Is it worth going to a private college? Recently, when I was attending the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders’ meeting, one future college student asked Warren Buffett about the value of going to a private business school. The student indicated that private school tuition now (2015) is around 60K per year. Buffett quickly answered without any hesitation and a strong tone in his voice that there is no education in the world worth 60K per year. “But private schools keep doing it because they still have people who are willing to pay,” he said. Charlie Munger quickly capped the answer with a humorous comment by saying that he never went to a business school [although he is one of the most successful people in business].
Sadly, I was one of these parents who paid the price to send my son to a private school – 60K per year. I usually don’t regret much in my life , but I honestly regret paying this amount of money for a private education. Although my son had a good education which he could have gotten at a state school, he did not graduate.
Several months ago my son called me telling me that he was not going to finish school. I was surprised and scared (I asked myself “How about the thousands of dollars we spent in school tuition, two years private and one year public, in the last three years?”) I asked him with hesitation, “What is your plan?” He answered, “I am going to look for a job in New York City.” I seriously was skeptical of this. “How on earth will you find a good job in computer programming without a degree?” I said. He was very confident “I am going to find a job very quickly.” I told him that his mom and I would be happy to help proofread his resume.
My fear of my son’s leaving school was getting bigger and bigger in my mind. I decided to ask people on Quora: My son is an excellent programmer. He decided to not finish his college degree. Is this a good decision? What should I do? Most people were surprisingly supportive of the decision as they recounted their own personal stories.
Within two days, he sent us his resume. When I opened the attachment, I was horrified. He placed the picture of his tattoo on his right arm in the resume saying “I love … functional programming so much I even have a lambda tattoo and a Haskell monad tattoo! My love of functional programming goes more than skin deep!” I asked him, knowing that he would not listen to me, if he would allow me to forward his resume to a friend of mine a senior programmer to get his opinion. After he agreed, I sent it to my friend, and within five minutes I received his response “If I saw that in a resume, or someone even mentions that they have a tatoo or that they painted it on their car because they “love it so much ” the resume is deleted or in the trash bin — as a hiring manager, I want technical creds not expressions of love :-)” He continued, “He may get in some uber-hip programmer clique with the picture – but those are rare.”
Luckily my son listened to my friend by removing the picture of his tattoo. Within four weeks, he had 12 job interviews and one job offer. I am still amazed until now that he had all of these interviews and that he was offered a job as if he had his degree.
Being curious about how many people did not finish their degrees in high school or college but had good jobs, I did some digging. I was pleasantly surprised with many examples; in addition to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg, none of whom finished college, I discovered that Dr. Alvin Roth a professor at Stanford University is a Nobel prize winner who did not finish high school. Dan Gilbert, a professor in psychology at Harvard University and spokesman for Prudential Life Insurance, did not finish his high school.
In fact, Peter Theil, the founder of PayPal, established the Theil Foundation for students not to go to college but to build their own startups by writing on his website. “Two years. $100,000. Some ideas just can’t wait.” What was amazing about Mr. Theil was that he was turned down to serve as clerk in the Supreme Court by Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy twenty years ago. This trend of not going to college spread like wildfire in the programming community. To counter this, a professor of Stanford said on 60 minutes that students should stay away from this misguided campaign.
What do you think? Is private college education worth it? Is it OK to not finish your college or high school degrees?
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