Sunday, December 5, 2010

Bye, Bye Buffalo

        Below is my final paper for my Current Economics Issues class in memory of my experience here at University at Buffalo.

“Felix qui nihil debet (happy is he who owes nothing)” – Roman Proverb


        This is my first and last semester at University at Buffalo. It was a “try-out” to see if university is really worth the time and money. So, to conclude the time I've spent here, I've decided to take the con side against a topic that was mentioned in a lecture by Professor Holmes at the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester in his Current Economic Issues class – the investment into education. He stated that we (students) are increasing our human capital by obtaining a college degree. This is true, however I seek to look more deeply into the implications of attending university and the lifestyle that follows. Below is research supporting my claim, along with generalizations that describe the typical four-year university student, many of which I have become personally associated with.


        Education is oftentimes highly valued in American society. A college degree makes it easier to find higher-paying, steady jobs. Economics Professor at Skidmore College, Sandy Baum, tells us that college graduates earn, on average, about $20,000 more a year than those who finished their educations at high school. Add that up over a 40-year working life and the total differential is about $800,000. But since much of that bonus is earned many years from now, subtracting out the impact of inflation means that $800,000 in future dollars is worth only about $450,000 in today's dollars. Then, if you subtract out the cost of a college degree – about $30,000 in tuition and books for students who get no aid and attend public in-state universities, plus room and board at about $50,000 – and the money a student could have earned at a job instead of attending school, the real net value in today's dollars is somewhere in the $300,000 range. This still seems like a substantial amount of money, but let's take a look at the externalities that come from the investment into education.


        With almost 10 million views on YouTube, a popular music video titled, “I Love College,” by Asher Roth depicts the college lifestyle as being full of partying, drinking, and women. The lyrics state, “I can't tell you what I learned from school \ but
I could tell you a story or two, um \ Yeah, of course I learned some rules \ Like don't pass out with your shoes on (Get the Sharpie!) \ And don't leave the house 'til the booze gone
(No, we're not leaving) \ And don't have sex if she's too gone \ When it comes to condoms put two on
(Trust me).” Although parents and teachers would prefer to think that youth are in college to advance their intellect, their reasoning for being there is closer to that of Roth's. The media has a powerful impact on minds, and for years, the image of college has been carefully sculpted away from valuing academia and toward valuing sex, drugs, and commercialism. This can lead to many dangers, including alcohol abuse, rape, and violence.
        Aside from this is the psychology of learning – how students perceive college education. University is like a one-stop shop for everything you need – math, science, history, etc. Once one attains his degree, he gets a job, and he doesn't need to learn anymore. He thinks this way because he is forced to take general education requirements even if he's not interested in the subjects, leading him to believe that that's all the information that is necessary to form a complete view of the world. His only motivation is a degree. He wants to pass his classes, not to show himself that he's learned something, but so he can obtain the credits needed. This goal-oriented view of education leaves one to memorize and regurgitate information rather than look deeper into his studies in order to understand the importance of the material, or even learn the skill of critical thinking (Goldson). The teacher is viewed as the authority in the classroom who has all the answers, while the student subordinates because he has no answers, or at least not the “right” answers (Freire 72).
        After all is said and done, the money spent on an “education” was really just for certification to work. The degree will show an employer that the applicant can successfully do what he is told. Most often, the employer doesn't care what the student was trained in (i.e. his major) because the important part is that he can be trained. According to, only 3 out of 22 companies described one’s major as being important outside of the case where specific technical skills are needed for the job, and the Education in Economics Review tells us that around 55% of graduates land a job that matches their major (Shenk). That's only a little over half.


