Interview with a CEO: Ridiculous Student Loans vs. The Future of Education


Treehouse founder Ryan Carson

Treehouse founder Ryan Carson

Higher education in this country has really hit some choppy seas in the last 15 years. Many are calling it ‘broken’, but being more of an optimist I think of it as just going through a big, messy transition. This is creating both winners and losers, as the skilled or lucky are able to surf gracefully atop the wave of change, while the unlucky are pounded under the barrel and emerge with missing teeth, $200,000 of debt, and poor job prospects.

At the losing end of the spectrum, we’ve got today’s typical middle-class family. The parents lead standard consumer lifestyles, following a script of high spending and a low savings rate. Many are still stuck with mortgage payments by the time their two kids graduate from high school. They can’t cover the full cost of tuition of the the out-of-state schools their kids select, but luckily there are government-backed student loans available, originated by private banks. You can get Enormous loans these days, and everyone is doing it, so it must be okay, right?

The justification is that education is an investment in yourself, the career scene is more competitive than ever, and the higher earnings provided by a university education more than justify the cost of the education. Student loans are Good Debt, right? Interest rates are pretty low, college is life-enriching, so let’s go.

So the young adults go out and follow the script, borrowing as much money as they are allowed and using it as if it belonged to somebody else. On-campus housing, the full meal plan, a car, bars and restaurants, plus the actual fees proposed by the school.

“These three textbooks rang up to $295.00 at the school bookstore? Whoa, that sounds expensive. Oh well, throw it on the student loan, it’s all part of the greater good. Hey! That’s a cool sweatshirt hanging in the background! Throw that in too!”

I saw this pattern in my own engineering school days, where I went through blissfully free from the thought that borrowing money was an option. I was forced to apply engineering principles to my own costs – from choosing the university closest to my hometown, all the way down to sharing a single used copy of each textbook with four other engineering students, photocopying pages as needed. It seemed difficult at the time, and I envied the luxurious lifestyles of the rich-parent and big-loan crowd. But looking back, it was actually a lot of fun, and the hard work provided a foundation for some great things in the future. On the other hand, a huge portion of my four years was spent learning things completely irrelevant to my field of work, and completely outside of my area of interest (untold credits in advanced calculus and centuries-old differential equations being among the most notable).

At the end, my classmates and I all graduated with the same degree, but have taken vastly different financial and career trajectories since then.

Despite my miniature frugal rebellion, I followed a straight-laced path. I got the good marks in high school and in university, slogged through years of irrelevant math classes, submitted my transcripts and photocopied diploma to the discerning high-tech companies, and got nice professional jobs. I put up lots of flair items in my cubicle and rarely lost my employee ID badge with the magnetic swipe strip for access to all the buildings on the corporate campus. I made 401k contributions and investments and paid plenty of taxes, eventually emerging to an early retirement…

…where I learned that the entire business world I had come to know was just a tiny, and rather boring, slice of the real world. All this time, other people had been following different paths, starting businesses in their 20s and even teens. They were able to learn faster, work harder without feeling like they were working at all, earn more money and have more fun – by tuning in to their own passion and letting themselves run.

Given the right attitude and view of the world, I could have bypassed much of the bureaucratic nonsense of my education and gotten an earlier start, ending up in a fun and self-guided life like the one I lead now – much earlier.

Just compare my own straight-laced story to this one from Rockstar Internet Entrepreneur Chris Guillebeau. This guy simply has an interesting perspective on the world, and how to prosper in it. He talks and writes about his unusual perspective, and this somehow turns into business ideas, infinite money, and a cult following. He makes it look easy, because when you set an intelligent person free on a task they enjoy, they do find it easy even while they produce some great stuff. Tim Ferriss and my frugality arch-rival Ramit Sethi are two other examples of the “hey, that looks too easy” phenomenon.

The rise of the Internet has also empowered new writers to be able to profitably self-publish, musicians to be able to Rock internationally without asking the permission of a corporate record label, and teenage hacker geniuses like the iPhone jailbreaker geohot to build bright worldwide empires from the comfort of their parents’ basements.

