Personal Finance

The American Dream: Are Traditional Values and Beliefs Helpful or Harmful Today?

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This is the second post in a five-part series that explores how the traditional “American Dream” does not fit today’s world. The rest of the series will discuss what once constituted success and whether these sought-after milestones should be left alone, tweaked, or changed altogether. Read the first article here: “The American Dream: How Has the Definition Changed Over the Years?”

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As we established in Part 1 of this series, there is no perfect definition of the American Dream. But it does seem that the definition hasn’t changed much over the last several decades. My survey of Generation Z resulted in several different ways to define the American Dream, but their definitions were more similar than different and their descriptions are in line with previous generations.

In spite of this, is the American Dream “broken” in modern society? And if so, what’s wrong with it?

Is it possible that the current understanding of the American Dream is just fine and that we should leave the old dogma alone and let it rest? NO! A thousand times, NO!

The American Dream needs some work. Some parts still stand firm—like hard work, ingenuity, opportunity for all, safety, and security.

But other aspects are old and weathered. We need to replace them with fresh ideas, thoughts, and ideals. Let’s tackle some of these head-on, starting by revisiting the 10 steps of the American Dream from Part 1.

Those 10 steps include:

  1. Go to high school and get good grades.
  2. Go to college and get good grades (while probably taking out student loans).
  3. Get a good job.
  4. Continue to spend more as one makes more.
  5. Get married and have 2.3 kids and a dog.
  6. Buy the nicest house and car one can afford (financing both).
  7. Work for 40+ years to support one’s family.
  8. Retire at age 65.
  9. Enjoy the good life.
  10. Leave your children a nice inheritance when you die.

Close up photo of young happy students with books and notes outdoors. Smart young guy and girl in University campus. Learning and education for young people.

Should We Modify the “American Dream”?

In this post, we will begin by looking at Steps 1 and 2.

Step 1: Go to high school and get good grades.

This step is pretty solid. It has stood the test of time. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m a high school teacher.)

Getting a high school diploma is essential. Getting the most out of one’s free public education is even more critical. But some classes are better than others. Getting a 4.5 weighted GPA is not as crucial as taking courses that will actually benefit the student later in life.

(For more insight on how a teenager can maximize their high school education, take a look my post “Teens & Finance: 5 Classes Your High Schooler Should Take to Start Out on the Right Financial Foot.”)

But as you will read in the hash out of Step 2, the goal of high school should not be getting accepted into the best (aka most expensive) college possible. As a matter of fact, college is not required to live a happy, fulfilled life!

This idea is blasphemy coming from a high school teacher, I know. But the hard truth is that many college graduates do not get their money’s worth. And the number of those netting a negative ROI from their investment in a college degree will only continue to climb alongside the staggering tuition increases.

Related: Why Following the American Dream Will Rob You of Financial Control

Step 2: Go to college and get good grades.

To college or not to college? That is the question.

I have no resolute answer here. Each individual will need to weigh the pros and cons of a college degree when aligned with their future aspirations. And this is incredibly tough to do when you’re trying to figure out your long-term goals as an 18-year-old. It’s incredibly daunting for someone that age to accurately diagnose their future objectives and ambitions.

Here is a text I received today. I honestly received this from a former student about four hours before writing this article. The former student is at a four-year university and is halfway through the first semester of her freshman year:

Mr. Sheeks! I want to tell you something that I think you should hear, as well as your classes. Recently I decided to completely change what I thought I was gonna do in college and with my career. I originally came in with the thought of being a doctor… but have recently realized that it is not the path. I want to start my own business, as well as hopefully teach.”

So many students have emailed, texted, or told me very similar stories over the years. Fortunately for this student, she figured out her real ambition very early on in her college career and will save thousands of dollars by switching her major her freshman year—not as a junior or senior. Hopefully, she doesn’t change majors again.

My path had a wild change of direction when I was young, as well. In college, I majored in business with an emphasis in marketing and management.

At 18, all I knew was that I wanted to be rich. I made fun of my friends in college who were majoring in education and aspired to be teachers: “Why on Earth would you want to spend your days with bratty kids and make no money while doing it?”

This was a typical rant I would say to those friends. I was half-serious and half-joking.

is-college-worth-it

I graduated with that business degree and decided to travel. Traveling lasted for six years. I learned a lot about what is actually important to me and what my genuine values are. I had changed.