        So, assuming that there isn't a down-turned economy and the student lands a job, the implications of this new lifestyle are important to consider. Oftentimes, the job that one receives with a college degree is an office job that can easily put this person out of touch with reality. For example, since he is receiving a steady paycheck, he does not need to know how his food is produced; he just needs to use his money to buy it at the store. Later down the line, he can then develop cancer from the genetically modified produce. Luckily, he can trust a doctor to give him the right treatment, using radiation to solve the problem. He didn't bother doing any research himself because he believes that he learned all he needed to learn in college, and now money can just solve any problem. Unfortunately, it turns out that this lack of critical thinking can lead to more problems than just his own.
        This worker is now a consumer, and the average consumer doesn't usually think about where his clothes come from, or what the fine print in his credit card statement says. He's just living the American dream. He lives as an individual, not seeking any type of higher level of thought, such as the interconnectedness of all things. He does not worry that his actions affect someone halfway across the world. The sweatshop worker that is exposed to harsh chemicals while making Mardi Gras beads does not even know what they are used for (Redmon), but the average consumer is not concerned. Taking a loan for a mortgage that is inconceivable to pay back and may cause a financial meltdown isn't the average consumer's top priority. His priorities lie within his small circle of friends, family, and co-workers; his satisfaction with material goods perpetuates the exploitation of resources and people, and his taxes continue to fuel the military-industrial complex.


        James Altucher recommends that young people use the money that they would've spent on university to start a business (or five). He says they could also travel the world, work, volunteer, or just read books to receive the benefits of college plus some. Most of the smart, motivated, and ambitious students think that they need college, but this is not necessarily so. They usually see a college degree as security, but they try to attain it too early in life without experience or knowledge about what they really want to do. Getting real-world experience outside of school is invaluable, and can open up one's eyes to how the world really works outside of the structured and safe environment that university provides, which will hopefully motivate them to make a real difference in the world.


         Of course, university does have good aspects, but today it is treated in entirely the wrong way. To truly value education means to also value conversation, the Internet, books, and life experiences. College is only a worthwhile investment if it directly contributes to what you know you want to do in life, instead of being a place to go because you are expected to. The risks associated with partying and the impact it has on the rest of the world are detrimental to society and can be classified as externalities of the higher-level education system.


Altucher, James. "Seven Reasons Not to Send Your Kids to College." DailyFinance. AOL Money & Finance, 06 Aug. 2010. Web. 26 Nov. 2010. .

Baum, Sandy. Is Skidmore Worth the Cost? Skidmore College. YouTube. 15 Oct 2009. Web. 26 Nov 2010.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder, 1972. 72-73. Print.

Goldson, Erica. "Here I Stand." Class of 2010 HS Graduation. Coxsackie-Athens HS, Coxsackie, NY. 25 June 2010. Speech.

I Love College. Dir. Jonathan Lia and Scooter Braun. Perf. Asher Roth. SchoolBoy/SRC/Universal Motown, 2009. YouTube. AsherRothVEVO, 16 June 2009. Web. 26 Nov 2010. .

Mardi Gras: Made in China. Dir. David Redmon. By David Redmon. Carnivalesque Films, 2005. DVD.

Shenk, David. "Does Your College Major Matter?" Study Hacks. 2007. Web. 26 Nov. 2010. .


  1. Some people will tell you it's a fool-hardy mistake to forsake college.

    But I know you can build your human capital just as well by going out and learning things in the real world, making real money doing things you really believe in, getting experience on the job and on the road, all over the world.

    Not to mention that at some point, college is not worth the debt and investment (in an economic sense, as you pointed out).

    Kids going to schools just because everyone told them to ("the eliter the school, the better!", they say — usually forgetting to add "the eliter the school, the more it costs"), paying amounts of money that are probably bigger than any amount they have had experience dealing with before, loaned from unscrupulous government or private agencies, is just a perfect formula for a tuition bubble, with the kids being the ones paying the inflated costs.

    Plus the real challenges in today's world will require solutions that the professors are largely clueless to provide.

    So — you are making a brave decision, and I think it is well-reasoned.

    Just make sure to actually keep improving yourself and don't go be a bum!


  2. I wish I had that kind of foresight when I started college but part of the reason I stayed in was being covered by my mom's health insurance.

  3. Same thought from what i think. brilliant!.. knowledges its not just a merit, its depend on how we apply them. most of my colleagues study for marks. They not going to invent or used the knowledge after exam.

    -Helmi Zuqubert

  4. I'm young, a very successful business owner, incredibly well respected in my city as the authority in what I do, I dropped out of high school at 13. University is a waste of time for the vast majority.

