Asking Aaron Clarey: Is college worth the money?

It's a tough question. Photo: Photo used with permission of Aaron Clarey; photographer's name not provided

FLORIDA, May 23, 2013 — Today, young adults are often encouraged to attend college because it will help them “find themselves” or “broaden their horizons,” and because it’s the ticket to a better job and much higher life-time earnings. College is sold as an investmentStudent loans are putting a huge burden of debt on college graduates and their families. They assume this debt in the belief that a degree will likely lead to a well-paying job that permits graduates to pay off the debts. Is that true?

SEE RELATED: Aaron Clarey on Ron Paul libertarians and America’s economic challenge

Even degree programs that offer no direct career-oriented education supposedly promote intellectual growth, develop skills in critical thinking, and produce positive socialization. Is this actually the case? Are most undergraduate degree programs worth the financial obligations associated with them?

Aaron Clarey is one of the most outspoken voices to have emerged from the Great Recession. While most might know him as Captain Capitalism, a title which leaves little to the imagination about his philosophy, he is also a fossil hunter and tornado chaser who teaches ballroom dancing. 

Only in America.

Clarey is also the author of Worthless, a highly popular ebook which details the often overlooked and unmentioned pitfalls of college education. 

SEE RELATED: Obama and Romney on reviving the economy: Blow up the education bubble


Joseph F. Cotto: Today, young adults are often encouraged to attend college because will help them “find themselves” or “broaden their horizons.” Judging from your research, is this portrayal accurate in contemporary America?

Aaron Clarey: The portrayal is very accurate. What else would explain why millions of young kids would voluntarily forfeit four years of their youth and $75,000 on degrees that just don’t pay off? If students today were to take a look at most college degrees PURELY from a financial standpoint, they would never attend.  

Thus there is another aspect pushing them into college, and it is fluffy bunnies and unicorn poppycock such as “finding yourself,” “broaden your horizons,” and “you can’t place a value on an education.”

SEE RELATED: College grads, unemployment, college irrelevance

Cotto: Even degree programs that offer no career-based education are said to promote intellectual growth and positive socialization. In your opinion, is this actually the case?

Clarey: No, on two grounds. One, it isn’t as if you can’t get “intellectual growth” or “positive socialization” without going to college. You can get such things through normal socializing and going to the library for free AND still have the same employment prospects.  This is nothing more than a lie the educational establishment tells naive kids to scare them into attending.  

Two, given the amount of money and time you are being asked to fork over, there is a financial component forced on this decision. Normal kids and their parents simply cannot afford to claim college isn’t a financial decision while spending anywhere between $50,000-$150,000 on tuition. This is nothing more than buyer’s remorse manifesting itself to self-rationalize the poor purchase.

Cotto: From your standpoint, are most undergraduate degree programs worth the financial obligations associated with them?

Clarey: No. This is because the majority of programs and majority of majors today are in the humanities and liberal arts. If people were to attend college for STEM or the trades, then it would be worth it.  But right now, the average American college student is not getting his or her money’s worth.

Cotto: Student loans are a tremendous problem. Many believe that college students should not worry about debt as a standard degree will likely lead to a well-paying job. What are your views on this idea?

Clarey: It all depends on the degree. There are programs and certifications that provide a positive ROI, others don’t. Making matters worse, however, is that unless there is some spectacular economic growth, most graduates are going to face a poor labor market.  Doesn’t matter if you graduate the top of your class in MIT.  

If the economy is in recession and unemployment is at 8 percent, it’s all moot.  

Far-left? Far-right? Get realRead more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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