it out before you enroll. There are endless free or near free resources to help you

But you need a degree to get that job? Maybe but not necessarily. Sure there are many jobs where certification is an absolute must. However, I think we are the early stages of a trend where highly motivated people who work outside traditional education and can demonstrate their expertise on a topic will excel. How can one learn a subject, get experience in that field and not become buried in debt for life?

The Return of Apprenticeship

As more and more students wise up to the weakening value of a college degree, they will rediscover apprenticeship. Learn skills and gain important networking contacts by jumping into the field and working for a low wage or even free. The employer gets a passionate employee dirt cheap and the student learns what it is like to work in the field with a much shorter time commitment than college and without cost.

This summer I worked as a Technical Editor on a computer book that will be published this fall by Packt Publishing. I did it for free. This was an opportunity to test drive a new career working part-time from home. My name and bio will appear in the book. If I decide to seek out a position as a Technical Editor, I’ll bring a copy of that book to the interview. The publisher and I established a partnership that benefited us both. No professor required. That is the economics of apprenticeship.


Add yours

  1. Well said. I think this is similar to the German model. I wonder if in 10 years a degree will be more valuable because the percentage of people with degrees will go down to economic constraints? or maybe what you said and other education avenues will devalue a degree.

  2. @bondi – Actually I think the opposite. Because there are SO MANY schools now and because TOO MANY students are encouraged to enter college, I predict tuition will fall. The similarities between college and the 2001-2007 housing boom are too similar.

    – over capacity
    – costs rising much faster than inflation
    – consumer belief (“housing never falls” = “college graduates always earn more”)

  3. I meant that a pool of high school grads will forego college altogether (similar to not bother trying to get a mortgage) thus the remaining degrees/houses will be worth more. Or maybe not after all they stopped making real estate a long, long time ago but they are still making people.

    Your post is on-point; a link from today –

  4. @bondi – Good link. I think at the first sign there is a cultural shift that college is to be avoided, we will see the tuition drop. Just like housing. So that pool will not form. They will just hold out for a fair price.

    Colleges have been devaluing their product for decades now. More freshman = more money. If the high schools are producing dumber kids, how are the colleges enrolling record numbers? They are lowering their standards. I expect that trend to continue.

  5. NoticetheSigns

    Sep 16, 2010 — 1:17 am

    I happened upon this page and felt the need to weigh in on a couple things. Number 1: You won’t recognize america in 10 years. Go to zerohedge and see thousands of former stock trading americans fleeing the RIGGED stock market, hell, head over to Youtube and type in ‘economic collapse’ and see ppl trying to warn the masses of what’s rolling your way, it aint pretty folks. Number 2: There is a major societal ‘culling’ heading our way and the sooner you realize this the better off you and your loved ones will be…Without scaring the sheeple and those still drinking the hopium laced Barry Soetoro kool-aid I suggest you folks take a look at the back of your dollar, you see that happy little all seeing eye with the egyption pyramid staring at you? Yeah that little fella is also stamped on your Churches, Federal Buildings, block buster movies and commercials…It’s an emblem of the freemasons, and you better start asking questions who (or what) their Grand Architect really is and start questioning what all your presidents are talking about when they make speeches about ‘a New World Order’ term after term… Ask questions now or get left behind. We will never help each other if we’re too scared of being the guy to bring up this subject matter, so I’ll take the initiative…We’ve been warned. Good day!

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