Skip to comments.How The Bowyer Family Played The College Tuition Bubble
Posted on 06/08/2012 8:36:04 AM PDT by Kaslin
Investments get to be bubbles partly because investors widely believe there is no alternative on which to spend their money. Dotcoms were seen as the only real growth play, so shareholders hung in there even after it had become clear that the pricing was uncomfortably high. Housing possessed a supposed unique level of riskless-ness as did the loans used to finance it. Many investors have figured out that U.S. treasuries are deep into bubble territory, but, they ask What other haven asset is there?
Its the same with the college tuition bubble. Look at the comment section of any of the articles Ive written about this topic during the past three years and youll see something like this: Yes, most diplomas are from second rate schools in second rate disciplines and they are nearly worthless. And tuitions are sky high. But what alternative do we have? How do you get an education without it? More importantly, how do you get a job?
Its a legitimate question, one that Ive been wrestling with for quite some time. You see, Ive been writing about the college bubble hypothesis for three years, but Ive been living it for ten.
My oldest son, Christopher, was not college material. You probably have the wrong idea: its not that Chris isnt smart. Chris is brilliant. But brilliance is not enough to make you college material. Something else is needed: at least an average level of compliance. Pliable personalities find it much easier to sit through the lectures, take the exams, write the papers, amass the pre-formulated proportions of certain credit hours in certain prescribed order, and fill out an enormous volume of paperwork for the privilege of entry into all of the above.
Some people find all of that to be easy; in fact, many like being told what to do. It gives them a sense of security. Other people find it all difficult, but do it anyway. The latter often seek release from the sense of institutional claustrophobia by embracing a life style of sexual and chemical anarchy in those enclaves of rebellion known as fraternities.
Chris just couldnt do it. He couldnt contort his mind into the arbitrary exercise known as SAT Prep. It was not that he didnt want to learn. On the contrary, he was a voracious reader. Its not that he didnt want to work. On the contrary, he had not only worked for various family businesses from radio production to economic analysis and publishing since he was about 9 years old, but had also started a few micro-businesses of his own; web sites which he was able to sell at a nice little profit.
I understand Chris; Im the same way. I barely graduated from high school. I would routinely skip class so I could go to the library and read my way through Mortimer Adlers Great Books collection. College was similar. After an initial two semesters of compliant Deans list performance. I started blowing off classes which I didnt like, dropping out of them, often after the drop out date. But while all that was going on, I was working my rear end off busing tables in the cafeteria, mopping floors, and scrubbing pots and sitting in the library reading voraciously. A few professors took the trouble to let me learn my way. Mostly, they didnt get me, and I didnt get them.
Eventually, I gritted my teeth, switched to a business school, Robert Morris, focused like mad, got good grades and graduated two years later with a degree in accounting. I hated every moment of it. My hair went grey. I got a good corporate job with a solid salary. I hated that too.
After some dues paying I got funding to start an economic think tank. It worked: the foundation rapidly grew in influence and 9 years after graduation, I was invited back to Robert Morris not as a student, but as its commencement speaker. My career since then has been anything but normal and my work and learning style has been anything but compliant.
There are a lot of guys like that out there, and young women too. Christopher was one of them, and he was permitted to go his own way. Only two things were required of him: character and productivity. College, not being essential for either of those, was optional. And he agonized over the options. Lots of people told him that he absolutely must go to college. His mother, my ex-wife, was mortified by the idea that he would not go. But then again, Chris noticed that she had dropped out of a prestigious school half way through and nevertheless had a successful career as a professional proofreader/editor who was so much in demand that she was turning clients away.
Chris talked to lots of people about this, but the clincher for him was the advice he got from Ron Morris. Ron is a highly successful serial entrepreneur whose latest venture is an entrepreneurial talk radio network. Having sold his business for a tidy pile of cash, Ron was constantly receiving pitches from entrepreneurs looking for start-up investments. Many of those came from kids who had just graduated from prestigious universities. He told Chris that if he had a choice between betting on a 23-year old who had just graduated from a top school, or betting on a 23-year old who had worked for a small business, all other things being equal, he would choose the latter. Better still if the 23-year old had founded a small businesseven if the business failed. Chris had his answer.
Now, this isnt fairy tale stuff. He didnt throw away his SAT prep materials, found Facebook and become a billionaire. He simply did his work for the family business which is largely producing this television program. He also owns and maintains a few websites which generate modest revenue streams (like this), and builds on a sub-contracting basis some sites owned by other people like this. Hes a frequent guest on Rons radio show and an occasional guest on Cornerstone Television Network.
