College Kid Calls Mom and Dad: “Ate French Fries Off the Sidewalk and Went to the ER”

French Fries Go to the Park

An alarming statistic I just heard on John Tesh radio show of all places is that one-third of all ER visits by teenagers are alcohol-related.  The majority were males and of those males, the age breakdown was 53.4% of males ages 12 to 17 and 62.1% ages 18 to 20. (This data can be found in The DAWN Report (July 2010), published by the Office of Applied Studies, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)).  But it gets even worse…read on.

Not only are prospects dim and getting dimmer that our college grads will find jobs upon graduation (2010 grads are competing with 2009 grads; we have compounding unemployment among the young white-collared)  Some are drinking away their brains as a recent study has shown that among the young, excessive drinking actually destroys neural stem cells in the brain impairing young people’s ability to learn and remember, a condition known as impaired neurogenesis.

So, you spend on average between $7k for public in-state tuition and fees and up to 26k for private college so your kids can further their mental capabilities and instead, in large numbers, they are actually destroying their ability to learn by drinking until they pass out.  Perhaps Obamacare’s extension of of coverage to children on their parents’ policies until age 26 is an attempt to absorb those graduates who won’t be employed with health coverage upon graduation as well as those who won’t have the capability to graduate because their brains don’t function properly.

This is no laughing matter but I have an incident to share that at the time was very funny…at least my boys who are 8 and 6 were very amused.  It was about 2am and we were waiting for my husband’s bus to arrive from Logan airport.  I arrived a half-hour early and thought the kids would either be asleep or bored silly.  Well, it turns out we had plenty of entertainment going on right outside our car windows.

We were parked close to the center of campus at Dartmouth College.  Some of the entertaining co-eds walking by were the girl carrying her shoes who would occasionally drop her shoe, keep walking and then 3 minutes later turn around and retrieve her shoe.  She did this about 5 times.  My boys’ favorite was the guy walking with his buddy who dropped his styrofoam container filled with a burger and fries on the sidewalk, fell down onto his knees and started eating the french fries off the sidewalk while his buddy was laughing so hard he fell on the grass.  The two of them carried on for about 5 minutes before they got the burger and remaining fries off the sidewalk and back into the box and were on their merry drunk way.  Annual cost to go to this Ivy party: $46k.

Parents with kids in college are either drunk or irrational (or both) because the money they’re spending on higher ed would be better utilized at the bottom of a birdcage.

Higher Ed Bubble: $200k in Student Loan Debt and No Job

bubble shot

My brain just locked on to info in a recent tweet from Brandon Dutcher about Kelli Space who writes about trying to pay for the 200k in student loans used to earn her Sociology degree. The sad news is she’s only 22.  And even sadder: she didn’t land a job even remotely related to her field of study.  She is working for an internet company.  She seems to be acutely aware that in this economy and at her payscale, her long-run financial forecast is abysmal.

It’s criminal that an 18 year-old could be encouraged by high school and college financial aid counselors to take on this kind of debt when the payoff from her degree amounts to about ten percent of the loan “if” she got a job in sociology.  After doing some basic research about what her alternatives could have been, she concludes that any path out of high school would have been better than the one she bought into.  She writes:

An idea that some students may want to consider is going into business rather than going to college. Peter Thiel, billionaire co-founder of PayPal, recently launched an initiative to encourage students under 20 years of age to focus on their entrepreneurial ideas as opposed to dutifully fulfilling the expectation for college. The Thiel Fellowship offers $100,000 each to twenty young people who are willing to put their education on hold in order to pursue these ideas.

Thiel understands that the massive amounts of debt that many students incur by the time they graduate is so burdening that while they spend their lives paying off the borrowed money, they have neither the drive nor the means to tend to other worthy pursuits. Only a few can get these grants, but his idea has much wider application. I suspect there are quite a few ambitious young Americans who would be much further ahead if they went into a business or trade and saved the money their families would have spent on college tuition.

Thiel’s fellowship coupled with my personal Mt. Everest (my hefty student loans) has opened up a world of regret for me as I look back and recognize all of the options I left unexplored at the age of eighteen. I often dream of how I could have worked full-time and gone to community college part-time while living at home, saving money, and paying my own way through school.

Maybe I could have worked while taking foreign language classes (another interest of mine) and, once fluent, applied to become a translator. Honestly, nearly any path after high school would have been better than amassing $200,000 in debt for an assumed rite of passage.

It’s obvious that we’re in the midst of a higher education bubble which is about to explode.  Simple enough: not enough jobs for all the kids graduating from college.  Perhaps parents should get off the college brainwashing train.  One of my favorite books on the topic is Robert Kiyosaki’s If you Want to Be Rich and Happy, Don’t Go to School.

No responsible parent these days should let their child take on loans to go to college.  But, what about giving some consideration to laying the groundwork for your children to start their own businesses ?  What about taking money that you’d put in a 529 account and instead using the money to buy capital for their business ?  By helping your children build entrepreneurial skills and investing in capital for their business, you’re investing in their futures as well as your own.  Not to mention, you might be able to keep them local instead of having them chase jobs all over the country.

photo by: rhett maxwell