Copyright © 2006 Ed Bagley
A client e-mailed me yesterday about her student loan debts that netted her 3 college degrees and a job without a commensurate income and future. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from New York University, a second Bachelor of Arts Degree from the London Institute and a Master of Arts Degree from the University of London. My unvarnished answers to her questions follow. I changed her name since I could not contact her in time to use her name.
Hi Ed Bagley,
I had a follow-up question to your three-part series on “Five Power Secrets of Getting Hired in Today’s Economy.”
If education is not a great factor in making the “big bucks”, why do people stress that, especially a lot of companies that only want to hire college educated employees?
OK, I don’t have a source for those stats, just stuff I have heard. I am guessing just media hype. Nonetheless, if there is any validity to that, why is that the case?
Because I so regret the major amounts of money I am in debt for because of higher education, and the three degrees I have have not gotten me any further than anyone else.
I am not surprised. I guess life isn’t fair.
Here is my reply to Carolyn the same day:
You are reading my product! This can only help you, and you have the added benefit that I am not going to try and collect on your student loans! (it is OK to smile)
You ask an excellent question and you shall receive an excellent answer.
Here are some considerations in no particular order:
1) Colleges and universities are not part of the same world that exists around them. They are isolated special interest groups with no other primary purpose than to ensure their continued existence.
Job one for them is to stress education as the answer to all of life’s issues and ills, thus, get a degree and earn a lot more money, get a degree and start doing something you really want to do, get a degree and get hired quicker, get a degree or many corporations will not hire you, etc.
Their real purpose is to generate enough income to support the salaries and lifestyle of those involved in perpetuating the enterprise. A tenured professor must be paid even if the subject he or she is teaching has almost zero demand in our economy.
If colleges and universities really told the truth about what you could reasonably earn after you acquire your degree, enrollment would plummet in certain subject areas. Students would stop being skydivers without parachutes.
Colleges and universities will put 120 students into a program that there is absolutely no need or demand for in the marketplace. What will a student do with an art history degree when there is zero need for people to run the few museums that exist.
You cannot turn out 120 students a year at each university when the annual demand for what they have to offer is 22 openings at all levels nationwide. This is why education majors who do not want to teach in South Central Los Angeles end up as shift managers at a McDonald’s restaurant, or as a life insurance agent for Prudential.
2) Not all degrees are equal. A Bachelor of Arts in history is pretty useless unless you switch to teaching history. Get a Master of Business Administration degree from a top 20 school and your chances improve. Get a Doctor of Medicine Degree, become a physician and surgeon and your chances are even better.
Degrees that lead to a high paying profession pay off, everything else has little real impact on your salary.
3) Corporations want to hire college graduates not only because they believe educated workers will make them more money, but also because it is their best guarantee that the person they are hiring is literate.
They want to be assured that the new hires can speak and be understood by fellow staff members, and are not so illiterate that they will drive away customers and clients by showing, through their lack of communication skills, that they are stupid, lack grammar and diction, and have the personality of an ashtray.
4) Facts: Results from the 2004 Census Bureau report shows a $23,000 difference between the average annual salary of adults with a bachelor’s degree ($51,554) compared to adults with a high school diploma ($28,645).
In what may or may not be an anomaly, the income gap narrowed slightly from five years earlier when bachelor’s degree graduates made nearly twice as much as high school graduates.
Notice the fact says “the average annual salary” which means that in this total is a brain surgeon making $1.2 million a year and a ditch-digger making a minimum wage of approximately $7 an hour or about $14,000 a year. This produces an average difference of only $23,000.
Throw out the brain surgeons and ditch-diggers of which there are very few and the difference is even less.
5) This has little to do with life being fair or not. It has everything to do with you figuring out how to make money, whether you have a degree or not.
Do I think you have been snookered on the education trip? Yes I do. Why? I have too much experience and evidence to think otherwise.
Both of us come from educated families that would naturally stress education. I was appalled when my son and daughter had zero interest in continuing their education after high school.
My daughter is now a loan officer with Washington Mutual making good money, probably far better than you are, and she has zero student loan debt.
