Meet Tom “TK” Kuegler, a serial entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and co-founder of Wasabi Ventures – a Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm and holding company.
I sat down with TK to discuss a hot button topic of his – his assertion that private universities are a huge ripoff and that kids are far better off attending community college. I kept trying to challenge his unique take on the topic and the more he spoke, the more I was convinced that he was right…
Alex: You have called paying for private college the “biggest ripoff” in America. Although no one can deny the exorbitant cost of attending a 4-year private university, your strong assertion of it being a ripoff goes against popular opinion. Can you elaborate on your thoughts here? Why is a private college such a ripoff?
TK: Sure… Let me be clear that my belief on all of college is that it is a ripoff for MANY, but not all students. The reason I say this is that many of the students we have worked with at Wasabi Ventures looked at college as an experience. They looked at it as a stage in life that they were entitled to have and not that they were there as one of the first steps of moving their career along. So when someone starts off on an “experience” they approach it as more of a leisurely excursion that they are on, instead of a place of work.
Spending $60K per year for an “experience” probably doesn’t pan out for many students.
If you are an average student, or even an above average student, your goal for college should be to move your career along, determine how you want to spend the beginnings of your professional life, and do that in the most economical way you can.
For the average or above average student, that almost always spells community college.
Alex: Most people would argue that attending a prestigious, private university is the best way (and many say the only way) to land a fantastic job or start a promising career. What is your response to that notion?
TK: I think their best choice is to get through that phase as INEXPENSIVELY and EFFICIENTLY as possible.
If you can get a full ride or near full ride to a private institution, take it.
But putting yourself $30K in debt every year of school for a mid-level private school education seems silly to me.
I always tell people this: if you can get into Harvard, MIT, or any other Top 10 or 20 university for your undergrad and it is only going to cost you $5K per year than you should take that offer. Don’t hesitate because the math will work out on that. But if you get into X University, which is a Bottom Half of the Top 100 nationally ranked schools, and you have to pay even $30k per year (which is only half of many private universities), then maybe you should rethink your options.
Alex: And considering community college is only about $2500 per year, then it is certainly the most economic option.
TK: Yes, or even public univeristies or state schools. It is all about being efficient
Alex: Does someone who attends community college have a disadvantage in obtaining a dream job upon graduation? Especially considering the current economic conditions, it would be prudent for kids to look for any way to gain the upper hand in applying to jobs. Should this sway kids from attending community college?
TK: If your goal is a bachelor’s degree, English 101 is English 101, just make sure it transfers (most community colleges only offer associate’s degrees).
But most people spend the first couple years at any school just trying to determine their path. Why not do that as cheaply as you can?
Alex: You are a very successful businessman – a serial entrepreneur and one of the prominent VC’s in New England and Baltimore as well as having founded a SV-based venture capital firm. You are always looking for high quality talent, from people filling CEO roles in portfolio companies, new business founders, analysts, venture partners, software developers, marketers, etc. Do you personally put any weight on where they attended school? Would you hire anyone who attended community college?
TK: I put no weight on the school. The weight is all on the person and what they have accomplished in the world - experience trumps educational pedigree.
Alex: Do you think other people in your field share this sentiment?
TK: No. Or I guess I would say not all. Many people still filter by things like school attended.
But there is a growing number of people who try and look at the whole person and everything they are doing.
Alex: What advice would you give to a student in community college? What should they do to help their resume and job applications stand out?
TK: Get more real world experience; volunteer at companies. Experiential learning trumps almost everything else.
Alex: You have children who are preparing to apply to college within the next few years. If they got into both a private university and a community college, what would be your advice to them?
TK: Go where they can get the most bang for the buck. And at all times engage in every aspect of life. Don’t just do the “college experience”.
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