Dirty Jobs' Mike Rowe on the High Cost of College


"If we are lending money that ostensibly we don't have to kids who have no hope of making it back in order to train them for jobs that clearly don't exist, I might suggest that we've gone around the bend a little bit," says TV personality Mike Rowe, best known as the longtime host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs.

"There is a real disconnect in the way that we educate vis-a-vis the opportunities that are available. You have - right now - about 3 million jobs that can't be filled," he says, talking about openings in traditional trades ranging from construction to welding to plumbing. "Jobs that typically parents' don't sit down with their kids and say, 'Look, if all goes well, this is what you are going to do.'"

Rowe, who once sang for the Baltimore Opera and worked as an on-air pitchman for QVC, worries that traditional K-12 education demonizes blue-collar fields that pay well and are begging for workers while insisting that everyone get a college degree. He stesses that he's "got nothing against college" but believes it's a huge mistake to push everyone in the same direction regardless of interest or ability. Between Mike Rowe Foundation and Profoundly Disconnected, a venture between Rowe and the heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, Rowe is hoping both to help people find new careers and publicize what he calls "the diploma dilemma."

Rowe recently sat down with Reason's Nick Gillespie to discuss his bad experience with a high school guidance counselor (3:20), why he provides scholarships based on work ethic (6:57), the problem with taxpayer-supported college loans (8:40), why America demonizes dirty jobs (11:32), the happiest day of his life (13:14), why following your passion is terrible advice (17:05), why it's so hard to hire good people (21:04), the hidden cost of regulatory compliance (23:16), the problem with Obama's promise to create shovel ready jobs (33:05), efficiency versus effectiveness (34:17), and life after Dirty Jobs (38:24).

Aprrox. 41 minutes. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Joshua Swain. Edited by Bragg.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic updates when new material goes live.

Editor's Note: At one point, Rowe says that college costs have risen over 500 percent the rate of inflation. According to the Department of Labor, college tuition costs have increased over 500 percent in nominal dollars since 1985, not 500 percent the rate of inflation. Read more about the increase here.

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  1. Woot! I'm down to $28,000 in debt! All of it student loans. It will take me a few more years at my current pay rate (not guaranteed since my current employer like to push for pay cuts) to pay it all off.

    And a lot of the people I knew in college were not suited to be there. It felt like my alma mater had a policy of "admit them and let them fail out" with the quality of cognition my classmates showed.

    1. I'm debt free from college, but I got lucky and I know it. At the same time, I sunk a lot of time into this and I'm not sure it was worth it. I know that I'll get a job, but that doesn't mean there isn't a more efficient/effective way to learn and qualify ourselves. I'm certain we can do it faster and cheaper.

    2. It felt like my alma mater had a policy of "admit them and let them fail out"

      It was probably more like, charge them and let them fail out.

  2. It felt like my alma mater had a policy of "admit them and let them fail out"

    "...as long as their federal student loans come in, who gives a shit? Sure, now we've got college dropouts with no job prospects and thousands of dollars of student loan debt, but who gives a shit! As long as we get paid!" /college administrator

    Seriously, higher education at this point is just another racket to shovel taxpayer money to pay the salaries of overpaid college administrators and professors.

    1. To be fair, the college I went to (way before widespread student loans) had a practice of admitting far more freshmen than they thought would make it to sophomore year. Attrition that first year was about 25%. The reasoning apparently was that the admission process was so subjective that they didn't really know who could cut it or not, so freshman year was to winnow out those who really belonged from those who simply aced the admission documents or came from high schools that marked more leniently.

      1. I really like this point. Admissions are hit and miss and you'd like to see the best people get the spot even if they don't pop out on the admissions form.

  3. It's sickening to hear brainwashed kids who are convinced they have to go to college or be the first in their families to do so. If that's the best option for them, then great. But more often than not it's an enormous waste of time, money, and resources that nobody ever gets back.

    1. It's not just college. These days, training for jobs that don't exist is more or less the definition of graduate school. Check out the "100 reasons NOT to go to grad school" blog:

      The pervasive, manic insistence that more education is always better is doing terrible harm to people.

  4. Ha! Jacket compliment at ~15:50

  5. Great interview and I can not agree more with the failure of society to demonize some jobs. I am a software developer but I appreciate a hard days work as I started in construction and worked my way trough college. Judging by the results we see today, the universities are the only certain winners in this scenario.

    1. Seriously - being a software developer doesn't require college. As Steve Jobs said, everyone should learn to code. It seems to me that within the field of computer programming, being able to build an iPhone app around something that interests you, or being able to build an enterprise-class application in a corporate environment, are not the same thing. Maybe the latter requires more education than the former, but neither probably requires spending $100k for a university degree.

      1. Well put.

        What are your fixes ?

      2. A lot of jobs like that are really crafts - things that are better learned by doing than by sitting in a classroom.

        And a big chunk of time spent in class has nothing to do with learning your craft anyway. How does an Intro to Sociology class help you code (or do accounting, or whatever).

  6. "I don't want to 'should' all over everybody" haha nicely done. Gonna steal that line.

  7. if you need a job try this site JOBS61 (dot)??m. Dan does it at home and makes $29.92 hourly just sitting and typing stuff all day...No experience needed too

    1. There you go again. Who cares about Dan? I punch Dan in the balls for shits n' gigs.

  8. Hey, it's that guy from the car commercials. Ford, I believe?

  9. Shameless plug for my alma matter, because they do things right:
    UWaterloo pushes a large chunk of their students to do co-op. And not the watered down stuff, either: by the time you graduate, you normally have done 6 co-op terms (4 months each), racking up 2 years of real work experience. And your first work term normally occurs before you start second year.
    - You realize quickly whether you like the field you're working in, or whether you should change your major/gtfo.
    - You end up actually learning stuff relevant to the work you do.
    - Most people graduate with little or no debt (even savings, if you're in a good field of study)

  10. my friend's step-aunt makes $73 hourly on the computer. She has been out of work for 9 months but last month her check was $20765 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this http://WWW.CASH46.COM

  11. just before I saw the paycheck which was of $9192, I didn't believe ...that...my mom in-law was like really bringing home money in their spare time from there new laptop.. there brothers friend had bean doing this 4 only about nine months and just repayed the debts on their cottage and purchased a great Aston Martin DB5. browse this site

  12. Here is a little secret. Some colleges offer the exact same degrees as expensive colleges
    but charge a fraction of the cost! A list of them can be found at http://www.DegreesAnywhere.com

  13. The best way to afford college is to select the least expensive Regionally Accredited college that meets your needs! The problem is, 'How do you find those inexpensive gems?' Go to http://www.DegreesAnywhere and 'Browse for Degrees'

  14. The editors tried to correct Mike Rowe's error on the inflation rate vs. the growth of the tuition cost. But they only got part of it right. Here's the details:

    Since, 1985, inflation is estimated by the BLS to have risen about 117%.

    Hence adjusted for inflation, the tuition increase -- while still considerably higher than inflation -- is not FIVE TIMES inflation but rather (according to my calculations -- I THINK I got is right, but not sure) about 3.3 times the inflation rate.

    But, FAR more important, this editor's note does not correct the MUCH larger error of Rowe stating that tuition has grown FIVE HUNDRED TIMES the rate of inflation. That's an innumeracy problem -- a VERY widespread problem. I suspect the person writing the "editor" remark did not grasp the fundamental error of misinterpreting 500% as "five hundred times." Such is the math weakness found throughout journalism (and everywhere else!).

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