Is School Useless?

How many times is that guy going to say the word “congruent”?

I was sitting in a Panera a week ago, and overheard a conversation between two people in their early 20s. I wasn’t eavesdropping- the dude with the earnest look on his face and the goatee seemed to be talking a little too loud on purpose. Like he wanted people to hear him…

I tried to tune it out and listen to music on my headphones, but after the second use of the word congruent, I turned off my music. Now I was eavesdropping, but I kept the headphones in so I wouldn’t be noticed (c’mon you’ve done it too).

So, goatee guy was explaining a political concept to his friend, but I felt like he has taking an intellectual victory lap around the coffee shop- rather than focusing on his friend’s question.

(Eye roll)

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The problem

School is NOT useless- in fact, far from it. Along with perseverance and resilience, education is the key to success in life. Now, I’m biased, because my mother was a middle school librarian for 30 years, and my father also taught as an adjunct professor.

Education is the key, but it has to be the right education for the right reasons. I see too many instances like this:

  • Not fit for college: A student who should really learn a trade (electrician, carpenter, etc.) is convinced that a 4-year degree is needed to succeed. The student attends a 4-year school, hates it, drops out- and now works as a successful plumber.


  • In college, but with no direction: A student who starts as a “general education” major, since he doesn’t know what to major in. After two years, he’s still not sure- so he drops out.


  • College costs increases vs. wages: These two statistics blew me away. According to US News, in-state tuition and fees at public National Universities (schools included in their 2018 college ranking) have grown the most, increasing 237 percent in the last 20 years. The total consumer price index inflation increased by 7 percent from August 1997 to August 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s ridiculous- and not sustainable. Add to this the fact that wages are increasing at a rate far less than 237 percent over that time period. (If you’ve struggled with personal finances, this post may help you recover from a setback).


The solution

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The bottom line? Not everyone should go to college, and those that do must work with an advisor to come up with a clear plan- as soon as possible. The typical school- and I’ll include high schools, junior colleges, 4-year colleges and universities- spends 85% of more of their budget on salary and benefits for staff. The huge increases in spending are largely due to salary and benefits- and the growth rate must be cut dramatically.

The good news is that, in recent years, students have forced the spending cut decisions on schools- they’re become better shoppers. Student A may decide on a state university, rather than a private school. Student B may spend two years at a junior college (to save money), then transfer to a 4-year school.

Now, education is a system- a game- and you have to be willing to play that game to a certain extent. I liked Asim Qureshi’s quote on this:

“Obey the system and the system will reward you…”


Students are less willing to spend the money- which is what ultimately will control costs.

A happy outcome

Education can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life- if used as a tool correctly. The smartest decision I’ve ever made was to return to school after 4 years working in the investment business to take courses and pass the CPA exam. Getting my CPA has advanced my career in ways that would not have happened otherwise.

So I’m pro-education- just be a smart shopper.

(This post was originally posted on my Quora page).

Ken Boyd

Accounting Accidentally


Mufidah Kassalias, Checklist Chalkboard, (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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