Interview 1003 - Kallen Diggs on Avoiding the College Trap

02/16/201516 Comments

Career consultant and personal development coach Kallen Diggs to talk about his new book, Reaching The Finish Line. We discuss the expectation of a college degree that prompts many young people to take on crippling student loan debt before they even land a job. We also talk about the changing nature of workforce and how technology is changing our ability to learn and study new skills ourselves.

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  1. Beau Boeye says:

    When it was my turn to hop aboard the college train, unfortunately my focus was set on a girl, rather than preparing myself for this coming transition. I didn’t have much of a clue what it was that I wanted to do – but since everyone else was jumping off the bridge, I suppose I jumped too (doesn’t help that you’re pressured to go to college by your parents, your teachers, your peers, your guidance counselors, your community, and society as a whole).

    (+) Have a plan before you decide to go to college. Does your line of work require a college degree? Talk with others, and self reflect – make sure you understand what college is, and why you’re deciding to go.
    (+) If you’re still in high school, take advantage of all the opportunities for free money – apply for all the grants and scholarships you can
    (+) Take all the college courses you can in high school – if your school offers them. I know there are certain high schools in which you can graduate with an Associate Degree
    Do a lot of research into which institution you want to spend the next several years of your life at. Contact and get to know your program heads and professors before you decide to invest your time and money.

    Since time was running out, I decided to go to a community college near where I lived, which had a good technology program. I should mention that I’m from a small rural farm community in the Midwest of the United States. I did technology work for my high school all 4 years I was in school. The school even hired me during the summers to help with all their technology work. Experience like that, which you could think of it like an apprenticeship, had a major impact on me; I believe as a society we need to focus more so on apprenticeships – hands on work with others from our communities. I went to community college for a few years and eventually dropped out. To me, it was a glorified high school which seemed to put a lot of focus into their sports programs rather than academia. The schooling was not challenging what-so-ever, nor was my attention fully given to my studies.

    (+) If you’re going to college, spending money to be educated (or indoctrinated), your focus is your studies. Don’t waste your time, energy, and health partying, drinking, and experiencing the use of drugs.
    (+) Like Kallen mentioned, your peer group has a HUGE impact on the direction in which you go into the future… this doesn’t only apply to high school or college. To be successful, it helps if those around you are also successful. This also plays into the motivation aspect; it’s good to have people around you who challenge you and push you forward, instead of pulling you down or holding you back.
    (+) I would suggest to get yourself involved as much as you can in your school activities; join study groups, clubs, etc. – you’re not only paying for the degree, but you’re also paying for the networking which you establish with your peers.

    When I dropped out of college, I had a lot to think about – what is it that I actually want to do with my time? I spent the next few years self reflecting and expanding my understanding of myself and the world around me. Eventually, I found myself in the position to start my own business with the skills I had picked up through high school, with my so called apprenticeship. I now run the technology for a neighboring school district, and have picked up several other residential and business clients.

    (+) I think we need to encourage more people to do business for themselves. If we want to build up the middle class again, we need to start creating more of our own jobs, rather than relying on the jobs corporations create.
    (+) If you have skills and/or tools, find a way to market those to others. I know several people from my class who have created various lawn-care businesses because they enjoyed that work and had the tools to do the job. There is always grass to cut. Build up a client base, respect your customers, and if they enjoy the work you do they’ll hire you again – and they’ll also spread the word (word of mouth marketing is the best, especially in small towns).
    (+) Believe in yourself, find your passion, and work towards fulfilling your goals and ambitions. Goal setting is key; short term and long term goals help keep you on track.

    And lastly, our world is changing so quickly with the inception of the Internet and the new technologies that are being created everyday. The Internet is the new Library of Alexandria – take advantage of all the free resources that are out there before the neo-Romans burn it down and regulate it to hell, haha. It’s incredible what you can learn by yourself. Change your mindset to change the playing field to change your future.

    I hope this helps others.

    • Kallen Diggs says:

      Beau, I’m glad you enjoyed the interview and thank you for sharing. Very insightful!

    • rockshot says:

      This is such excellent advice, I have nothing to add to it at all.

      Also, I have to disagree with James Corbett. He claims that his masters degree (Anglo/Irish Lit) did him no good in his current line of work. But I honestly do not think that he would be as successful as he is now if it were not for that study.
      I immediately note a breadth of richness in his voice and I have never heard anybody string sentences together to this point, thereby captivating the listener. I believe that people want to hear him out just by the way he talks and surprisingly, the content is always there.
      A typical high school grad simply DOES NOT have his uncanny command of the language. I was so mesmerized by this at first, I used to listen to him just to see if he would make a mistake! That never happened, but by that time, I was a hooked fan.
      I liken this to the way British effect the American ear. They sound like they are extremely intelligent, they grab your attention from the start. However James never disappoints. This is how his education has served him well. IMHO

      • Corbett says:

        The interesting part is that you assume that my current level of diction is the result of my master’s degree. It really isn’t. It’s the result of a lot of reading, surely, but that reading could (and would) have been accomplished without a (very expensive) course at Trinity College, I can assure you. I’m not blaming you for this, but I think we are all too quick to associate learning with college/university.