At age 27, I decided being rich wasn’t as alluring. Enjoying my job and feeling rewarded and fulfilled were my new goals. I went back to school to get my teaching license.

After 17 years in the classroom, I’ve never doubted my change of career paths even once. Unfortunately, I spent four years in undergrad, two years getting my teaching license, and another two years getting a graduate degree—all while using student loans to pay the way. I could have done it all in five years had I known at 18 what my 27-year-old self was going to want to do.

Notwithstanding the fact that college can be extremely pricy and that a student may change their major two or three times, another factor to consider is that college can be completely unnecessary altogether. Major corporations such as IBM, Google, Apple, Costco, and Ernst & Young are starting to relax their requirements for new hires to have a bachelor’s degree. They see the value in training their employees from a very young age. In fact, it helps with retention and employee productivity.

And we haven’t even gone into the years of financial and opportunistic handcuffs that student loans can have on a graduate for decades.

I’m not saying that someone should not go to college and earn a four-year degree. There are no hard rules here. But what is certain is that the long-standing belief that one has to go to college to fulfill the American Dream today is shattered at best.

In the next post of this series, I’ll dive into more of the remaining 10 steps of the American Dream and what’s wrong with them. Until then, here are some quotes from (likely familiar) authors regarding the decision to go to college.

Related: 3 Reasons You Should NOT Follow the American Dream and Buy Your Own Home

What Do Personal Finance Experts Have to Say About College?

“Education is great. We’ve all seen the studies about how much more money people make over the course of their careers when they go to college, grad school, or become doctors and lawyers. I’m not here to argue with that. It is absolutely true that over the course of a 40-year career, you will likely earn way more money with higher education. But only if you have a 40-year career. And only if your goal in life is to actively earn a lot of money.”
—Scott Trench in “3 Negatively Cashflowing ‘Assets’ That Devastate 20-Somethings’ Finances” on BiggerPockets

“The most important investment you can make is in yourself. Ask any billionaire, and they’ll tell you it is the best investment you can make. Invest in your knowledge, skills, and performance, which will ultimately help you earn more because you can bring more value to the marketplace. Obtaining skills, along with knowledge, are things that people can’t take from you. However, if you’re considering investing in a college education, think twice before accumulating that bad debt. Those are years you won’t get back—often spent on irrelevant information—and those loans will keep taking money out of your pocket for years. Instead, consider books, seminars, events, and training with a mentor. This information tends to be more transferable to the real world. Do what you can afford, and as it pays off and increases your income, keep dedicating a part of everything you make to more learning.”
—Sterling White in “The Top Reason You’re Broke” on BiggerPockets

“If your goal is to achieve financial independence and retire early through real estate investing, a higher education will likely set you back. Why? You do not need a formal education to invest in real estate.”
—Craig Curelop in “5 Roadblocks on the Path Toward Financial Freedom” on BiggerPockets

“Unless you’re planning to become a doctor or lawyer or go into a profession that requires a special degree, you may not need to go to any formal training programs after high school or college to earn money if you look for great learning opportunities in a job. In fact, you can be paid to learn in the real world instead of paying high tuition fees to learn in a classroom setting… Am I saying that education isn’t important? Not at all. Education is the foundation of success. I’m saying that school is just one place to learn.”
—Robert Kiyosaki in Rich Dad Poor Dad for Teens

How do you feel about the traditional American Dream? Does it still apply? If not, how would you tweak it?

Weigh in with a comment below. 

Dan is a high school Business/Marketing teacher, real estate investor, and personal finance advocate in Denver, Colorado. He and his wife have a variety of real estate investments including multifamily, single-family, Airbnb, and out-of-state BRRRRs. Working with teenagers, personal finance advocacy, real estate investing, and the FIRE movement are Dan's four passions. He volunteers in the MoneyWi$er initiative out of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office with a few other hand-picked experts from around the state. The program strives to advance Financial Literacy in Colorado secondary education. In his 16+ years of teaching high school, he has taught a variety of business subjects including financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and marketing. Embedded in his classes is the co-curricular DECA club in which students travel, compete, acquire leadership skills, do community service, and have fun! His students have competed at the national level with much success over the years. During this time, Dan has also taken his high school students into local middle and elementary schools where his students have taught the importance of personal finance to younger children. Dan aims to help teens use specific methods of saving, earning extra income, and frugality to set them on a track to purchase real estate investment properties in their early 20s and achieve financial independence at a young age. Follow him on Instagram at dsheeks or on LinkedIn at Dan Sheeks.

