Sunday, April 14, 2013

My Excellent Adventure: Giving a Speech to Education Experts on Why College is a Scam

By James Altucher

The woman sitting behind me on the train kept saying into her phone, “he was obsessed with talking about my vagina. Is that weird?”

I was trying to listen to her conversation. But now her voice was lower. “Should I feel guilty about what I did?” she was saying. I really wanted to know what she did.


At that moment, I was going into the city to give a talk about college education to an audience of about 150 education experts.

I’m an expert because I wrote a book.

The speakers were me, some professor, some head of tuitions at some shit school (i.e. the one I graduated from), the NYC Chancellor of something (I got there late and everyone just kept referring to him as “The Chancellor” so I’m not sure what he was Emperor of or whatever).
My topic: why they had all wasted their time, money, and lives on going to college.

I told a lot of jokes during my talk.

I have an excellent preparation technique: While other people were giving their talks I had been downstairs watching “Louis CK” on my phone. I like to prepare for a talk by laughing.

Then it was my turn to speak upstairs. I got everybody to laugh quite a bit.

But the bottom line is: the system is broken, the middle class is disappearing, being carved through the middle by a trillion dollars in student loan debt, and everyone is still raising tuition faster than inflation. And 50% of kids with college degrees now are underemployed.

And that one statistic that “if you go to college you make a million dollars more” is totally flawed and I explained why using basic Statistics 101 knowledge (explained in detail in this post).

I also talked about the people I met when I wandered around NYU interviewing students about how they were going to handle their student loan debt.

I talked about the girl who was practically naked while hula hooping so she could make debt payments from a tip jar. I spoke about the two kids who got degrees but were now clerks in an eyeglass store getting paid by the hour, and they felt they were “lucky” because most of their other friends did not have jobs.

And I told my story of how I spent 3 years studying computers then 2 years in grad school for computers then had to take remedial computer classes once I got a job.

The woman who spoke immediately after me, a computer professor from the shit school I graduated from, said, “well James went to our college and was successful so it couldn’t be all that bad.”

And everyone laughed and clapped.

The rest of her talk was about some bullshit called MOOCs. A way for people to pay colleges lots of money while not paying attention to anything.

The Chancellor of Whatever spoke at one point and said I was “idiotic”.

The woman after that was in charge of tuitions at same college. She said “Tutions will always go up faster than inflation.” She said, “We have to be able to hire competitive researchers”.

I leaned over to Claudia while continuing my game of backgammon on my phone and said, “she forgot to say the word ‘educators’ “.

Later, during the Q&A, one woman asked: “I need to get a masters in education to teach but it costs the same as an MBA. That doesn’t seem fair. What should I do?”

Nobody had an answer for her. I had an answer but felt shy about saying it. My answer was: “You have to quit your job as a teacher.” That’s the only way to let them know this is a problem. Reduce supply. Your value goes up. Then you can dictate the rules of the universe.

Another question. This one for me. “What about that statistic that says you make a million dollars more if you go to college.” I said, “Please refer to the talk I just gave.”

Read the rest here.


  1. This is the dumbest piece I've ever read. I now feel dumber for having read it.

  2. You need some sort of certificate to get a job. It is the certificate that matters. You have so many lawyers in this country to set up barriers to prevent people from getting in the trade. To blame colleges is seriously misguided. Why does a 10$/hour job need 6 months training in class?

  3. James is right, most college degrees are crap. Unless you will be a doctor or engineer or nurse, etc., you are wasting time and money. By the way, I attended one of James' alma maters (CMU) and wouldn't do it again.

  4. College is a scam if you don't need it for the career you are pursuing, and if the career you are pursuing requires taking on obscene debt which you will pass on to your customers, it is still a scam. If you are college material in the first place, and you can get scholarships/grants, that is okay. Far fewer people ought to be in college than are in college, as they are not all college material. Some are in college to avoid work, and there is a place for perpetual college students who get money for playing that game. If they wanted to work, they'd get a job!

  5. I completely agree with James. For most people, college is a huge waste of money. They'd be better of working the 4 or 5 years (instead of drinking and screwing), learn the business, maybe become a low level manager and then starting their own business. The only people that really need college degrees are doctors, nurses, engineers, etc. Plus, you'd be smart to look outside the USSA.
    By the way, I attended CMU and got a BSME and if I had it to do again, I wouldn't do it.

    By the way, I

  6. I think the idea behind James' contempt for college is 18 year olds are pushed into it and become riddled with tens or hundreds of thousands of debt. Ask a college sophomore what they're studying and why, you'll generally get a disappointing response. Ask a high school senior why they're going to college and apart from the social pressure and not having a plan otherwise the real answer is to party for 4 years at their parent's expense.

    My first job as an analyst had me utilizing maybe 5% of what I learned in college, and with some lessons on Excel and an Amazon gift card to stock up my Kindle I would have been just as armed for an entry-level position, but a degree was required because the system says so. Education is watered down and universities are corrupt. It's just another scheme forced upon the majority.