The Death of College

From Richard Linklater’s new movie “Everybody Wants Some”

My partners and I are kicking off a school in November because we think the college model is broken.

Students rack up debt studying a subject they aren’t sure that they’ll like. They major in something and find out later that they hate it. They’ve now wasted 4 years of time and potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. How many of us are actually working in the field that we studied?

Outside of my wife (who I knew before we went to college together) I don’t talk to anyone that I went to school with on a regular basis.

If you ask me what I remember learning, I only have one clear memory. Clifton Green, my finance professor, talked about how leverage was like cocaine. When times are great, you feel great, but when times are bad, it’s really bad. Valuable as that is, that’s all I remember. Professors at research universities don’t focus on students, they focus on research.

At Fishermen Labs, we barely even look at resumes anymore. We’re just interested in one’s portfolio (show us what you’ve done and what you can do). 3 of my business partners didn’t go to college.

I’m aware that I’m not alone in this criticism. As much as I agree with it (so much so that I decided to start a school) I tend to always be a contrarian. Despite of all the criticism, there’s a sadness that comes along with the slow death of colleges.

I, for one, was reminiscing today about my time in college. What did I learn? Was the experience valuable? Where would I be today if I had skipped college?

I can make an argument for why college is a horrible investment and thus a horrible prospect. But the foundation of the argument is in the fact that earning a high salary is the only reason that we go to college.

Richard Linklater did a film that went under the radar this year called Everybody Wants Some which paints this picture of college in the 70’s. It’s this time where you’re allowed to do dumb things, where you’re excused in some ways to focus on community and discovery over practical career preparation. It’s a magical time.

As much as trade schools and starting your own business can give one a head start in the education of earning money, what about a focus on wisdom and character? That’s my fear in the death of colleges — even if colleges do survive, it’s inevitable that they will look different in the next 10 years. That evolution is right in some sense, but also wrong in another sense.

Truthfully speaking, I was a moron before I went to college. I had bad grades as a high schooler. No confidence in my abilities. If I would’ve started a business after high school it would’ve failed and not the good kind of failure but the kind of failure that just confirmed what I already knew. College gave me an environment of intelligent, like-minded individuals to compete against and grow with, and when I was finished, I was itching to take on the world.

So what’s my answer to all this? I think we need more choices out there because we all have different gifts and contexts. But I don’t know that vilifying colleges as an obvious mistake is the right answer. Colleges have been around for a lot longer than we have and we have a common fallacy in thinking that everything “new” is good. Let’s not dismiss colleges so fast. What are your thoughts on college?