And now that I’ve stopped spending so much time conforming to the standard script of working hard in a corporate job, taking side courses in management and technical subjects, and maintaining a tidy cubicle, what has happened? Suddenly I too just get to do stuff that doesn’t feel like work, and yet I get to learn more than ever before and get paid for it.  Are these all just isolated examples of a few lucky internet personalities, or is there a real pattern here?

As part of the answer, I have recently had the pleasure of talking with someone who has feet in all three of these worlds: Ryan Carson is a conventionally-educated computer scientist who has since gone on to found several companies, and is currently founder and CEO of a company that is specifically challenging the old educational model and allowing students to self-teach themselves in advanced subjects. And apparently he even knows Tim Ferriss.

In a recent goals post on his personal blog, I noticed he has plans to “Successfully place 12,000 people per year without university degrees into good jobs (50k per year).  I love this goal and the idea behind his company, Treehouse. It is a company that creates high-efficency learning courses in high-demand subjects. And it is all about breaking up the old notion that education should be expensive, exclusive, and formal, and replacing it with the idea that the Internet has made information and communication virtually free. And it is information and communication with other people, rather than lifelong research tenures and ivy-covered stone blocks, that are the foundation of allowing people to learn things and produce value.

MMM: Thanks for stopping by, Ryan. What was your own education and career path, that led you to where you are now?

Ryan Carson: Honored to be here, thanks. I grew up in Colorado Springs, Colorado and went to Colorado State University where I graduated with a Computer Science degree. I wanted a bit of an adventure so I moved to the UK after graduating and got a job as a Web Developer (Coldfusion baby!). I did that for four years and then got married and started my first company in 2004.

I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since and am now building my fourth company, Treehouse. The first one failed (I didn’t know how to price and sell things) and I sold the other two after building them into profitable businesses.

Treehouse is an online school that teaches you how to code and design so you can make things like iPhone and Android apps, websites, web applications and more. We also have a business course so you can learn accounting, marketing and finances. It’s $25 per month for access to all our courses.

MMM: How many active students and how many graduates are there in Treehouse programs at this point?

RC: We have 22,000+ students right now from all over the world.

MMM: What subjects has Treehouse produced courses for, and what are your plans for future content?

RC: We have the following courses (we call them Learning Adventures)

We’ve got 14 full-time teachers so we’re going to keep cranking out content as fast as we can.

MMM: How do the costs of your programs compare to universities – in terms of both money and time commitment to reach certain goals?

Treehouse: $25 per month for six months, $150 total
4-Year University: $89,688 and four years

With Treehouse, if you start with no technical knowledge you can be job-ready in about six months. This presumes you’re too busy to dedicate full-time to learning. If you dedicate eight hours a day to learning, you could be job-ready in 1-2 months.

Presuming it takes you six months on our program, it would only cost you $150 total ($25 per month). This is a little more affordable than the $89,688 cost of a typical 4-year university :) The tech skills you learn at a 4-year university are immediately out of date once you graduate and they don’t even help you get a job when you graduate.

After you finish Treehouse, our goal is to place you in a great job paying $40,000+ per year. You can then keep your skills up to date for only $25 a month.

I believe this is the new model for education – affordable, on-demand, up-to-date and job-ready. Mark Cuban just posted a great piece on this called Will Your College Go Out of Business Before You Graduate?

MMM: Are there online tests and other proof of completion, or do students demonstrate their mastery in some other way?

RC: Yes, we have Code Challenges which are in-browser coding tests where you have to write real code to pass. Once you pass, you earn Badges to demonstrate your knowledge. We also have multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank quizzes for non-code topics. You can try out our most basic course that teaches you how to make websites (HTML & CSS) for free here.

MMM: How do you picture Treehouse interacting with conventional education, and other education companies in the future? Competitors? Cooperators with a universal system for accreditation?

RC: We believe Treehouse can make you job-ready, straight out of High School, without having a college degree. We’re teaming up with high schools to empower their teachers to be able to teach, using Treehouse as their curriculum. Our Jobs team then helps place the talented students straight into jobs. Once a student gets placed in a job, they can continue learning with Treehouse to stay on the cutting edge.