    Wenda Kennedy JD from Nikiski, Alaska
    Replied 21 days ago
    When I was young, going to college was the path to a better life. Now there are many paths. Yes, I went to college. I have four college degrees including my Juris Doctorate. But, I also have thousands of hours of vocational training in real estate, finance, and related fields. If I was doing it now, I'd self-educate. There are unlimited books, articles, podcasts, and other educational info available out there that are cheap or free for the taking. I spend a few hours during each of my days listening to audio presentations and reading. And yes, I still pay for some classes that pique my interest. Even in my retirement, education is very important. Oh, and FYI -- I was working while I went to college -- even through law school. So, I never had the time nor the interest to party with the other students. I went to school for the eduction. I paid off my student loans and educational costs through hard work. I learned as much from my work as I did from my formal education.
    Dan Sheeks rental_property_investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 21 days ago
    Hi Wenda. I agree with you - if I had to do it over, I would skip college and self-educate. With all of the free and amazing resources out there today via the internet, it is easily possible to reach FI without a college education. (And just think of the ten of thousands of dollars one would save!) And, just as you did, I have learned just as much from work and real-world experiences as I did in school.
    Trent Chance
    Replied 21 days ago
    The last graduation I got to attend was 8th grade. I left high school early to attend college. No one realized what was happening until it was too late and I already had my GED. I have 120 credit hours towards a business degree but repeatedly failing calculus meant no diploma for me. I make as much or more than all my degree holding friends. The only one who makes more is in silicon valley as an electronics and software engineer and when you calculate the cost of living we're extremely close. I write all this to say degrees don't determine your value. Especially in tech related careers or in investment related careers like real estate. I attended a boot camp this weekend for $2,000 that was honestly and decidedly more valuable than my $50,000 nearly completed degree would ever be. It's hard to say what I'll think when I have kids that are 18 but if one of mine isn't a "good student" I'll be happy to help them start their own business or get into real estate, etc.
    Dan Sheeks rental_property_investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 21 days ago
    Hey Trent. Great comment! I agree with everything you said.
    Michael Kimmell rental_property_investor from Auburn, WA
    Replied 21 days ago
    College promotes Marxism now days and worse they charge you like the worse capitalist for the privilege.
    Ilya Erlikh
    Replied 13 days ago
    Do either of you have any proof regarding your claims that higher education pushes Marxism/Extreme liberalism or is this just more blabbering by people looking for justification for themselves not having gone to college? I graduated from an engineering program in NYC a few years ago and I out of my 50+ general ED classes I've only had one where I could say that the professor was clearly left-leaning, and in no way did that professor push her views on us, she only used it as a basis to describe some things she had done in her life regarding activism. Is there some sort of liberal indoctrination class I forgot to sign up for? Look at the overall outcomes of the residents of red states, lower education, higher dependence on social services (one of the main things they champion against, loooollllll), significantly more racist and close-minded communities. To your comment that "most self described liberals today are borderline socialists/Marxists", the people farthest to the left who really are near-communists are certainly the minority, extremists of the group. No different than the extreme right KKK/proud boys, whatever you want to call them, any fringe extremist group is going to be full of nut-jobs who are particularly loud, you're sincerely being daft if you think that these people are the main constituents of either side.
    Sasha Fukuda from Walpole, New Hampshire
    Replied 6 days ago
    Colleges do push extreme liberal ideologies, but it tends to be particular majors. I was a film and education double major. My film production teachers weren't particularly political or didn't bring up their politics, but the film analysis teachers had their "social justice" ideology and a class dedicated to pushing it on us, as did the education teachers. I wouldn't expect an engineering major to be able to relate to this however. Ironically, i considered myself a liberal when i went to college, but the experience made me disillusioned and made me reconsider my politics. As a result, i now consider myself a conservative.