My son did get a 2-year certificate as an automotive technician; he refused to take the 4 or 5 academic classes with the occupational training so he could get an Associate of Technical Arts Degree rather than a certificate as an auto tech.
He told me, “Dad, I do not need any more education.” Remember what Mark Twain said: “I never allowed schooling to interfere with my education.”
My son is 28 years old and already has a $540,000 house, 4 upscale vehicles, a rental property and two auto repair shops with an income well in excess of $12,000 a month plus the net profits from his businesses.
Did he need a college education to succeed? You decide. This is why I say that there is more correlation between people skills, having technical skills and being in an activity that is in demand than there is between pure education and income.
6) Do I believe everyone should have a college degree, say at least a bachelor’s? Absolutely, because you will be exposed to multiple areas of knowledge and get some well-needed breeding and culture.
My son could care less about classical music, plays, culture, reading, etc. He is focused on making money and when he looks at anything he is only interested in discovering the answers to two questions: Where is the money? and How can I get it?
This is the clear difference between an entrepreneur or businessperson and a college graduate who is thinking his or her education is going to bring them big bucks.
Nothing will bring you a lot of bucks unless and until what you bring provides a service or product that is in demand, has little competition and you can charge big bucks for your service.
This is why brain surgeons and auto repair technicians who own auto repair shops make money. Cars break down. People have brain cancer. Who cares whether you have 3 degrees, or 20 degrees, or whether you know hip-hop from opera?
7) Given your circumstances, this is what I recommend you do: Use your expensive education, street smarts and intuition to figure out what people want to know and then provide the knowledge or information they want and need, and charge for your service.
The more they want the information the more you can charge because no one else will be providing the information they want at a lower cost.
This is America, the land of opportunity. This is a needs-based, on-demand economy. The market you want to earn your living in is capitalist based, not education based. If you cannot figure out the economy, become a teacher and settle for whatever salary and benefits education pays a teacher.
8) Also, stop acting like there is some big secret about how to make it in your chosen field. Get into the field and act like you are the secret. Do not chase people and opportunities, act like you are THE person and THE opportunity is with you.
For example, you cannot find a better resume writer and personal marketer in America than I am. Period. I dare you to scour New York, Boston or LA and then come back to me when you figure out I am right.
Most people in my profession are just sucking money out of their clients and moving on.
When you call I answer, not my secretary because I do not have one. You get the expert. You do not have to work through me to get to the top. You start at the top.
This is why I do not have employees. I am the authority.
You are bright, educated and capable. You are the answer to your own quest to find someone else to hire you. Start acting like you are a person of total substance.
Make people appreciate and understand instantly that when they are talking to you, or doing business with you, that they are dealing with a person of substance. Repeat, a person of substance. Let there be no mistake.
If your thing is hip-hop music, become the authority, brand yourself and build a reputation so that no one thinking hip-hop is doing squat without consulting you first because you have the answers, and are worth whatever you are charging and 20 times more!
Think about who you need to be, not who you are at the moment, then be that person, becoming a magnet that will attract people to you.
Now get out there and make me proud of you. You are Carolyn, an expert. You do not know everything and quickly acknowledge so, but in your area, there is no one who knows more than you. Period. That is it.
And if you do not agree with me that I am an expert in my field, no matter, others do.
You are not some silly girl with three degrees who cannot find the right job at the right income. Start 2007 as an expert, not as someone looking for a job.
You know I believe in you. Now you need to believe in yourself and get out there and let the world know who Carolyn is. People will start listening when you decide you are a person of substance, know what you are talking about, and then continue to get more knowledgeable and helpful in your area of expertise.
This is not a mind game. Do not believe with your head, believe with your heart as if your life depended upon it and people will accept you as an expert.
When they offer you less money than you want, look them straight in the eye and tell them you would like to help them but other people are offering you more money, and then shut up.
Do not try to justify or explain yourself or your value. If the person you are talking to cannot figure it out, find someone else who can.
There are two possible outcomes in this scenario: The result you want or excuses.
Settle for the result you want, or walk away.