From One Parent To Another...
Updated: Mar 15, 2022
Our kids are everything to us. The process of preparing for life after high school can create a range of emotions, from thinking about "empty nest syndrome," to all of the stress and excitement that encompass the post high school years.
I am VERY GRATEFUL that I have not recorded my ACTUAL time thinking, planning, researching and dealing with the "what's next after high school" topic over the past decade or so, as I'm sure that number would have 5 digits on it! Some may say that makes me obsessive, others would say I have too much time on my hands, or I need a hobby! I can understand that point of view. My role as a Father & Entrepreneur are flat out hard to separate, the lines always seem to blur.
I never obsess about problems unless I have a shot at bringing forward a solution that I (or my businesses) can actually be a part of. That's why I have no patience for people that blather on for political bitching and moaning.....lots of complaining and no action.
Solutions for big, challenging areas (some may call high risk) require a deep understanding of the problem trying to be addressed. In other words, I'm not one to "wing it." When I put my $'s, time and resources against something, I expect to succeed. Does it happen all the time? Of course not. Big problems are big for a reason. But not trying reminds me of that scene from a Bronx Tale: There's nothing worse than wasted talent.
The truth is, I can't seem to shut off my brain from looking at the train wreck that is going on. The train wreck is NOT college in itself, it's the DEBT-fueled college at any cost, without a solid consideration of the best set of alternatives.
When numbers start to approach 2 Trillion $'s of debt where the taxpayers are on the hook, and the national outcries to "forgive the debt" (regardless where you stand on THAT issue), I tend to sit up and take notice. I've often thought about "what if the government just wiped the slate clean and one day we wake up and the $1.7 Trillion $'s of student debt turned to zero?"
Millions of households would breathe a sigh of relief and now how monthly available $'s to put back into the economy, and driving economic growth is usually a good thing. But what happens to the millions of NEW kids entering the system taking on thousands of debt? Simple, look a decade down the road and we will be having the same old conversation. It's madness when a problem gets solved and you don't address the root cause and the same exact problem re-appears.
And I'm sorry, the headlines of "college graduates earn a million more....." seem to be in direct conflict with the millions of struggling graduates (and non graduates) holding the $1.7 trillion of debt. Granted, it's over the course of a career, but a million $'s is a ton of extra loot, so why the outrage? It just doesn't square with the promise of the road to a "successful life."
So that's the big picture, big, hairy, ugly problem and there's no end in sight even if Uncle Sam wants to step in and "wipe out Trillions" with the stroke of a pen.
That's the big picture. As an entrepreneur and parent however, I live in the world that I PERSONALLY can control. My business and my own household. And I'm in tune with my extended "circle" around me of family and friends.
I've had too many conversations to count with my circle, talking about how we are thinking about the topic of life after high school. What does this circle look like? Fairly diverse, although the overwhelming majority of them HAVE college degrees, skew upper/middle class (by the governments definition) and I would consider them all "salt of the earth people." Now that last part is biased isn't it? By definition, don't we all tend to hang with people that we CHOOSE to hang with? Granted, family we are born into and the level of "choice" is debatable, but I digress!
So what do these conversations look like? Truth be told, they aren't very "rigorous." In other words, the topic is not even debatable, "Junior is going to college, there's no if's ands or buts." The thought of NOT having this eventuality for their kids is almost motion sickness inducing! These are highly educated people that can't seem to even open their minds that the world in 2022 looks very different than circa 1995.
I think there's also a real "cocktail party syndrome" in play with this topic. The thought of the Saturday parents night out and the conversation turning to "what's junior going to do?" and NOT saying, "he's going to college x and studying y" is at the very least distasteful, although few would admit that.
Social pressure and fitting in plagues even people in their late 40's/50's, too many never seem to break away from that.
There's a problem however with me taking my personal circle and calling that "average" or representative of the broader society. I don't think their kids are going to be crippled with debt (on balance). Not all, but most will figure out a way to put junior through school at a level where they graduate debt free or pretty darn close. So let me be clear....
IF you can send your kids to a conventional 4 year degree and NOT have your kid graduate with loads of debt (or delayed your retirement investing to make it happen) congrats! That's a blessing, and not easily achieved, so you've done multiple things right with your planning to have put yourself in this fortunate situation. Let's hold off the argument for a moment of questioning, "is that the BEST use of those dollars" and simply acknowledge that you are in a wonderful position. I wouldn't argue on how you choose to spend that money, because, first and foremost, you have it.
If you are fortunate enough to be in a strong financial position where your kid won't be saddled with debt, much of the content on this site has probably created a healthy dose of "cognitive dissonance" for all you psych majors or pop psychologists! Why?....
