College, Smart Phones and Goal Setting

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This week the USA Today reported that “nearly half of the nation’s undergraduates show almost no gains in learning in their first two years of college, in large part because colleges don’t make academics a priority.”  The article went on to state that “after two years in college, 45% of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36% showed little change.”

The average tuition cost for a public, in-state school is around $50,000 for four years.  Out of state tuition to a public school is about twice that and some private schools can eclipse $200,000.  It makes you wonder if college is really worth the cost.  Think about it – would you buy car if there was only a 55% chance it would get you to your final destination?  Would you buy a new TV if you could only see half the picture? 

Does it make financial sense to commit four years and $50,000 or more on your education if there’s just a 64% chance you’ll be smarter at the end?

A recent survey found that 53% of college students own a smart phone.  Maybe that’s the answer.  Instead of sending our kids to college we could just buy them all an iPhone or Droid X.  The average smart phone retails for about $200.  The $49,800 saved on tuition could be used to invest in a mutual fund earning 8% a year.  At retirement age this investment would be worth a million bucks.

Here’s the other problem with college – much of what IS learned has little value in the real world.  Ask any industry leader in finance, technology, manufacturing or real estate to name a key ingredient for success and most will have the same response – goal setting.  Yet are you aware of any major university that offers a course dedicated to this subject?  Goal Setting 101 should be a required course for every college student in the country, regardless of their major.

Before my partner and I started our real estate investment firm in 2009 we sat down and mapped out our short-term, mid-term and long-term financial goals.  To do this we actually had to work backwards.

We set our long-term goal first – to earn $18,000-$20,000 per month in passive income from rental properties.  In order to generate enough income to buy these homes we had to set a mid-term goal – to flip 5-8 homes every month for 36 months.  We did the math and in order to flip 5-8 houses per month we needed $2 million in working capital.  So our short-term goal became to raise $2 million.

After 18 months we’re half way to reaching our short-term goal of raising the $2 million.  Not bad considering we started out with $180,000.

goal settingIt’s important to set a long-term goal and then back into it.  Why?  For most people, including myself, the long-term goal can sometimes seem unrealistic and unattainable.  By setting mid-term and short-term goals you can measure success more quickly and celebrate obtaining them more often.

I’ve thrown a lot of statistics at you here and that’s not normally my style.  I graduated from Arizona State University and majored in Political Science.  I did this primarily because there wasn’t much math required for the degree.   I would find out later that I had to take a class called Political Statistics 301 to graduate.  The professor once jokingly acknowledged that 80% of all statistics are made up.  That’s good to know.  Maybe college wasn’t such a bad investment after all.

About Author

Marty (G+) is the Chief Financial Officer for Rising Sun Capital Group, LLC, a real estate investment firm based in Gilbert, AZ. His firm purchases homes at the courthouse steps and public REO auctions. They have two exit strategies, either fix and flip or seller financing.


  1. Great post! I also found that college was essentially useless. But to the meat of the article: your three goals are a lot like mine so I have to ask when you are raising the $2M you are flipping the houses concurrently, right? So this way you actually have all three goals running at the same time with an almost synergistic effect.

    Thanks for setting me straight.

    • Seth, yes we are flipping houses while we continue to raise more capital. We bought and sold 30 homes in 2010 after flipping just 5 in 2009. We had success with a couple of flips and word got out. We developed a solid track record first and then built on that momentum. Today we’re well on our way to reaching our funding goals. Thanks for reading!

  2. The same goes for every nation. Be it the United States, or India. Almost all the graduates in India end up doing something which they never studied in college. Take my case – I’m studying Computer Science, but have absolutely no interest in it. Rather I love fiddling with the net, and have started my own blog. Soon, if my blog succeeds, I’d look to set up more websites and probably earn some revenue from the internet. And the funny part is , I don’t code my websites myself. I hate coding. I love writing though.

  3. The purpose of a college education is to prepare an individual to cope with the world. Generally speaking when you graduate from college you have demonstrated that you ready to cope with most things the real world will throw at you.

    I find goal setting a fascinating subject. My goal was to own fully my house in five years. I achieved my goal comfortably. I doubt it I would have any success without setting goals. I believe if more people set goals and follow them, there be a lot more happier and satisfied people in the world. I cannot wait for the day when technology make goals setting easier.