    John Wa
    Replied 21 days ago
    College promotes Marxism? What nonsense. I'm guessing that you dodged that particular bullet by not going to college?
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied 20 days ago
    Do you live under a rock? Have you not seen any of the bajillion news stories about crazy stuff being said to students by professors in school? Or the entire degree programs that are 100% leftist indoctrination to begin with? The crazy things students themselves are doing? You should read more news my friend... You can surely go and take a bunch of math classes etc that aren't going to be too political... But in basically any "soft" field, everything is suuuuuuuuper slanted towards a left wing view. Don't believe me? Google the shift in political positions of college professors. This is off the top of my head, but in the 1960s there were slightly more professors who identified as conservative vs liberal. Like 55/45% split or thereabouts. In 1990 it was 70% liberal... And a few years back when they redid the survey it was 90% liberal. And what "liberal" means in most peoples minds has gone waaay to the left too. I wouldn't have a ton of problems with liberals in the 60s, or heck even the 90s... I'm pretty libertarian minded, and traditional liberals supported a lot of things I support... But most self described liberals today are borderline socialists/Marxists. So yeah, higher education DOES push a bunch of left wing propaganda, because it is filled with almost entirely left wing teachers. So does K-12 for that matter. Go try to have a rational discussion about any number of hot button issues with a group of college professors... If you're not 100% towing the current left wing party line they will label you a heretic. As I said, math/engineering/etc don't have this problem, but everything from history to even biology is now very slanted in a certain direction.
    Michael Harris
    Replied 21 days ago
    In this day and age, to maximize the return on your investment in an education, the four-letter word reigns supreme: STEM. For those people who can handle a Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics degree, the ROI can be huge, and you’ll never be out of a job. That said, those kinds of degrees are difficult, and not for the faint-of-heart, but worth the effort if you can pull it off.
    James Williams from Everett, Washington
    Replied 21 days ago
    " you’ll never be out of a job" That's completely false. As someone with a BSc/Msc/PhD in the currently top-paying STEM field (and 15 years in industry), I wish I had become a doctor or lawyer. Why? Because age discrimination is massive in STEM. Hit 40+ and you are unwanted. Not to mention the legions of H1Bs, OPTs and others pouring into the country. How can you recommend STEM when you have no clue of current market conditions? No one cares if their lawyer or accountant is 45, but they sure try to avoid hiring 45 year old data scientists, software engineers, etc.
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied 20 days ago
    There is truth in that! It seems to me it is mostly about them not wanting to have employees they have to pay accordingly for their superior experience, and who don't want to work 80 hours a week and live on Cup O Noodles made at the office. It is a real problem, and getting a trendy haircut and listening to Bieber isn't enough to trick your way through it either.
    John Wa
    Replied 21 days ago
    Yet another irresponsible article insinuating that the value of a human being is limited to one's earnings. We have clearly entered into an idiocracy and Americans now are ever more ignorant than the comparable individuals from every other industrialized country and even many third world countries. Chinese students are surpassing American students at an eye popping rate. Education and learning has an intrinsic value and the hostility towards education is increased by these short sighted, incomplete articles. Do we need plumbers? Yes. of course we do. And they deserve to be respected and paid a living wage. Does that mean that college and higher education is unnecessary? No. at least not if you don't want your kids to be idiots. And those that lack an understanding of areas such as sociology and human relations that do not directly translate to an economic benefit make the world a worse place. We are raising a generation that cares only about themselves rather than other people or the advancement of the human race. There was a time that learning for the sake of learning was valued and respected. Americans only care about money and it is affecting our stature around the globe. Other countries that are advancing their technological and societal agendas are giggling with delight at this lack of foresight. But that's alright. Americans will be there to fix their toilets.