      • rockshot says:

        NO JAMES! I am NOT saying that your level of diction is 100% result of your degree, but it did not hurt you either! (other than financially)
        Sure there are cheaper ways to improve diction or anything for that matter. But I wonder just how many people would study and read tomes about something that they have absolutely NO interest in. Not many!
        I completely agree that we generally are too quick to equate learning with an institution of learning, but I do not. There are too many “educated idiots” in plain site. A good 50% of what I was forced to do in college, I had absolutely NO interest and would never have opted to do it. Many times when I got over my initial bias against a certain subject, I often BECAME interested.
        In my field, I would never have got the feedback and tremendously scathing critiques elsewhere. I learned to take these critiques in stride and learn from them, then take my ideas to the next level.
        I imagine that one could get the same push from a mentoring situation as well, but my job was not on the line, just my grades.
        Most people do NOT have the motivation, self discipline or time to learn. I agree that college is outrageously expensive and not worth it and believe that real world work experience should be much of the education, congruently. I question the need for a masters degree in most fields, and yours would be one of them. (unless you go on to teach) It is really hard for me to believe that you would have sat in your parents basement reading for hours and hours day after day, month after month, if you did not have the excuse of “doing schoolwork”. Most people would have deemed you CRAZY for reading that crap!

        • Corbett says:

          Wow. Do you deem me crazy for enjoying reading? Because as I said, I would and did (and do) read plenty of “crap” without attending any course at a university, and find it somewhat insulting that you think I would not have had the self-discipline to do so without a professor telling me to. Anyway, I’m really not sure what you’re saying anymore, because it seems that we agree that a master’s degree in literature is not necessary for any but academics and teachers, which I think is the point that was made in the podcast. But thank you as always for your contributions.

      • rockshot says:

        Further I believe that extremely good communication is key in life! One must completely and thoroughly understand what is being said and not said, and be FAST at it without jumping to erroneous conclusion. Most commutation is not verbal as well.
        On the other side of the court is RESPONING concisely and appropriately! It has been years since I have heard the now taboo words, “I don’t know”.
        I wonder WHY there is an epidemic lack of this in MOST 20 year olds? They usually seem to have the answer BEFORE the question is asked or provide a reply completely irrelevant to the topic at hand.
        This seems to be a refusal and unwillingness to LISTEN, which is counterproductive and especially undermines any kind of teamwork. Lack of interaction also seriously stifles any further learning.

        Does anybody know where and how to learn to communicate?
        My communication was horrible but is improved with my various languages, does anybody else know of a way to learn this VERY important skill? This is not only a skill that must be learned be honed as well.

      • rockshot says:

        No again James. I am praising you for having the self discipline and interest in reading, especially that type of literature. I am saying that many people would deem that a waste of time if not under the sanction of “doing schoolwork”, which I personally and most certainly do not think that it is. My point is that most people would think it esoteric and I never called it crap. Personally I love reading that stuff, I just wish that I had more time for it, so I must be crazy too. I need to rewrite that or you can just delete it, because I am just not coming across tonight. I AM AT FAULT FOR MISCOMMUNICATION!

  2. NotDole says:

    I don’t think it’s remotely possible that I would have had the diploma I have right now if not for college. (anything dealing with chemistry…good luck learning at home with no equipment).

    Although, many,many, programs could be done just straight from one’s computer…which is happening now, and a lot less costly. A LOT, seriously, I know a girl who did her 2 first years to be a teacher in primary school online for about 720 dollars (Quebec,Canada).

    • Kallen Diggs says:

      Thankfully, education of many sorts can be obtained for free or at a low cost if one looks hard enough. $720 for 2 years is a bargain!

      • Beau Boeye says:

        You could even think about a reading program of such works as The Great Books of the Western World, Harvard Classics, etc.

        It has been mentioned that Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard University and publisher of the Harvard Classics, made the statement that a liberal education could be obtained by reading 15 minutes a day. Here’s a Harvard Classics reading guide to fulfill such a statement:

        And if you’re a little more hardcore, here’s the 10-year plan for the Great Books of the Western World:

      • NotDole says:

        It sure is, by the way I think you’re having great ideas in general! I just wish chemistry equipment was cheap like say a cooking oven…not about to happen for most of it. Also it wouldn’t be safe, at least I wouldn’t trust one person to have their personal lab in a populated neighborhood. But there is one thing, the internet has helped me pass exams more than the many teacher’s notes, and it was during the golden age of the internet when it comes to just text data being available (for what its worth, geocities sites being removed out of nowhere, and I don’t think the Web Ecology Project has caught that up, would have been way too massive). Also, I’ve learned about many other different things than just what the teachers wanted me to know about. That simple amine, methylamine they use in a popular tv show you might know about (it’s over now), I had never ever heard about from my BSc and it’s quite used in many factories, meaning that many jobs I can apply for, I would have no idea what they’re doing or what compounds they’re using because my program was so specialized into creating aluminum chemists, the region is big into aluminum factories, the supposedly fully public university is majorly financed by then Alcan, now Rio Tinto-Alcan (them damn aussies, just kidding, more like damn globalization) so they want aluminum process bettering chemists and the rest is just side knowledge, and it showed when you reach the third and fourth year of that BSc.

