Mike Rowe: Pushing Kids Into College Is “The Worst Advice In The History Of The World”

“We’re lending money we don’t have, to kids who will never be able to pay it back, for jobs that no longer exist,” Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame told Glenn Beck during a recent interview. “That’s crazy, right? That’s what we’ve been doing for the last forty years.”

Rowe is talking about misguided efforts to push America’s young into college when, for a lot of them, it’s not necessary.

“We have 3 million jobs nobody wants,” Rowe says noting that few of those jobs – just 12% if the figure he cites – require a four-year degree. Yet, they’re jobs employers are having a hard time filling because, according to Rowe, their vocational jobs of the sort Americans have been told are a consolation prize for those who can’t cut it in college.

“It’s not about, this is good or this is bad,” Rowe said. “It’s about, when did it make sense to say one size fits everybody? It never ever ever made sense to do that, and yet we’re still selling education the same way we sold it when you and I were in high school.”

Rowe, through his (whimsically capitalized) mikeroweWorks Foundation, is offering a scholarship for “for those looking to explore a career in the skilled trades.”

That’s a great thing, and the work Rowe is doing to change American attitudes about education and careers is wonderful. We’ve developed an attitude about college which holds that it’s a more fun version of high school at the end of which you get a piece of paper that entitles you to a better sort of life.

Except, that’s not necessarily true. Young adults are moving back in with mom and dad. College graduates are being forced to take jobs that don’t require college degrees. “The number of college graduates has grown vastly faster than the number of jobs that require high-level education skills,” Professor Richard Vedder, an outspoken critic of higher education in America, has said.

Meanwhile, the cost of higher education has exploded. Tuition is through the roof, as are related costs like textbooks and housing, all while campuses get bigger and more lavish and pay for university employees goes through the roof.

Government policies aimed at promoting higher education, while perhaps pure in intent, have failed in outcome because they’ve turned college attendance from something you earned to advance yourself in your career into an entitlement and a “life experience” that all Americans should have.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • OldConserv2011

    Right here in North Dakota, some of the highest paying and greatest demand jobs are instrumentation technicians and heavy equipment mechanics. Bismarck State & State School of Science both offer 2 year I & E programs. And a fresh grad from that program can easily make $75000 his first year on the job.

    • awfulorv

      Course, they’ll have to forsake the video games for a time, and you know how difficult that is…

  • kevindf

    Mike Rowe is going to make the education cabal cry!

  • joe mauer

    Until the duck from Aflac weighs in on this, will I pass judgement.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob


  • matthew_bosch

    One’s ROI for a 4 year Liberal Arts degree can’t be that great right now.
    -Go to college for 4.5-5 years earn Liberal Arts degree, get entry level job at Barnes and Noble; or graduate High School forgo $26.5K in debt and get entry level job at Barnes and Noble.

  • Chris

    Mike Rowe is right! Why invest in higher education when there are 3 million dirty, hazardous, high-risk, low-paying jobs out there just waiting to be filled up?? Go clean those sewers and mop up that horse dung!

    • awfulorv

      And, where there are horses surely there will be Buggies to repair, and flies to swat…sarc

    • kjuu

      Holy hell, what an elitist. I suppose you want undocumented workers to fill these jobs, and be glad for it.

      • Chris

        If those kinds of jobs are your thing, I’m not stopping you. It just means more jobs for me elsewhere. But for gods sakes, don’t discourage young people from getting a higher education.

        • awfulorv

          There’s another fellow on this blog, Steve Nagel, who is concerned about the chem-trails over Bismarck. Since, it appears, you are presently ensconsed up there, in that rarefied air, perhaps you could be of service to him reporting on these phenomenom, as they are, from the scene…

          • Chris

            I get it. I must have been affected by the chemtrails since I defend higher education. Your statement is kind of ironic, don’t you think, since you defend ignorance?

          • awfulorv

            No you didn’t appear to get it, so I’ll clarify it for you. You, my friend, are a snobbish, know it all twit, and very likely a liberal graduate of the Dickinson state diploma mill.

    • Drain52

      Which is what college grads’ll be doing anyway, with their worthless 4-year studies in Han Chinese Literature 1385-1410 A.D.

      • Chris

        It depends what area you study in. The areas that provide job opportunities are in medicine, technology, business, finance, law, and maybe a few others. Chinese would be a good area to go into if you combine it with other subjects, like business or IT.

    • JoeMN

      Those jobs are just as important as any other.
      In fact, I would argue that they are MORE important than those jobs held by liberals holed up in their ivory towers

      Many of them are high paying, and require special skills not taught as the universities.

      • Chris

        All jobs are important in their own right, and there should always be someone to fill them in. However, to discourage higher education is ludicrous, unless you’re comfortable in a job that doesn’t require going to college.