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied 20 days ago
    John, the world you're talking about is back when a few percent of people went to uni... And they were almost entirely the children of the wealthy. OF COURSE some English nobleman or American business tycoon wanted their kid to go to Harvard and study Plato... But for NORMAL people one has to balance out the cost of these things, especially with how insanely expensive it has become. If you're basically suggesting somebody send their kid to school to get a degree that will give them ZERO leg up financially in life, and will prevent them from buying a house/moving forward financially for a decade plus, JUST BECAUSE... You must be from a wealthy family. Because going $100K into debt to make the same money as a HS grad is NOT workable for most normal people! You also mistakenly conflate college with EDUCATION. They are not the same. You can tell your kid to read philosophy/psychology/etc on their own time, without $100K in debt, while going into a profession that pays them well. My father never graduated college (although he took some classes), but probably knows more about Greek philosophers than anybody you'll meet who isn't a PhD in philosophy. I also only took some classes as well, and I know more about history than a lot of history majors I have spoken to! I also make more money than your average Harvard grad according to stats I have seen. Without sounding like too much of a wanker, I know more about most subjects than your average college grad. That's because I LIKE learning about things, and have a lot of subjects I read about on a regular basis. I didn't need college to become educated in these subjects. So don't conflate "college" with "education." I have met a TON of ignorant college grads, and a TON of educated people who never went to college. There's nothing wrong with pursuing a career that pays well that doesn't require a degree, and learning about other things you're interested in in your own time. Likewise, there is nothing wrong with going after a college degree because it's something you're really interested in... OR because it is really lucrative. Some people are shallow people who aren't interested in the things you seem to value. They wouldn't learn about them either in college or out, so if they want to become an awesome engineer because the pay is good, more power to them.
    Kevin Moules rental_property_investor from Turlock, CA
    Replied 21 days ago
    John, You are correct in saying that human life is not based on ones earning's, otherwise baby's and the elderly would have no value and we know that not to be true. I don't think that's what the author was trying to say. There was a time indeed that learning for the sake of learning was valued and respected and I believe going to college is still respected in America. There are so many immigrants who come here and really push their children to get higher education, something they never had available to them. However, forcing them to get higher education is not the right way either. I have always said that college is not for everyone, and folks should not be judged for not going. It is hard though these days to justify the cost of degrees such as psychology, philosophy, socioloy. Friends of mine who have received these degrees often go to work in the real world with jobs that have nothing to do with their degree, and they are paying student loans to boot. I understand i am bringing money back into the discussion. As important as these studies are, I don't think its worth ruining your financial life down the road to get them. This is just one guys opinion who was an engineer turned handyman. I have taught college as well and its sad to see students throw their time away in class because they are being forced to be there and hate school. Better off spending some money on training coursed and pursue something else.
    Steve Elling rental_property_investor
    Replied 20 days ago
    Kevin -- I attended Cal State Stanislaus. Really.
    Kevin Moules rental_property_investor from Turlock, CA
    Replied 13 days ago
    Steve, I live about a minute from the campus down the street on Monte vista. Small world isn't it?
    Mike White investor
    Replied 21 days ago
    Yes, less education is not the answer. And the only reason I've heard here not to get the education is cost. Maybe that's the real problem?
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied 20 days ago
    I think the trick is the RIGHT AMOUNT of education for the RIGHT PERSON.