He got a lot of flak from friends and acquaintances for his non-college decision, chiefly because he and his brother, Jeremy, during their college-aged years moved in a social circle of college students from Chatham University. They just couldnt fathom it.
A couple of years ago, Chris married a Chatham girl, and a lot of their friends are her school friends. This provides a lot of helpful data about the school vs. school of hard knocks decision.
At age 27, Chris has no consumer debt, no school debt (obviously), no car debt and only a small mortgage. He has a small retirement account which he started with the proceeds from a web site he built in his teen years. He and his wife are homeowners. While some of their college friends are apartment dwellers, many are boomerang kids who have returned home to live with their parents. Almost none of the ones who are employed are employed in their chosen field of study. Income-wise, Chris is at about the same level as the subset of his college-grad friends who are employed. Asset/liability wise he is well ahead of the pack.
He has enormous personal freedom, which he loves. He is a man of good character, and he is productive. Thats all that is required. Everything else is optional including college.
Reminds me of a funny cartoon I once saw in Writer's Digest. A teacher is presiding over a creative writing class with about thirty students. Twenty-nine of the students are staring at the teacher in rapt attention. The thirtieth is fast asleep snoring in the very back of the classroom. "Some day one of you," the teacher declares, "will be a great writer!"
So this guy’s son named Chris is supposed to be our hero because he doesn’t have any discipline?
You two ought to go back and read the article. The kid works hard and is doing well and will stay that way.
I can’t believe a couple of conformist establishment types like you two are even on this site.
I agree. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call his son a loser, he is really nothing to admire either... “Brilliant” my @ss... I’m tired of hearing parents describe their average kids as brilliant. I’ve got an acquaintance who didn’t graduate high school, and neither of her sons did either yet she is always saying how greatly above average they all are intellectually... Huh?
As far as I’m concerned, “stupid is as stupid does.” (thanks, Forrest)
There’s a difference between “disciplined” and “entrepreneurial.” Both have their uses, but to pretend the two are contiguous isn’t correct.
Not all kids should go to college - true. But skipping your classes so you can sit in the library and read isn’t a mark of good character. I manage and have managed to be a voracious reader and successful autodidact, as well as being a homeowner, a husband and father, having zero debt from college, and managing to hold down a steady job, without skipping out on responsibilities just because they were “limiting” and weren’t “fun.”
Sorry, but neither the dad nor the kid have much character, regardless of how many websites they develop and sell to the highest bidder.
I read the article. More-so, I comprehended the article. This jerk and you sound like hippies. Go live on a commune and grow berries.
Like I said, mediocrity is not what you should aspire to. Not being a burden on society is what you're supposed to do. You're not supposed to live in your parents' basement.
Go do a book report on Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
Fair enough. He’s not a complete loser.
Author recommends against college for many kids.
Author owes his career with television and the Think Tank to graduating from business COLLEGE.
Author then gave a job to his non-collegiate son.
And this is illustration how people can be financially successful without college.
Um, OK. I hope all of you have businesses you can hire your kids into because you graduated college to establish your business.
I walked away from the article thinking - yeah, college isn’t for everyone, and for some it is merely a waste of time. I’ve know those people personally, so not surprised.
I graduated from college with $1K in my pocket by working on campus while attending. I didn’t purchase house until 5 years out of school - but I own three properties now.
My kid is going to college. He is brilliant ;-) Actually, he is. He is a National Merit Scholar who attended one of the top 100 public schools in the US (why should I pay for a private education or home school when you have that in your backyard?) My kid was savvy enough NOT to succumb to the brain-washing supplied by same, and can think for himself.
I saved up a small amount for his University back during the dot-com era. Between the scholarships he has earned, and choosing to go to a school in the midwest that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, he’ll get through University without any college debt. He is going to school mostly to punch that particular ticket. He is self-driven, much like the young man in the story, and will make his own luck.
My son may be able to get through life without college, but when you have the knack for it, and can afford it. Why not?
I admire the kid because he’s successful doing things his way, everyone else can take a flying leap.
“But skipping your classes so you can sit in the library and read isnt a mark of good character.”
I want to comment on your comment but I am having a hard time articulating my thoughts in a charitable manner. You may be right that it isn’t a mark of good character but it certainly is not a mark of bad character.
“without skipping out on responsibilities just because they were limiting and werent fun.”
Since when is attending a class that you have paid for a responsibility?