December 7, 2021

College is supposed to educate our kids and make them ready for a competitive world, but is the system working? I’m shocked by the lack of basic skills in research, analysis, and mathematics demonstrated by many recent college grads. The capacity to think and communicate clearly is now considered special, and somebody with immediately useful professional skills is a gem.

As a parent with six figure tuition bills on the horizon, I’m looking at a college degree from the perspective of an investor. Extracting good value from today’s high price environment requires looking at the return on investment for a degree program and focusing on the fundamentals.

A degree is now required to get a decent job, but beyond that rubber stamp, I want my kids to get a practical education in useful skills. Liberal arts programs are great if they succeed in teaching students to think critically, make connections, and communicate clearly. But in an education system diluted by low standards, grade inflation, and a focus on “the social experience”, liberal arts degrees offer a risky return on investment.

Unlike arts and humanities programs that often make life easy on students, other subjects like science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) still allow lazy students to fail. This is essential because I am confident that a rigorous degree program will help my kids develop discipline, attention to details, and perseverance, as well as marketable skills. If they succeed in that environment, I know we’ll be getting a skills return on our investment.

The big payoff everybody seems to look for now is brand. People think that somebody who went to a great school must be smart and capable, even before they’ve done anything. I think skills are more important than a brand-name degree, and colleges are taking advantage of unwary families.

Why does it cost over $50 thousand per year to educate adult students? Why do so many students from brand name colleges still struggle with elementary skills like paying attention to detail? Cashing in on brands and lowering standards to satisfy student-consumers might account for it. As prices go up across the board, I’m increasingly skeptical about the real value of most college brands. As with any asset, if the price is too high, it will be a poor investment.

My career experience has taught me that strong students from state schools have as much talent as anybody, and they’re often more humble and easier to work with. Careers are built on skills, not brand name diplomas, and I worry that excess focus on brand value is creating a bubble in college education. In the end, the best returns will come to students who are ready to treat college as a serious investment in their future, no matter where they study. The landscape is changing, and we all need to think carefully about real value.

Feel free to send me an email to let me know what you think of colleges today.

One final note: all young parents should open a 529 savings plan to pay for college. As with an IRA, these plans let you invest cash for education and avoid capital gains taxes on the portfolio. The details vary by state, but they’re broadly similar. If you plan to send your children to some form of higher education, start putting cash into a 529 as soon as possible and let compound growth plus tax sheltering work its magic.

Call me at 847-317-0077, email me at, or tweet me at @benreinberg or @alliancecgc if you can submit us a property to acquire and/or would like to invest with us. For further information on investing with Alliance, please click here.

My Best,


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