    Some people have ZERO interest in learning. We all knew these people in HS. Some of them were even smart, but just didn't care. Some people have a limited capacity for how high up they can go too. Algebra may be fine, but Algebra II is a bridge too far for some people, let alone Calculus. These real world things need to be taken into consideration.

    Costs are a problem... But even in mythical land if "education" were 100% free, would it make sense for everybody to go to school until they're 60? They'd be more educated right? So why not? Obviously because it needs to be balanced with real world concerns. The right amount of time to dedicate to education varies from person to person, and not everybody needs to get 4 (or more) years tacked onto their HS education in order to live a happy and fulfilling life. They certainly don't need it for their financial well being either.
    Kevin Moules rental_property_investor from Turlock, CA
    Replied 13 days ago
    Vaughn, all I have to say to that is Amen! Even if education were 100% free not everyone would even want to go. As I mentioned, one of the things that just drove me crazy was seeing my students blow either theirs or their parents money but not caring about a class or giving no effort at all. They would sit in class for 16 weeks just fail and have to retake it. I guess I value my time/money more than that.
    Derrick Anderson from Katy, Texas
    Replied 21 days ago
    This might be the worst advice on this site. The correlation of of formal education to wealth may not be super strong but that shouldn’t be why you go to college. It’s culture, experience, relationships, connections,... and class.
    Brad Shepherd from Austin, TX
    Replied 20 days ago
    That's horrible. All these people are whining about student loan debt, the socialist candidates want to wipe it out, all so people could go to college to gain culture? Class? Relationships? That's the problem with college. People don't evaluate the ROI of the degree. They should. And by no means should public money be used to wipe out the debt of those who didn't. If the degree doesn't earn you a marketable skill, then it's a waste of time and money. That's why you go to college, to find a way to make a contribution to the world for which you'll be compensated.
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied 20 days ago
    Like I said above, that's all fine and well for somebody from a family where their parents pull in $250K a year... But what about the person whose parents could barely keep a roof over their heads, and certainly aren't footing the bill for college? Is it right to send some kid like that to college, teach them nothing that is practically useful, and then stick them with a $100K bill they will never be able to pay off with their economically useless degree? I think that's pretty messed up. Not to mention the fact that nobody ever likes to talk about... Which is that a huge percentage of the population is not mentally fit for what used to be a REAL college level education. They just don't have the capacity for it. Which is why standards have been lowered in many fields, and entire easy degree programs have been created just so they can churn out supposed college grads. This is purely exploitative if you ask me. It diminishes the value of a college degree for those that could really earn it at proper standards, and saddles those getting churned out with useless degrees with a ton of debt they'll never be able to pay. At the extreme, not everybody is cut out to be a rocket scientist... I think everybody understands this... But not everybody is cut out to be in college at all, no matter what they're ostensibly studying. I think everybody had friends in HS that were "slow." This didn't mean they were bad people, but they just weren't the academic types. We're sending millions of these people to college, charging them a ton of money, and rubber stamping degrees in useless fields. That is not good for anybody, least of all them. Hence the ballooning of student loan debt without the commensurate incomes to cover it.
    Frank Kocher investor from Monterey, California
    Replied 21 days ago
    The concept of college seems to be questioned primarily because of the cost. However in the USA there are multiple routes to college besides expensive ivy league schools. With two years of junior college you enter a four year school as an upperclassman. There are relatively inexpensive colleges available and there are some scholarships and student aid available. College graduates tend to earn more and in addition there are nonmonentary benefits of a college education such as a knowledge of liberal arts and the social sciences. Yes, it is possible and advisable to self educate. But studying in college is very beneficial to most students because you have a faculty member who guides and instructs the students and answers their questions. Higher education at its best exposes students to multiple fields of view and multiple opinions. This is healthy and beneficial in my opinion.
    Steve Elling rental_property_investor
    Replied 20 days ago
    Forget whether college makes sense from a financial standpoint, either in terms of cost or potential income down the line. I learned more about myself, how to budget time and work within a regimented system, and made more friends during my college years than at any point in my life. Enrolled without having any clear idea of what degree I wanted. Luckily, I found something that interested me. My college years were the best time in my life -- going to football/basketball/baseball games with peers, meeting girls, screwing things up royally, fixing them, and figuring out how to interact socially. College was every bit as important socially as it was academically as far as personal development. My friends from college are still my best friends, to this day. That said, colleges will need to evolve or die. The cost is out of control. They need to offer more online classes, to end the addiction to brick-and-mortar instruction. They need to offer degrees that do not require two years of often inconsequential general electives (Sociology, seriously? Required courses in a foreign language? Why?). I will strongly consider sending my son to a trade school when the time comes.
    Vaughn K. from Seattle, WA
    Replied 20 days ago