    • Flyby_Knight

      Since when are skilled trades low-paying? Keep up this higher ed policy for another twenty years and an hour with a decent plumber will cost more than an hour with a great lawyer.

      • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

        I don’t think Chris has ever seen what a plumber gets paid.

        In fact, America’s dirtiest and most hazardous jobs are usually pretty well compensated. Because they’re dirty and hazardous and not a lot of people want to do them.

        • NoDakNative

          Exactly, in economics that is called a “compensating differential.”

          That’s also the reason why men tend to, as a whole, make more money than women. Men take the crappy and dirty jobs, women take the cleaner and more comfortable jobs. Men and women tend to have different priorities and that extends to their preference in employment.

      • Chris

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for trade school too, however they don’t normally prepare the student for a diverse job market. If plumbing is all you can do and there are no plumbing jobs, it’s back to the drawing board.

        • Flyby_Knight

          From the article: ““We have 3 million jobs nobody wants,” Rowe says noting that few of those jobs – just 12% if the figure he cites – require a four-year degree. Yet, they’re jobs employers are having a hard time filling because, according to Rowe, their vocational jobs of the sort Americans have been told are a consolation prize for those who can’t cut it in college.”

          I don’t think a lack of plumbing jobs is the issue. It’s the lack of plumbers.

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          I don’t think you’re being fair.

          For one, there’s a lot more reliable demand for plumbers than there is for, say, english majors.

          For another, the skills that make one a plumber can apply to a lot of other fields.

          I think it’s unfortunate that so many people look down on these trades. We take stuff like electricity and plumbing for granted, never realizing the skill and hard work it takes to keep those things working.

          • Flyby_Knight

            Easy on english majors, buddy.

        • awfulorv

          “If plumbing is all you can do”, I’m beginning to enjoy your pompous insults. Can’t wait till you deliver some zingers on the clown in the White House…

    • devilschild

      My kids are electricians and they’ve been working since the day they graduated from school. My husband is a plumber and he found a good job one month after the ACSC lockout started. And in my opinion real men wear jeans to work not three piece suits. They are the people who keep this country running.

      • Chris

        Why stop at being electricians when they can go on to be electrical engineers, designing power systems and communication devices, and the sort? The differences in average wage is around $40K. Your kids should be primed for higher success.

        • Onslaught1066

          designing power systems and communication devices, and the sort?

          Who, pray tell, will implement all of these wonderful designs, you retard?

          • Chris

            The next guy, retard. Not my problem.

          • Onslaught1066

            No crispy, retardation is most definitely “your problem”.

            Try not to poke your eyes out with your crayons. M’kay?

        • devilschild

          Their goal is to own their own business and I don’t see that as a negative. They’re bright kids who have the capability to succeed no matter what they decide to do.

          • 2hotel9

            And along the way they will become electrical engineers. Experience is far better an educator than the majority of college profs. And along the way they will pick up a whole lot more than just electrical skills, general construction skills overlap a lot.

  • LastBestHope

    “Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, will pay each of the 24 winners of his Thiel Fellowship $100,000 not to attend college for two years and to develop business ideas instead.

    In a move meant to provoke thought about the value of higher education, Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, is giving 24 students money not to attend college for two years but to develop their ideas instead.

    The winners were announced today for a new fellowship that has sparked heated debate in academic circles for questioning the value of higher education and suggesting that some entrepreneurial students may be better off leaving college.

    The fellows, all 20 years old or younger, will leave institutions including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University, to work with a network of more than 100 Silicon Valley mentors and further develop their ideas in areas such as biotechnology, education, and energy.


  • awfulorv

    It is too bad that one cannot learn Machine Tool and Die making from youtube, or video games, or perhaps two million young people, around the country, would have jobs waiting for them, tomorrow morning. Alas, though it is interesting, satisfying work, requiring apprenticeship, hundreds of hours of study, hands on, and otherwise, and honest toil, no one seems to want give what it will take to become one.
    Or, due to lack of experienced workers, perhaps the robotic industry, or more likely other nations, will be the ones that profit from the dearth of young workers interested in this field. I sincerely hope that doesn’t happen…

    • Federalist

      Maybe people are not racing into those jobs because they are insecure. How many tool and die people lost their jobs when our overlords shipped those jobs to China?

      • Federalist

        I should also note that right wingers don’t want to pay to educate people in those tech areas. Where are the vocational-technical High Schools in ND? (Note: I grew up on Massachusetts and those types of HS are all over.)

  • Chris

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that college is not only for job opportunities. It’s also to expand your horizons and improve your everyday life. It’s important these days to have a base knowledge in history, science, literature, arts, critical thinking, etc. High school is just not enough to get this foundation.