  5. While I appreciated aspects of your post, overall I believe it's short-sighted.

    You described the college experience through a very shaded lens. Why do you have to go to parties and get drunk? Because that's what "you do at college"? If you don't want to go to parties, don't go to parties. Going along with the crowd seems to fly in the face of everything you're about. And summing up college life from a YouTube video is erroneous at best.

    Your generalizations in your section in Work Life are scathingly stereotypical and jaded as well. Is everyone cut out to be an entrepreneur? No. Many people value a certain amount of stability and are willing to pay for it by getting a college degree. To accuse them of being mindless drones who care about nothing but friends and money is horribly judgmental and inaccurate.

    Aside from the institutional issues (I agree with many of your points there), why not treat college the way you described life outside of college? Explore. Meet new people. Try new things. Take the classes that interest you. Learn from others. There are many opportunities at college outside of attending classes and taking tests.

  6. Speaking as a college grad, while I don't agree with all of Erica's points, I can understand why she would prefer to seek an alternative path and I don't believe that choice is as shortsighted as some might think. The most valuable things I learned during my college years were learned from peers and elders outside of classes. College may have helped me get my job but credit also must be given to personal connections and a stable economic environment at the time I applied. While in college, I did what Dave suggested with varying degrees of success. I tried to explore to the best of my ability but felt limited by the time and money constraints of being a student. I met some great people but could have met more had I not had to study so often. I took classes on subjects that interested me, only to have my interests diminished by cynical and dogmatic professors. It's hard to say what opportunities outside of college are possible for young people if one hasn't personally explored such options. While people may enter college expecting economic security, in this day and age they won't necessarily get it, and it could potentially cause instability if students get too much in debt. While I'd like to believe I'm not a mindless drone, it's honestly a constant struggle to avoid becoming one. Looking at the current state of the country, more people than not do in fact behave like mindless drones.

  7. I also was bombarded by popular portrayals of college in the media. Much like what you stated in your valedictorian address and your econ paper, college is a test of seeing how well you function in a fixed system. While life outside of undergraduate studies permits more open-mindedness and a greater facilitation of real-world skills, a higher learning degree shows that you can do well within that system. My advice is not to give up on schooling entirely.

    From reading your paper, I get an idea that you would enjoy attending a school that puts an emphasis on internships and field work. You also should look for a school where there are organizations and activities catered for others solely than undergrads. From watching your speech and reading your blog posts, you clearly have moved beyond the "undergraduate" level of maturity. While the structure of college is limiting I don't think you should give up on school yet and definitely keep on learning regardless of where you end up.

  8. The real school is within... you have all the answers you will ever need... but you have to dig to find them. Most people choose to live on the surface, being spoonfed their information. They will never find out the truth because the history, science, and every other facet of education is being controlled to intentionally manipulate us into being a class of worker slaves who are brainwashed into believing we're free. Google David Icke on reality.

  9. I think you'd like Anthony's blog if you haven't read it already. Here is an older post that deals with what you're going thru:

  10. hi erica i agree with your essay and prefer to educate myself rather than take out a loan for college which doesn't guarentee me a job or happines in the long run. i also dropped out of high school bc i'm against the dogmatic work ethic of the system. technological unemployment is also on the rise, rendering certain professions and economic practices obsolete. in a truly free society education would no longer be geared towards grooming obedient workers. people could pursue their passions simply bc they wanted to contribute rather than believing everything is only done bc of monetary incentive. getting to choose your major, which capitalist to work for, which puppet politician to vote for or which brand of toothpaste to buy is not really freedom to me. i'm wondering what your broader political views are?

  11. I think that this essay is a bunch of nonsense and that you must have gotten a bad grade on it. First of all, your economic analysis is not well made. Secondly, you don't know what you're talking about when you act like genetically modified things will cause cancer -- you don't have a degree in biochemistry!