Our first group of high school pilots are completing in June and the students are already looking very promising. We’re finding it easy to identify employers who are ready to hire these high school graduates at $40,000 per year. I don’t know about you but I certainly couldn’t have made $40k straight out of High School :)

MMM: Dyn-o-mite! Getting teachers to run these modern technology courses in conventional schools is a great idea. I would have loved to learn real skills like that in high school computer class, instead of “How to use Microsoft Word And Excel”.

I should note that it’s definitely possible to earn $40k out of high school, if you have skills that you develop throughout high school (carpentry, etc.). And to be fair, starting salaries in software for those with university degrees are much higher than $40k – more like $100k with a good education in a good job market.

But the same person who could get that good education and $100k job, could also start at $40k out of high school, and with four years of experience and promotions, be over that salary level by that point. Minus the cost of the formal education, and plus the smaller salary earned in the intervening years. So even on an apples-to-apples basis, it could be a win if there are enough employers who would go for it.

RC: If you’re already in college or working in a job, you can easily use Treehouse in your free time and re-train for a technology job. We’re finding that a lot of college professors are signing up for Treehouse Group accounts and assigning Treehouse Badges as homework.

Ultimately we’re trying to replace the need for college credits. It’s becoming clear that a traditional degree is no longer required for a job in technology. It’s all about your skill set and whether it’s up to date. My 12 year old Computer Science degree is now worthless because I learned an old language.

Obviously other career verticals like medicine will require traditional degrees and I don’t see that being disrupted in the near future.

MMM: Yeah… but I do know a few doctors who have choice words to share about the cost and inefficiency of modern medical education – even at the fancier schools. Ok, next question:

How does Treehouse interact with employers – do you have companies knocking at your door to get early access to graduates? Do you have any coordination for job placement?

RC: Our Jobs Team was created recently and their mission is to …

Find employers who are looking to hire web designers, web developers and iPhone/Android developers
Place Treehouse Students into great careers with these employers
We’re aiming to eventually place at least 1,000 Students per month into exciting technology jobs that pay $40,000+ per year.

MMM: How do you think a bright 16-year-old would fare, for example, staying up late on weekends to blast through the Treehouse IOS or Android development programs and putting out some apps which they share with the world and with potential employers? Is this an enormous shortcut or a big mistake?

RC: I think this is an enormous shortcut to success. Up until now, Universities have had this mafia-like grip on the job pipeline. You had to pay them a $100,000 toll to get to Job Land. That time is coming to an end and we’re entering a new age where anyone can educate themselves, on their own timeline, and get the job-ready skills they need. All for 0.17% of the cost of a traditional University degree in 1/8th the amount of time. It’s insane and I’m so honored and excited to be a part of the revolution.

I know from personal experience that we would always hire a developer who has built a couple real projects and put them out into the wild, over a college graduate with no real-world experience. Programs like Treehouse allow people to build real things, get them out to the public and then learn from that experience – all for a fraction of the time and money cost of University.

MMM: I’ve always thought of the MMM readers as ideal candidates for self-education, because way too many of us are techies, and we tend to like dispensing with cultural formalities in favor of getting real stuff done. Others are interested in a career boost, getting out of a currently stagnant track. On top of this, I hear from teenagers, students, and recent grads frequently, looking for advice on how to run their career and their finances to obtain freedom in life as early as practical. Do you have any advice for these people?

RC: In my life, I’ve always been naively optimistic and that’s worked well for me. I did a 1-hour talk where I summarize this methodology but basically the main reason why I’ve been lucky to get ahead financially, professionally and personally is because I assume anything is possible. I’m not more talented or intelligent than anyone else. I simply believe there’s only one rule in life: “Treat others like you want to be treated”. After that, it’s wide open :)

MMM: – thanks for joining us and thanks for making such a difference with your own company. I will definitely be following your progress from afar (and surely tracking you down next time I am in Portland as well!).

RC: Thank you so much for the interview. I’m a huge fan of MMM so this has been a real honor.

