Roll-your-own higher ed

Young “heretics” with high-tech skills are Saying No to College, according to the New York Times.

Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Tumblr CEO David Karp dropped out of high school and hopes to “grab 16-year-olds that are going to be brilliant and help them get there,” he tells Tech Crunch. “College isn’t making very good engineers.” Karp’s heroes are Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.

“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor,” said Mick Hagen, 28, who dropped out of Princeton in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, where he started Undrip, a mobile app. He is now recruiting from the undergraduate ranks, he said, which is becoming a trend among other tech companies, too. In his view, dropouts are freethinkers, risk-takers. They have not been tainted by groupthink.

Dropouts can educate themselves without going into debt, says entrepreneur James Altucher, author of 40 Alternatives to College. “I think kids with a five-year head start on equally ambitious peers will be ahead in both education and income,” Altucher told the Times. “They could go to a library, read a book a day, take courses online. There are thousands of ways.”

Most young people are not future high-tech zillionaires, whether they earn a college degree or not. We can’t all be Willy Wonka. But it’s healthy for young people to consider alternatives to a high-debt degree. Or somewhat less debt and no degree.

Young four-year graduates are earning less, while college tuition grows and grows, reports the Fiscal Times.

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  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    So. Suppose you put your $100k in the bank at 4% (snork, yeah, right) at age eighteen. Doubles every eighteen years. That’s $800,000 at age seventy-two. So that’s the opportunity cost of going to college, or the reverse of the debt.
    And suppose you began accumulating assets at age eighteen. Sure, there’s not much capital tied up in a $1500 dollar beater, but you drive it for two years and sell it for, say, $500. Repeat with a $3000 beater. You’re ahead of the folks taking the subway to college classes.
    So, what are you doing for a living? Getting into something with a future–takes some discernment and matching talent–and living cheap. See The Millionaire Next Door.
    I’m practically talking myself into talking my grandkids into skipping college.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      There’s also the opportunity cost of those 4 years. If instead of 4 years as an undergraduate you’re working in a job/internship that trains or prepares you then it might be time well spent. If online/cyber classes relevant to your job/career are available all the better. If you’re flipping burgers and smoking dope – not so useful.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      Um … cars require gasoline, registration fees and insurance. I expect that the car costs ~$1,000/year to operate. In NYC a ride on the subway is $2.25.

  2. dangermom says:

    Huh, I thought those days were over. Interesting to see them maybe coming back.

    I happen to be exactly the right age to remember the first time–a very few of my particularly computer-geniusy friends from high school got onto the tech train very early and didn’t even go to college (or finish high school!). My best friend’s former boyfriend is now a Silicon Valley gazillionaire. It wasn’t common even then, when demand was so high and the industry was so unformed that companies were willing to hire anybody who could deliver. (I’m glad my own computer-genius husband went to college, since I met him there!)

    I wouldn’t bet on it as a strategy for the masses, but it’s probably OK for a very few. I don’t know that I owuld automatically think of a dropout as a freethinker, though–IME they were more often video game addicts or otherwise unable to prioritize their time and money well.

    • It’s not so clear college is a good strategy for the masses, either. If your choices are a crappy job because you didn’t go to college, or a crappy job with massive debt because you got a worthless degree, you’re probably better off with the former even though it’s not a big success.

  3. Richard Aubrey says:

    Dangermom. Well, a drop out is a free thinker. No reason all free thinkers think wisely.
    “Son, you’re free to play you vid games on somebody else’s computer in somebody else’s house and figure out some free-thinking way to eat.”
    The alternative is he’s playing vid games in the dorm at a considerably higher expense.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mark. So about eight hundred subway rides is a grand. To and from school a hundred and fifty days is three hundred rides, fifty more for entertainment and basic necessities.
    Good, but not a wash. Also presume that living where you can have/need a car, there’s enough space that parking’s free.

    • Roger Sweeny says:

      At $2.25 a ride, a grand is 445 rides.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Roger. Right. My only excuse is I had just finished mentally dividing something into two grand. Sheesh. More coffee.

        • Mark Roulo says:

          Before we get too hung up on this … You can also buy a 30 day “ride as much as you like” for about $100. And we would need to get actual quotes for insurance and registration fees. And estimate miles/year times milage

          • Mark Roulo says:

            Grrr … Hit post too soon.

            Mileage and cost of gas.

            My ballpark read is that the two costs are close.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Being careful with my math this time, the thirty-day unlimited ride costs $1200 a year. We’ll presume he lives in a crummy apartment–being a student–and never has to carry anything too big to hold in one hand and so he never even has to scrounge a buddy’s car. If a guy has a car, chances are he will be able to/need to, use its freight capacity.
    Drilling down on the numbers like this, the non-financial results of getting started early can be overlooked.

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