What Is a College Education Worth?

I’ve had about enough. 

I’ve had enough listening to the arguments for paying college athletes to play sports while they are in school.  Listening to the jocks on ESPN whine that these guys are being taken advantage of by the universities they play for.  Yeah.  Poor kid.  Being given an education worth a hundred grand or more in exchange for their efforts on the athletic field.  Cry me a river.  

But what is a college education really worth to these kids?  It’s always stated that a lot of them come from poor backgrounds where they “have nothing,” where playing ball is the only way to escape from the cycle of poverty their families are trapped in.  Why, then, do a lot of these kids end up right back where they started, with no degree, busted up knees, and no skills they can sell in the private marketplace?  It’s because a college education that promises the ability to work in the world and make six figures isn’t worth as much as the possibility of making nine figures in the NFL or NBA. 

Look, these are young people.  Teenagers.  Teenagers are notorious for not thinking ahead, for living in the right now and not getting ready for the down the road.  And if a kid is raised by a parent who doesn’t teach them how to think about the future in terms of life after football or basketball, they won’t think that way.  Young people need guidance from someone other than some whistle blowing jerk coach who only cares about how many carries he can get out of a kid on Saturday.  And that doesn’t happen these days. 

The math doesn’t lie.  There are over one hundred Division I colleges in the US.  If each team has 70 players, that is about 7,000 players in college.  If we say one fourth of those are seniors, that’s 1,750 kids coming into the NFL draft in a given year, not counting underclassmen who declare early for the draft.  Each team gets six picks, 32 teams, that’s 192 players.  1,750 kids trying to get 192 spots.  They can’t all get drafted.  Sure, a few get signed as undrafted free agents, but not many of these kids make the team.  Most of these kids won’t be pro football players.  It’s even worse for basketball, because the squads are smaller in the NBA (twelve players), and there are more D-I basketball programs. 

So, why would a kid not take advantage of the education he or she is given to play college sports?  They don’t see it as necessary.  They can go back to the old neighborhood and make a living on the street, if they want to.  Maybe a better living than getting a job as a result of having a degree.  The life expectancy is shorter, but, hey, you live big while you live.  Once you’re dead, you don’t care anymore.

Maybe it’s time, not to pay these kids with a scholarship, but simply pay them fifty thousand a year and not even force them to go to class.  If they want to spend their money on school, fine, but it’s up to them.  We get NFL and NBA teams to sponsor several schools and treat the university like a farm system.  It happens in baseball.  A kid can get drafted out of high school, then play ball or go to college.  They get a scholarship, but they CHOOSE school over pro ball.  We should make these kids choose.  They get four years of eligibility, get $50K a year, regardless of injury, and once their four years is up, they go back to the ‘hood and do whatever. 

At least then the school would be honest and the player would be honest about what they hope to get from the relationship. 

Of course, this plan has some problems.  Some teams would have college teams loaded with hired guns who don’t have the problem of studying or going to class.  Fine.  Who cares?  They are in the farm system, not student/athletes. 

By the way, the university gets to keep all the revenue they earn from putting on these games.  Minus the salaries for the kids.  And every kid gets the same money, so no corruption, no favors, nothing.  Anybody who violates this rule is off the team and ineligible for play in the farm system, and must sit out until the end of his eligibility plus one year from the pro team.  They lose their salary, too. 

How well are D-I schools doing at graduating players?  According to http://chronicle.com/article/Chart-College-Athletes/49200/, not too well.  Only one D-I school that has been ranked in football or basketball is in the high performing schools regarding graduation rates.  Notre Dame. 

In fairness, the worst performing schools aren’t big name schools, either.  And all of the schools on the list do a better job at graduating athletes than the university does at graduating regular old students. 

These kids see dollar signs when they get to go play at a big school.  They don’t see a degree.  So, how much is the degree worth? 

Not much. 

(I understand that many students do graduate.  The media is chocked full of players who did not.  I just think it’s time to be honest about your goals.)


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