    A few courses that will help you for the rest of your life, even if they don’t directly provide job opportunities, are personal finance, auto mechanics, keyboard typing, electronics, essay writing, and debating.

    • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

      I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that college is not only for job opportunities. It’s also to expand your horizons and improve your everyday life.

      That’s certainly the talking points we get from the university types who are, of course, well-served financially by Americans pushing generations of kids into college for the life experience.

      But there are two problems

      1) A college campus isn’t the only place, or even the best place a lot of the time, to expand one’s horizons. Especially given the political homogeny that is promoted on so many campuses. Diversity of thought is not often welcome.

      2) If college isn’t about a career, then why does everyone from high school guidance counselors to the colleges themselves make that argument? You can’t justify huge budgets and endless subsidies on the economic benefits of a better-trained workforce only to turn around and dismiss that argument when it’s pointed out that, economically, a lot of students might be better served not going to college.

      • Chris

        I like debating with you because you actually bring stuff to the table, unlike a lot of your counterparts who focus on silly personal attacks.

        1) you’re right, and a college shouldn’t be the only place where you should look to expand your horizons either. In fact according to my experiences, colleges encourage and inspire you to go out and experience more. I’d be willing to bet that most young people who travel do it either through their college or right afterwards. Also, there is plenty of political diversity, depending on what courses you take. Business professors tend to be more conservative and liberal arts professors tend to be more liberal. In the more technical areas, like medicine and technology, they tend to be apolitical, or they keep their opinions to themselves. That’s expected because of their areas of expertise.

        2) Just like in any learning environment, what you get out of college is equal to what you put into it. If you take only art classes and then partying at night, then you’re probably wasting your money. Counselors should be providing guidance on what courses to take according to the current and future job market. Additionally there is nothing wrong with trade schools, especially if there is a big demand for a specific job. I wish I would have known a lot earlier that IT was the future for me. it would have saved me a lot of time and money. On the other hand, I might not have known if I hadn’t taken the wide range of courses that I took during college.

        • http://sayanything.flywheelsites.com Rob

          I don’t actually think we’re that far apart.

          Your problem is that you’re starting with the premise that Rowe, and people like me who agree with him, is anti-college. We’re not.

          We’re just against college as an entitlement.

          • MrSkeptic

            “An entitlement is a guarantee of access to benefits based on established rights or by legislation (Wikipedia, 2013).

            What exactly do you mean when you say you are against college as an entitlement? It seems like you are using the term pejoratively and your usage doesn’t seem to fit the definition I have given.

    • devilschild

      Gaining knowledge in history, science, arts, critical thinking, etc…can be done by reading a book. It doesn’t have to be taught in a classroom.

      The courses you mentioned in personal finance, etc…are community college classes which can be taken after work hours. Skilled trade workers continue with their education every year in this type of atmosphere.

      • Chris

        You think I’m debating universities vs community colleges? Not at all. Sometimes it’s better to start in community colleges, and then once you’ve homed into your interest, continue with the university and get that bachelors degree.

  • liz

    Okay Chris I can’t stand it anymore and have to comment. The colleges and universities of today are there for making a profit and to promote non individual thinking and “programing” of our youth. They walk out of these institutions not knowing anything more than when they walked in and up to their eyeballs in debt. These institutions are there for the rich and only the rich, these days they are for programing our youth not to think for themselves and completely dumb them down. The trade is the best thing for students to strive for, retirement is creating a large shortage of plumbers, electricians, etc. Society needs these trades your newly designed toilet is great idea but it has to flush too.

  • 2hotel9

    Been seeing this for years, young people with college debt bigger than a home mortgage and college education which leaves then with few job opportunities. Worked with 3 young men during this past year, all college grads, all intelligent, all with massive debt and all working construction cause that is all they can find. One is married and his wife is in the same position, in debt and unemployable with 4 years worth of education. She works in housekeeping at a retirement home and is going to school at night for medical tech training. Point being they all could have graduated highschool and gone into exactly what they are doing now, and not been so massively in debt.

    Chris brings up the “expand your horizons” argument. Simply put, you don’t have to go to college for that. Talking to college students and grads over the years that is not what they are getting in college, anyway. He does admit that many people should start in a community college setting before moving on to college, but only after being dragged to it. His main point is anyone who says most kids should not go to college is against education. That is his starting point. Rather telling, it is the same starting point for so many on the left.

  • Caleb Harris

    All you will need to start your career is some training, maybe even a bit of experience and you have a position which is envied even by those who worked hard and spent both money and time on education http://www.21stcenturynews.com.au/high-paid-jobs-dont-require-degree/