    A lot of people have mentioned random fringe benefits like connections, just "being a better person," etc. I'm not saying those aren't benefits... But they're not always going to weigh out for everybody. Sure, if your parents are loaded getting a degree in Russian Lit might be fine, because you don't actually have to pay for it or support yourself. However, for some kid from a trailer park or the inner city, that same degree could very well ruin their life. The guy above mentioned an important thing, which is that you can do it on a budget via doing some CC first, going to a reasonable state school, etc... And that's all fine and well, and a good option for many. That said, as I mentioned above, not everybody is cut out for college PERIOD. Some people just don't have the mental capacity for it, or just don't care for it even if they have the smarts. Going to college doesn't automatically make somebody earn a good living. It also doesn't make them an intelligent, sophisticated person as if by magic. I've known more ignorant morons with college degrees than I can count, and more thoughtful, intelligent, knowledgeable people that never set foot on a college campus than I can count. It's not a magic cure all either direction. The truth is that it comes down to knowing YOU. If you have a passion for some STEM field, really want to be a doctor, etc then go for it! But if you have no interest in any of that stuff, but really like doing things with your hands, it's OKAY to become a mechanic or a plumber. You may well be better off financially doing so, AND you won't be torturing yourself going through college when you don't want to. Not everybody has a passion for learning, and even if you do you can often earn the "soft" benefits of going to college, like being a "sophisticated" person, all on your own... Without the big bill at the end. Do you! There is no one size fits all for everybody, and people who think there is are the real fools. From a monetary perspective there are many fields that pay as well or better without degrees as those with degrees... And from a personal growth perspective you can do all those things on your own too! So unless you WANT to work in a field that requires a college education, it's up to you. Personally, I feel like almost all the fluffy degrees that don't serve any economic purpose are nearly useless... Especially for those from middle class and below backgrounds. If you're going to end up being a waitress after getting your XYZ Degree, why not just skip the wasted time and money? If you REALLY like some obscura subject that doesn't pay, then by all means go for it if it is your passion, but go into it knowing you're going to be getting buried in student debt without any hope of getting a good job out of it. What I can't stand is that people tell these poor 18 year olds that studying some useless degree will be the magic cure all to an awesome life, when it clearly isn't. It's not truth in advertising so to speak. People need to make informed, rational decisions about these things, not be sold a false bill of goods.
    Andrew Syrios from Kansas City, Missouri
    Replied 19 days ago
    I would generally agree that college isn't needed for most people. Now the doesn't include all degrees, particularly engineering, the hard sciences, accounting, etc. But for many of the so-called "soft" subjects, college is usually not worth the cost IMO.
    Steven England
    Replied 19 days ago
    I went to trade school for 2 years and I make 6 figures. It cost me $10000. Plenty of work.
    Jerry W. investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied 14 days ago
    Dan Sheeks, You say you love being a high school it was the right career for you, but if you had to do it again you self educate and not do college. If so you would never have become a high school teacher. I didn't get a message out of your post, I didn't get any usable information out of your post. Why did you post it? College is not right for everyone but neither is being a plumber right for everyone. I believe college costs are too high is many universities. I believe it is affordable in some universities. I went to college and worked my way through it. No student loans until I got into law school. They make it too easy to get student loans. My parents were not rich, I literally got $6 from parents in support from the time of my junior year in high school through college. Thank god I didn't have a high school teacher like you saying quit, don't go to college. The college education and experience opened many, many doors for me that going to a mechanics school would never have done. Why demean college degrees? They are a huge achievement for many. How many of the folks you qouted above never went to college? Probably none. Why not say college is good for some things not good for others. Folks can waste years in college, folks can waste 6 years of their life "traveling". Must be nice to be so rich you can travel for 6 years and not work. Most of us don't have that luxury. I feel like you have insulted my work in obtaining my degree. I would dam sure try to get you fired if you taught high school to my kids and advised them not to go college. Education is bad? Then quit educating people. live up to your beliefs hell tell them to quit school after grade school. Learning to read and write and do simple math is enough. I love the folks with loads of money from their parents saying college isn't really necessary. Most have family businesses to rely on, or family money. Really poor kids don't take gender studies. They take classes to help them succeed. A huge amount of the kids taking stupid curriculum come from homes where they never had to go to bed hungry. I could tell the kids in my college classes that were poor growing up. I could tell many of the rich ones. Education is only a joke when you have enough money that you don't need it. I have a brother who is a mechanic, a brother who was a cook in the army, then used the GI bill to become a nurse. He retired a Lt Colonel, and made more money then me. I respect both of them a lot more than you right now. Education opens more doors than ignorance. You can self educate, but it doesn't open your mind up as much as a classroom setting. If one trade school is bad and costs too much and teaches too little, do you really encourage them not to go to trade school? How stupid! Why not explain if they want to go to trade school how to get the most out of it? Why do something to encourage folks instead of telling them to not follow their dream and get the most out of it. It is folks like you who become college professors who ruin college. As you can probably guess I am highly