    Your criticism of college is basically that it is structured. This is patently false. The DEGREES are structured - college is not. You can take whatever classes you want if you don't want a degree. Indeed, colleges even offer classes that are not requirements for ANY degree. Many even offer extracurricular guitar and choir classes NOT for the majors. So what is a degree? It is a certification. When you buy milk in the store, it has nutrition info so you know what it is in it. When you hire a college graduate, you know what classes they must have passed. Sure, you could just hire workers off the street with no degree - but then you would not know if they can write basic essays, or do algebra. So instead, people hire people with college degrees - because like the nutrition info, it tells the employer "this person has taken algebra, written essays, has basic knowledge of social sciences and physical sciences..."

    University is for higher learning: and people do get higher learning there. Nobody said it is for unbridled passion. That might be your dream, but it is not the reality. The universities are very clear about what real life is like there, so you can't accuse them of false advertising.

    And you have no statistics to back up your nonsense about what people expect at university. Everyone knows those are just media portrayals and not the real deal, and in my experience, almost everyone will honestly say that they went to get the "certificate", not for the parties.

  12. I wish I would have waken up earlier. I graduated a year and a half ago from a "prestigious" professional school/certification vendor. Now, I have no desire to live that life, along with about $175,000 in student loan debt. Perhaps hyperinflation will wipe it out - at least with my debt I'm in the same boat as the most powerful country in the world.

  13. I too left college after one semester for the same reasons you have described. I decided to work in restaurants to save money to move to Maui. Still here; still enjoying the sun; still loving life. Leaving college was the best decision I ever made and I'm actually getting ready to publish a book I've been working on for the past two years about this subject. I hope it will have a fraction of an impact on others as you have had on me. I found your speech when I was doubting my own work and it brought me to tears. You're awesome, and so is this paper!

  14. Where in the world did you develop such a warped since of reality? You are basing your arguments on youtube videos and media portrayals of college. Really?

    Believe it or not, there are people in this world who want to innovate and create in fields outside of the arts. Guess what, if you want to create a cure for a disease, you need a significant amount of education. If you want to create a dress out of construction paper (as you indicate in another post), you can do that with a 3rd grader's education.
    The people who change this world for the better have educations, plain and simple. I have no desire to persuade you from doing what you want, but I think you should be honest with yourself. You don't want to go to college or participate in this "structured" world because its hard, and you would prefer to take a more relaxing path. Go for it! Nothing wrong with that, but don't tell me the rest of us are mindless drones

  15. Yah, you can totally reference yourself in a paper...

  16. Uh, finance 101, which you might have learned had you actually stuck with college:

    When people write reports stating something like "$800,000 dollars over the course of one's lifetime," those amounts are listed in current dollars, as you cannot predict the precise amount of inflation in the future. If they were talking about future dollars, they would have A) stated that as such and B) therefore done the calculation already. This is one of the most basic financial truths, but you warped it and outright lied about it to magically cut the value of a college education in half to justify your personal decisions.

    I won't even go into the logical problems with the rest of your paper. I went through college, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't party, didn't do crazy nonsense, and had a wonderful time with my roommates and friends. Did they not teach you to not extrapolate using anecdotal evidence?

    Also, great job referencing yourself in a college paper.

    No offense to you and your commitment to soul-searching and figuring out what you want to do, but a college education has many, many benefits that you're giving up. If that's worth it to you, great, but please do not pretend you're somehow better than everyone else because of it. You're not, and methinks you could use a bit more education on some basic matters, such as GMOs and other such things.

    Simply put, you are not nearly as smart and wise as you think you are.

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  18. A holy church, rings, a bouquet, a 3-floor wedding cake, lace wedding dress
    champagne, and the moving promise “ I do”, make up the happiest moment in one’s life. Then it is the wedding.
    lace wedding gowns
    A gorgeous wedding dress has been inside a girl’s dream since she was five years old. It is widely said that the bride is the most beautiful woman all over the world.
    Bridal gowns vary in different parts of the world. For example, cheap wedding dresses plus sizein traditional Chinese culture, the color red is regarded for centuries as the symbol of good luck; while in the Occident, wedding dresses 2012 a full-length white wedding dress is always associated with romance and sanctity. But, with the globalization, wedding dresses tend to be alike in the whole world.