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Here's How to Determine If College Is Worth the Cost Without a bachelor's degree that first rung of the career ladder, an unpaid internship, might be out of reach.

By Phil La Duke Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.


With the soaring costs of higher education, crushing student loan debt and entry-level jobs that literally pay nothing, many would-be students are questioning the value proposition of an advanced degree. I can relate.

It took me 11 years to get my four-year degree (I was a single dad, working full-time, and University of Michigan has this unreasonable rule where students had to pay for one semester before being allowed to enroll in another.) But I did it; without loans, grants and only a walloping $500 in tuition reimbursement from my employer (who kept me as an indentured servant for two years in exchange for the loan. Well that's not fair…indentured servants got room and board and my employer was smart enough to not want me living in his home, or even in a barn on an adjacent property. It's not that I'm a bad guy, it's just that I eat too much, drink to excess and have to overpay a housekeeper.) Truthfully, I have been mistrustful of education since my high school Spanish class when the first thing they taught me to say in Spanish was a lie ("Yo hablo Español" my ass.)

In my case college paid off. For most of that time I was working for a man I affectionately refer to as the Devil. I won't give away too much information (the names have been changed to abet the guilty) but let me just say that the only suggestion that the online dictionary could give me when I would time a memo to him was Baal, the Caananite demon god and that coupled with strong evidence that his name may have been truncated from the full name of a being on Hell's executive board to its current state; I know I'm over explaining things here but I just don't want people thinking that I cavalierly dub people demons, it wouldn't be fair to people or demons and I have enough beings mad at me.

So, anyway, when I worked for the Devil he paid me half what he paid my colleagues with less experience who did the exact same job simply because they had a bachelor degree and I did not. One of my colleagues deserved the money. He was, and is, a professional and truly sharp professional. The others were about as adept at their jobs as a troop of fatigued baboons with a mild wine buzz after a weeklong acid bender. So in my case, having an undergrad degree was essential.

Grad school was another matter altogether. By the time I graduated U of M I was fairly successful (in my mind) and just couldn't justify spending money on a Master's Degree. I made a list of pros and cons, with the sizeable expenditure of money, enduring the pontifications of self-important professors and the incredible drain on my time on the "con'' side. The only plus I could see was that I could meet women. I did a quick value proposition and decided that I would see a better return on my investment by writing and getting published. Given that my colorful turn of a phrase, foul mouth and stream-of-consciousness writing style, this proved to be more challenging than you might believe.

I don't make any money writing, I don't meet women and I don't get to commit crimes people ignore because I am a quasi-celebrity (and forget what you may have heard, when you are a quasi celebrity you don't get to grab women anywhere without drawing back a bloody stump where your hand used to be.) But, then, I don't have a quarter-million in student loan debt either.

What will a six-figure debt buy you? In some cases it will get you the right to work as an unpaid intern for two years before you can get an entry level job. I prefer the opposite -- a six-figure job with no expectation of results-- but those jobs are few and probably going to trust fund kids. So, undergrads need to ask themselves is a master's degree worth it? A Bachelor's degree is worth it if only for four years of not living with your parents, drinking like a poet on payday and experimenting with all sorts of destructive forces from ecstasy to fusion jazz with minimal risk of consequences. You're not exactly treated like a kid, but also treated like the nearly brain-dead buffoon that you are and no one will do much more than roll their eyes; and before you get all huffy I was more of a moral reprobate in college than you could ever hope to be and I was divorced with custody of my infant child. You can buy those kinds of memories (mine are on Craig's List right now).

In all seriousness (or as much as I can muster) you need to ask yourself if what the degree will get you that is worth the cost, and then you better suck the marrow out of all that the experience.

You better have a plan if you decide college isn't worth the cost. There are many good, albeit hard, jobs that don't require a degree, or even a high school diploma for that matter. Rodeo clowns don't require any formal education and make "around $50,000 per year average." Now I don't know if that means if you're an average clown, you perform at an average rodeo, or if you are an average rodeo clown. Even so, how many job openings are there for a rodeo clown?

Jobs for the non-degreed aren't all gravy. According to Susannah Snider (the Personal Finance editor at U.S. News) a medical assistant with a median income of $29K tops the list of the 25 best jobs that don't require college. I have no interest in disparaging medical assistants, but first of all, it does tend to require at least an associate's degree or completion of a certificate program. Those are not free and the U.S. poverty level is $11,770, so chances are you won't be the primary bread winner in the family.To be fair, there are better jobs on Snider's list but I don't think realistically one could get one of these jobs without extensive training.

So, to be or not to be, that is the question, whether it's smarter to pursue education that leads to poverty or to pursue poverty the old fashioned way, through misspent youth and poor decision making.

Phil La Duke


Phil La Duke is a speaker and writer. Find his books at Twitter @philladuke

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