College as consumer good

I had the top comment on a Gary Vaynerchuk LinkedIn post last week. Sparked some good discussion. Thought I’d share here.

“Today, college is about an ‘experience,’ not an education. It wasn’t always this way, but we’re here now. This means the problem is much deeper than finding other ways to educate yourself and become ’employable.’ It’s about addressing people’s deep-set need to enjoy their life and not miss out on ‘milestone’ experiences (like college). We literally go into lifetimes of debt in order to not feel bad about ourselves — to not feel we missed out on an experience that, frankly, many college graduates would give up if they could go back in time.”

To put this more simply, I think college is a consumer good for most kids. Not 100% a consumer good, but more than 50%.

Lots of kids go mostly because they want the experience, and not to become employable or learn real things (beyond “life lessons”).

A test for this theory might be to compare time spent studying with grade trends at major universities. Especially easy-to-get-into state institutions.

This isn’t (necessarily) about the cost of college, the quality of college education, or whether college is a worthwhile investment. I’m simply saying that many kids go just to have an experience. Whether it’s worth the cost is something everyone should decide for themselves. But making a good decision in this regard requires us to be honest with ourselves about our (and our kids’) motives and about what actually goes on at college.

I love my college experience. It shaped me socially, professionally and spiritually in ways well worth the cost, in my opinion. But is that necessarily true for everyone who goes? For even the majority of students?

Those are fair and important questions to ask.

Published by Nick Freiling

Founder/Director of PeopleFish. I write on technology, market research and economics. Bylines at Startup Grind, FEE, the American Enterprise Institute and the Mises Institute.

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