MMM: Aww, shucks.

While this article is a zoom-in on self-education, it should not be viewed as a complete end-run around university education. The message I’m hoping to share with potential students (and with my own son as he gets older) is just this:

  • Education of any sort is good.
  • If you’re going to buy it, shop around just as you do with any other purchase.
  • Always work to maximize your own value and minimize the costs if money is at all an issue.
  • Begin with the end in mind, and don’t just follow everyone else blindly.
  • Don’t borrow major money for a degree, unless you know how you will earn the money to pay it back within a few years after graduation.
  • The world is changing much faster than the traditional educational system can change itself. So use this fact to your advantage rather than getting crushed by it.
  • There is a much bigger world out there than the Employer/Employee model that most parents teach you about. Most of our parents spent their careers in a different economic model than what we have today. If you have entrepreneurs as parents, you’ll get closer to the full story. If not, be sure to talk to others who run their own companies or work for themselves.

It is essential to believe that “Jobs are something that people, including YOU, create”, rather than “Jobs are a scarce commodity that must be chased and appeased with human sacrifices”.

More on Futuristic Education

This whole “free learning online” thing has been going strong for years, and yet is just getting started in the grand scheme of things. But besides the Treehouse you have just met, here are a few more that have drifted across my own screen in recent weeks:

Coursera: actual courses from various universities, made available mostly free

Khan Academy: a smart and personable guy just started making some YouTube tutorial videos to teach his family and friends, and it took off, eventually getting the attention and backing of Bill Gates. Nowadays they’ve got a video library with over 3900 videos in various topics and over 225 million lessons delivered.

EDX (a collaboration between Harvard and MIT): Big-name courses, made available for free – with options to pay a discounted fee to receive actual course credits.

creativeLIVE: A selection of neat-sounding courses in the Artsy arena (photography, business, design, photoshop, video&film). To complete the circle of this new online world, you’ll find Tim Ferriss and Ramit Sethi on there as instructors, teaching their stuff even as they continue to run their own businesses based on the idea of learning stuff online.

It’s an interesting world out there these days: knowledge is virtually free, and there has never been a better time to ditch your TV and Playstation completely – and dig in to some more enriching entertainment!


  • Rick February 7, 2013, 6:19 am

    As someone in the information security field who gets paid to break into web applications, I noticed that there was no mention of courses on securing the applications or databases. I hope Treehouse addresses these topics for their students, because security of the applications being developed is becoming more important than ever.

    On the flip side, as long as we keep getting new developers that don’t have a strong understanding in information security, the info sec jobs will stay in high demand and continue paying big salaries – allowing me to grow my ‘stache even faster :)

    For any mustachians pursuing Treehouse (or similar) education opportunities in the development/IT fields – if you can add information security to your skill set you can increase your salary a lot and grow that ‘stache even faster. A developer that knows how to code securely can earn a lot more than a developer who just knows how to code.

    • Joe February 7, 2013, 11:15 am

      Could you recommend an introductory, substantial text?

      • Rick February 9, 2013, 2:45 pm

        To secure development? Information security?

        For web application security, I’d start with OWASP: https://www.owasp.org/

        For information security in general, check out Secrets and Lies by Bruce Schneier or Security Engineering by Ross Anderson. The Web Application Hacker’s Handbook is also a good book for what I do.

    • lurker February 7, 2013, 11:18 am

      Rick how did you learn??? Giving lessons anywhere?

      • WageSlave February 7, 2013, 3:12 pm

        I don’t have the same exact role as Rick, but I have some basic knowledge on the topic. And I think that classwork can only give you best practices and guidelines. But I believe for someone to truly excel in the information security field, they have to posses a very deep and nuanced understanding of the system on which they are working. In other words, what are the implicit side-effects of every line of code? I think this kind of truly expert knowledge (1) only comes with experience, and (2) requires a specific mindset (good at abstract, rational thought).

        I think it’s relatively easy to code to a set of requirements or use/test cases and produce something that actually works. But I believe it’s a higher tier of programming excellence to produce code that is also free of subtle side effects and/or security vulnerabilities.