Data and facts are awfully stubborn. Hearing that 40% who attend college drop out hurts the ears when thinking about junior, doesn't it? That can't be my junior could it? And for those that DO graduate, hearing that more then 40% are in jobs that didn't even require that precious degree also tends to sting. Or, seeing the trades, from electricians, plumbers, carpenters, welders, etc make MORE, sometimes much more than college grads, that creates a bit of CD too doesn't it? Or maybe even the leading companies in the world start to announce micro certificates and hiring without degrees?" Squaring the realities with where the world is headed very fast vs what WE lived through 20+ years ago is hard.
Chances are, most families are NOT in a position to contemplate a debt free college experience for their kids if a conventional 4 year path is the chosen road. That's the audience we are speaking too, anybody that wants to avoid that, or the hard core people that CAN afford it but have a hard time coming to grips with the overall ROI.
People that can't even open their minds to a model that does NOT include a conventional path? They would struggle to even entertain the thought, let alone bring an alternate path to junior. They struggle with the cocktail party syndrome, or have the $'s, or think it's the safest path so why bother. I have zero expectations of reaching them. But the raw statistics tell me they are in the minority.
So everybody else that is....
Highly likely to be financing a significant portion with debt
Highly skeptical if there's a real ROI
Not quite sure if there student is "college inclined"
Thinks that there kid may be ready for college down the road, but right now?
Brick by Brick is worth looking into.
Let me share a brief story....
I learn a ton from my 14 year old freshman son Dominic. Like all parents, anything I say from this point on, take it as biased!
Dominic has worked at PAVERART the past 2 summers. He's started to learn what earning a $ is all about, how hard it is to earn and how easy it is to blow. One day while walking our dogs he casually mentioned some gaming system he was showing mom. It was a couple hundred $'s. He had one of those nervous/curious looks on his face that a teenager who hasn't mastered the art of the poker face reveals. It is always fascinating to see what our kids bring to each parent and why, but that's a whole different topic!
So dad moves in for the kill. "Sounds neat Dom, curious why you and mom were talking about it, she's not a gamer?"
He tells me he wanted her opinion on the price, etc. Very enlightened on Dominic's part to care for his mother's opinion on Nintendo's pricing model (sarcasm alert!), but Dads BS meter is on level ten right now.
"So Dom, you gonna buy this or not?"
Now he mumbles, but proceeds to explain his logic. Turns out he wants the thing, sort of. His desire changes if he had to buy it for himself, vs being handed the game from Mom, so his curiosity in mom's opinion turns out to be practical for both his wallet and his future entertainment hours. Turns out that Dom will gladly accept this thing as a gift (for free)but probably wouldn't burn his hard earned money on it if that's where this heads. He actually VERBALIZED this sentiment to me. Out loud! Of course I gently pointed out this irony so the further value of a buck was not lost on him.
We left the lesson at that, as I basked in the glory of a kid that knows that a couple hundred bucks is real. And I ask myself, how do we take this basic principle to a new level of understanding?
The following week, him and I start playing with a fun little compound interest calculator, we found one on nerd wallet (link below). He starts punching in the scenarios of staring to invest at 18 years old, vs 35 years old (the debt ridden graduate?), what a lump sum could look like at age 40, 50, 60, etc. What a 5% rate of return in the market looks like vs 7%, 10%. What investing $100 per month looks like vs $500, etc. His eyes were wide open as he's punching in the scenarios. I could see the $'s and cents bubble over his head. Here's the simple calculator.
Nerd Wallet Compound Returns Calculator
He quickly figures out that starting EARLY at modest amount BEATS starting late at STRONG amounts. The magic of compounding is starting to sink in, and it's what all the debt pushers (college at any cost believers) ignore when looking at ROI. It's not your earnings, it's your wealth. And your burn rate.
What people that challenge me on even approaching this conversation discount? MATH. Time. Compound returns. Technology. Wealth. I'll take hard core under-writing over conventional wisdom any day of the week. And that underwriting is case by case specific.
Of course, my mind takes my experience with Dominic and fast forwards 3.5 years when he is at that point of decision. I think to myself....
If I were to HAND Dominic all the savings we have earmarked for his "future" a year before he graduates high school, would he actually invest it in his own college education? If so, would he go to an expensive private school, a community college, public university? Or, would he save it, invest it and watch it compound to nearly 7 figures if he invests it over 30 years over average returns? Or would he use it for something completely different, like a startup, consumption, etc?
I haven't gone here yet with Dom, but we are building "brick by brick" to having him grow into this level of skill, understanding and mastery of HIS future decisions, and if this weren't the approach I'd take 3 years for now I'd be surprised. Truthfully, if this conversation was not happening this summer on our 82 mile trip at 5am to PAVERART, I'd be shocked.