        I had way much more fun reading things like the Rhodium Archive and books like Pikhal and Tikhal, organic chemistry is what interests me the most, because, it’s all of life, I could speak about carbon itself for hours but I find most people aren’t interested hehe.

  3. Craig says:

    I went to University in the UK from 1987 – 1991 (including one year in industry). Back then there were no course fees at all. I received a grant from my local council three times a year and my parents got a tax rebate on an allowance they gave me. Rent in the Halls of Residence was £20 a week with no utility bills. Back then in the UK only about 5% of people went to University and there was an unwritten covenant that if you got a science degree you would get a well paid job at the end.
    During my final year, the student grant started to be phased out and were replaced by loans over a period of about four years. Student’s parents could no longer claim tax back for helping out financially and course fees started to be brought in.
    Then when Tony Blair was elected University was transformed into something everyone needed to attend – not just the ‘academic’ kids. Thus the UK adopted the US model and a degree was seen as an essential – together with a shed load of debt. Given that you might meet your wife or husband at University you could leave University with a couple’s debt of over £100,000, no guarentee of a job and no ability to buy a house.
    I certainly would not go to University today and many of my friends are advising their children that there are other avenues available – often the trades, but also part-time study and online study.
    There are some really good MOOCs (massive open online course) available now. I am currently studying the computer language python through the University of Michigan’s open courseware course Programming for Everybody available for free through
    MOOCs are ideal for computer language and indeed human language learning.

    I agree with NotDole that the practical aspects of science and engineering degrees would be difficult to learn. During my Biology degree there was a great deal of lab work involved. But even that may change if we are clever about it. The Open University which has operated for years in the UK (and is really quite expensive) holds meet up tutorials and summer camps for practical sessions. The maker and hacker community are expanding into science subjects and electronics with do-it-yourself learning and kitchen and garage laboratories.

    Also when can a simulation replace a real hands-on experiment and when is a real-lab based experiment required. When I was at University we had some expensive bits of kit – electron microscope for example – but we weren’t allowed to touch it anyway. So let’s continue to think of more and more ways to self-empower and self study. And we can be selective too. I have never ever had the need to utilise my skills in plant tissue culture microprogation or describe all of the biochemical steps involved in the Citric acid cycle since 1989.

    • NotDole says:

      That blows, although you guys have a safety debt removal of 15k max in case you failed or decided to do something else with your life. At least my friend in Scotland had this happen. Not happening here in Canada, where education is different in every province. I live in the second province where Education is the cheapest (and we had to have a major revolt that lasted months (year and a half, seriously, typing Montreal student strike will get you some interesting videos in youtube, especially Agent …hmm got a blank on her badge number, and if you could understand canadian french, you’d see that this butch, seriously she is, and also they embrace the term so gonna be using it too, speak like a butch about all the students are communists etc.

      What’s hilarious is that, cops, in my province, have to go to college for 3 years (with Calculus 1) before even getting the chance of stepping into police academy, and yes if they fail Philosophy I over and over and over (and there’s 3 mandatory philosophy classes), they can’t be cops, I know a couple knuckleheads who were filtered away by the system this way with the mandatory french and french canadian litterature classes and the philosophy classes, oh also the english mandatory classes.

      Anyway, here it’s always been about 75% grants-25% loans if you live on your own. The first years of my life I never had to live on my own, I lived with my mom where we could see the college towers from home, walking/bus distance from the local college so I just got 1000 dollar loans to get my books and didn’t have that much left after those expenses. Please take note that if my parents were living together, they fortunately (yes, long story…) divorced in my last year of high school, so, because I was living with my mom, I could get those small loans and later loans & grants when I went to a different college and lived on campus. My dad is too rich apparently for me to get any grants, so it would have been all loans. He’s also too rich now, since a while, if I needed welfare, i’d have to fabricate a story about my dad not wanting to talk to me ever, because they changed the rules and my dad’s just too damn rich ya know. (Makes about 56k, which isn’t anything mind blowing, and hell I think he made much less in my earlier college years, 40k maybe).

      We all get f’d in different ways, hooray? Especially for those who of us who decide to study fields difficult to impossible to really learn at home…

      • Craig says:

        My working class parents were also deemed too rich under the government means test for me to get a full grant. I think your point about studying fields currently impossible to learn at home will lead to potential students studying other fields. On the plus side we could all study banking and bring the system down from the inside.

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