    • John, I often wonder if the reason so many fail to reach their goals is because they don’t know what they want in the first place. You made your goal to pay off your house. That is fantastic. I bet you had a very clear picture in your mind of how that would look and feel. I have a feeling you were also emotionally involved with the idea. Most people can do this with small stuff, like a TV or car. But when it comes to what matters – and I mean the really big stuff like financial independence – they fall short. I appreciate you sharing your story.

  4. Marty, your article reminds me of a recent 60 minutes piece where they talked about how college is not for everyone. You hit it on the head, its not for everyone if they miss the important characteristics of life like goal setting, personal finance, ethics, and basic decision making. If colleges put more emphasis on true life skills, it would produce greater results.

  5. 100% accurate. Every time I leave my classes I always think, “How can this possibly help me in the real world besides getting me a j.o.b. with that piece of paper I`ll receive after I complete all my college courses?!?”

    Fortunately, with good parents who taught me financial education, I`m learning more on my own through real world experiences then I am in college. For example: I`m doing assignment to deals to build cash reserves so I can start my own LLC that will be a subsidiary of my parents corporation. Again, none of this is taught at my college and I find it difficult to relate to students my age because I dont’t think like the 99% majority of them. The system is set up to put cogs in a system working for the rich and will continue to do so for generations to come, understanding that business owners/investors are a small minority of the population.

    Still investors, like myself, love reading articles like yours because we don`t feel so alone when we go out and do our business! Keep up the great work Marty!

  6. To me, college was about much more than just academics. Although I do think that my liberal arts education was valuable and did an adequate job of exposing me to ideas and methodologies that I applied in the real world, the most beneficial part was the social development that occurred throughout those four years. I spent a semester studying abroad in Europe, participated on the executive committee of multiple student organizations, learned how to live away from home, and built a network of friends and colleagues that have contributed greatly to my success. College certainly isn’t for everybody and I agree that personal finance and goal setting should be required coursework. However, my college experience shaped who I am today, and I wouldn’t trade those four years for anything.

    • Thomas, I found college valuable for some of the same reasons as you. I met my wife of 12 years there so I certainly have no regrets. However, I believe that one can be exposed to new ideas and methodologies while developing socially without spending four years and 50K or more.

      My youngest daughter wants to be a vet when she grows up. If she doesn’t change her mind then I will have to send her to college. My oldest daughter, on the other hand, wants to own her own business. We’re actually writing a business plan together right now – she wants to make and sell jump ropes online. If she maintains this entrepreneurial spirit then college may not be for her.

  7. My college education resulted in a Bachelor degree in computer science. However since I taught myself how to write software in high school, and created a dental system for my dad’s practice which I then sold to pay my way through college, I really didn’t learn much that helped me in any way. I finished though to get the degree. Now I have 3 children in college and have to admit I sometimes seriously wonder what the value of it really is.

  8. “The purpose of a college education is to prepare an individual to cope with the world. Generally speaking when you graduate from college you have demonstrated that you ready to cope with most things the real world will throw at you.” I don’t agree AT ALL with this comment, especially when it comes down to forking over 40,000 to 200,000 for that preparation. If you take the time, you could find 1000 other ways to “cope” with what the world throws at you with that money. And you’ll probably get a lot more out of it. During college I worked waiting tables and I learned more about applied psychology there then from any textbook or lecture.

    And the reason students are just as dumb two years into college as when they came in is because you are given two more years of high school with filler classes. I was shocked when I got into college and had to take courses in theater arts, art appreciation, philosophy, how to wipe your butt, ok maybe not that last one. Nothing to do with what I wanted to pursue.

    I hated the idea of two years of this. And you cant just register for classes in what you are pursuing, theres a hold on you until you meet with a “counselor” that tells you what you have to take and removes the hold just on those classes. It’s ridiculous. I ended up befriending counselors just so I could get these ridiculous holds off the courses that applied to my pursuit. So for the first to years, I learned a lot. Then the last two years were worthless academically, but I found areas to volunteer and apply what I had learned the previous two.

    Four year college education, 40,000 dollars
    Learning how to beat the system, priceless… (-:

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