I have a couple of advantages with Dominic that many parents drawn to Brick by Brick may not have.
One, Dom's only a freshman in high school, so thankfully he won't be making this decision this spring. Second, I'm fairly confident he'll have options where he won't be strapped with onerous debt, although who knows, if he wants to go to where I went to college, that will require a sticker price investment that will push $400k, and that amount of money is not exactly burning a hole in my pocket with an eye towards retirement!
So if you are a parent with a fast approaching "life after high school kid," with debt being a real possibility due to financial constraints if you pursue the conventional 4 year path...... Some thoughts and questions to think about, in no particular order:
How are YOU approaching the process of figuring this out? Personally, I would view myself (as a parent) as the conductor/facilitator vs the decision maker. The decision maker HAS to be the kid. BUT, to make the decision, he needs to know the full financial picture across ALL of their options. They need to know likely outcomes of each scenario. There are plenty of tools on this site. If they don't have the "energy" to fully dive into each of the alternatives and make a calculated risk assessment, I would tell you they aren't ready to dive into a debt decision. PERIOD. If they do, good sign.
Who is your team of advisors helping you sort it out? You need some counsel, but be hesitant to PAY for people with a vested interest in an outcome. In other words, there are plenty of "college advisors" willing to charge you for advice, and what advice to do you think that will be? When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail....
How MOTIVATED is your kid? Are they disciplined enough to do great work, earn money AND do self paced on-line programs? If not NOW, can they grow into that after one year of being in the real world? In other words, phase the education component in after they got on their feet?
How "academic" is your kid? Lets face it, not everybody is inclined towards academics. BUT, I wouldn't write them off, if you ready MY story in the Mentorship pillar, I would be the LAST person that you could have predicted would graduated high in their class of a competitive nationally ranked program.
But, the degree of "180" and obsession with going all in to training myself at a young adult to be a hard core student was extreme. And it didn't hurt that I withdrew about $6k of my own hard earned money (95% of my high school earnings) and handed it to my father so I would have real skin in the game. Like Dominic, there's a real difference when I had my own money on the line vs. my parents footing the entire bill.
It IS possible for the "unimpressive" high school to turn it around in college, but it's not a casual process by no means, and eyes need to be WIDE OPEN.
How MATURE is your kid? If you can envision them living AWAY full time and being successful or is that a real reach?
What are YOU as a parent willing to invest? In other words, if you have x$'s earmarked for some type of "life after high school" endeavor, are you willing to consider a range of options? If yes, which path is the best possible outcome for your kid? What do THEY think?
Brick by Brick: Can you "invest" in providing a home for junior for the next 4 years, relatively expense free so they can bank 2/3's of their take-home pay to begin the discipline of sound lifelong success habits? Would you support them in a 50+ hour per week effort that looks to bank money and skills working 32+ hours per week WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY pursuing an online degree?
This website has a ton of info covering a range of topics.
My goal and approach is NOT to have all the answers, this is a CHALLENGING topic and I struggle with it too. But I do think the Brick by Brick Apprenticeship program is the culmination of 25+ years of building and growth, and I'm excited for the group of people that see potential in it.
When topics are big, challenging and multi-faceted, I've never come close to solving them by absorbing a website. That's simply a starting point. At some point, you need to speak live to real human beings that present learning, options, perspectives that can open light in that dark closet.
If Brick by Brick apprenticeship program is NOT a fit, there is a high probability
you or your kid will learn something along the way, gain some insight or open up your view of viable paths. If that happens, I consider this well worth the effort.
Any person is going to have questions that come up, curiosities or concerns. Or maybe you want to learn about how a class clown did not flunk out of college and somehow managed to acquire and run a business after just after turning 40 years old, dodging a mid life crisis, selling it less then 4 years later and acquired a completely different business a year later, called PAVERART? Maybe there's value in understanding how a 19 year old small business endured for 80% of it's life despite real challenges, hanging on until we can could see a clear path to a brighter future?
In life, EXPANDING options is absolutely key. Hearing different stories is important. Expanding options require you to take action. That action can be as simple as submitting your email address, dropping a simple line to tell us what you think and your situation. It's a whopping 10 minute investment in your time. It's your choice if that potential option is worth it or not.
Chances are, if you've read this far you may be thinking "ok what do we have to loose?" That's a rational, sound opinion to have. But doing nothing means no options expand, and learning dramatically slows. Your choice.
I will be holding zoom calls to work through this stage of your kids journey, both with parents as well as kids. Drop me an email, let me know your questions, and if you'd just like to learn more and go more in depth we'll set up those sessions.
With much respect and gratitude,