offended by your article. Maybe you should go back to school. Wow, I flamed this more than I anticipated. I let this article rest a day or two before I responded to cool off. I guess I need to work on that. You have a right to your opinion and I agree that you have some valid points. I guess I just got so angry because I had to work dam hard to get my degrees. I am proud of what I accomplished, and to be honest I almost didn't make it. lack of money, lack of time to study while working 3 part time jobs, trying to raise 2 young children and still be a good father and study 4 to 6 hours a night after school and work. it would not have taken a lot to get me to quit. I really value those teachers who encouraged me and said you are going to make it, it will be worth it if you stick it out and finish. I hope your article is not the one that makes the kid at the crossroads quit college and lose his dreams. I apologize for being personal in my rebuttal. I got carried away a bit. if it's any consolation I mellowed out a bit before responding.
    Dan Sheeks rental_property_investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 13 days ago
    Hi Jerry. Thanks so much for your comment. I am happy to see the passion in your words. That is the primary goal of the blog post - to get people thinking. Thanks for telling your story of hard work and perseverance. I respect that as it is a very similar story to mine, believe it or not. We are more alike then you might think. I grew up with a single mom who was a secretary. I rarely saw my dad as he was a truck driver three states away and didn't always pay child support. My mom, sister and I barely made it by at times. We were lower-middle class (at best) in a small town in the midwest (pop 2,500). At times we got food from the government. I started working at age 14 and never stopped. I paid for every cent of my post-secondary education. (Actually, I'm still paying for it as I still have college loans at age 45.) When I traveled for those years, I paid for every bit of it myself by working two and sometimes three jobs where I was living for a few months. I made what money I could to pay for the traveling by being a janitor, housekeeper, waiter, etc. Jerry, even though we may have different opinions, I think we are cut from the same cloth. If you have the time, I ask that you reread the article in its entirety. Some of your comments make it seem like you may have not taken it all in. Either way, the article in no way says "Don't go to college". I would never give that kind of blanket advice. I also apologize if I insulted your work and college degree as you say above.
    Jerry W. investor from Thermopolis, Wyoming
    Replied 13 days ago
    Dan, Very nice reply to what was almost a flame attack on your article. Education is something I am passionate about. My dad was always vague about when he dropped out of school, I suspect it was junior high or a little after. I was the only one in my family to do college until my little brother went to college on the GI bill after a stint in the army. He joined ROTC became an officer, a nurse, and retired a Lt. Colonel making more than me as an attorney working for the government.Stupid education is stupid, stupid tradeschool is stupid, a stupid job is stupid, but all have their good points and ways to improve them. I moved a lot as a kid, but graduated from a little town of about 1,200 people and college was a massive eye opener. I didn't know what I didn't know. At least after a year or two of college I was aware of how ignorant I was. I learned that there was a LOT of knowledge and ideas I had never dreamed of. My dreams while driving tractor or stacking hay on how to get out of poverty were like little mud puddles, in college I learned there was an ocean. Even classes I didn't like taught me a lot. The basic requirements, math English, science, social studies, speech, etc., all gave me skills and experience that helped in some way. I saw a lot of folks party like mad and drop out or get nothing out of it. That happens in a lot of areas. I would probably have made as much money staying in the oilfield, if I had managed to avoid the hazards like injury or drugs or alcoholism that claimed many I knew, but it would have never opened my mind like college. Anyway, thanks for being such a good sport. I will go ahead and read the rest of your articles and try not to flame them. What most folks don't realize, is that something you work really, really hard for has massive value for you. If the folks graduating with massive student debt had to work 3 jobs while in college, and try very hard top stay awake at 1 in the morning to get assignments done, they would really value their education. The ones that just signed a loan document and got $30K a year in loans for 4 years won't have the same view. The ones who had their folks foot all of the bill perhaps in many cases value it very little. I suppose it varies based on your point of view.
    Glen E from Savannah, Georgia
    Replied 8 days ago
    "... starting by revisiting the 10 steps of the American Dream from Part 1." I question the premise of your set of articles. You say that these 10 specific steps comprise the American Dream, but from your first article and this current article, you never gave any source other than yourself for these 10 steps. Can you point to any book, study, or survey that ever said these 10 specific steps comprise the American Dream? (The survey you took in your first article had some elements of some steps, but never approached these particular 10 steps as a consensus.) Your first article even seemed to say up front that the 10 steps were your own conception/opinion, i.e. "IN MY OPINION [emphasis added], the current version of the American Dream follows these 10 steps." It seems like you are really writing about how your own personal life goals/dreams have changed. While that can be useful, maybe you shouldn't call these 10 steps the "American Dream" but the "Dan Sheeks Dream"!
    Dan Sheeks rental_property_investor from Denver, CO
    Replied 18 minutes ago
    Hey Glen. Thanks for the comment. You are exactly right in that the 10 Steps mentioned in my article are the steps as I see them. I do not have a source for those 10 steps. They are just an amalgamation of what I think (my opinion) most Americans subscribe. I apologize if I made it seem like the steps I reference are "set" in any way. To my knowledge, there are no "official" steps, so we are each forced to compile our own opinion.