        The bad guys writing exploits are doing the exact same thing in reverse.

        • Rick February 9, 2013, 2:52 pm

          I think the specific mindset may be the bigger point. I may not always have a deep understanding of the applications and systems I’m evaluating, but I do have firm knowledge in network protocols, web protocols (HTTP), how web browsers work, and how back-end systems (PHP, ASP.NET, databases, etc) function.

          The bigger part is that I have a very curious mindset, so I’m always eager to learn more about how things work. Specifically, if I give the application input X, it gives me results Y. What happens when I give it Z?

          And you’re exactly right about the high level of programming excellence required to produce good, secure software. Admittedly, I would even struggle with this if I did programming – even after 6 years in the information security field.

      • Rick February 9, 2013, 2:42 pm

        I went to school for software engineering and my first job out of college I was recruited for an information security role and they trained me. I got very lucky in that regard (altho I firmly believe ‘luck’ is mostly just taking advantage of the right opportunities).

        No, not giving any lessons. It is a very difficult field to get into, but I would recommend this series of blog posts: http://krebsonsecurity.com/category/how-to-break-into-security/

        • Brian February 14, 2013, 6:44 pm

          I agree with your definition of luck. Nobody draws your name out of a hat for your place in life.

  • Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle February 7, 2013, 6:20 am

    I am a single, lower income mom so both my sons have had to rely on government loans and student lines of credit with my bank.

    The oldest lives like a king so I cut him off financially. Big concerts, professional sporting events and a fancy Crossfit gym membership because the free gym available at the school just isn’t good enough means he now lives on loans and his part time job.

    Tough love.

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 6:35 am

      That’s part of the problem with young adults getting big student loans – they just can’t gauge how much money it actually is. In the end, it sounds like you did him a big favor.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 8:42 am

      Good job Jane Savers. Your son needs a consultation with Mr. Money Mustache.. College is not Luxury Time, it’s Asskicking time, especially if you are going into it with a Debt Emergency like he is.

      University is the place you go when you’re a Smart Person. That means smart enough to figure out how to have fun and get your degree without spending money you don’t have. The concerts and the crossfit can come a few years later, once you’re a millionaire.

      • Dragline February 7, 2013, 12:55 pm

        Yes, I commend you for being tough, too, Jane. His prospective employers aren’t going to care about his college “experience”. Almost all that will matter is the type of degree and the reputation of the institution.

        Most colleges just charge way too much for what the sheepskin they deliver. Only the top few schools in any given field are worth paying top dollar for. And if you are not in one of those programs, you’d better go as cheap as possible, which means community college and/or state schools for most people. But few people want to hear that and erroneously equate the cost of their degree with its value in the marketplace.

        Here’s a crude valuation tool if you are wondering what any particular institution is really worth: http://www.payscale.com/college-education-value

        You’ll notice you can find many schools below the top 100 that charge top-10 money. Anybody who goes to such places is probably overpaying — and by a lot.

      • Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle February 9, 2013, 5:12 am

        He is taking business focused on economics along with quite a few accoounting courses and he is on the Dean’s list because he maintains an average of over 80% so he is learning something That makes it more frustrating.

        • Emmers February 10, 2013, 12:15 pm

          Well, at least there *is* that upside of learning at least *something.* It would be worse if he were totally squandering all those loans and getting C’s or D’s.

    • Nurse Frugal February 7, 2013, 9:42 am

      I agree with you too jane! Taking out school loans and living like a king don’t go together! I had a friend who took out school loans, was living with family rent-free, wasn’t working and was flying to and from across the country to visit her boyfriend regularly! Now she isn’t with that boyfriend anymore and has tons of debt to show for it. It doesn’t make sense to me. I think you did the right thing and eventually he will learn that he can’t be making those expensive decisions without consequence!

      • Holly@ClubThrifty February 7, 2013, 9:47 am

        We know so many people who took out huge loans during school in order to live above their means….and are now paying the price. I hope my kids go to community college for a few years. I have been saving for their college in their 529’s since they were babies and I can only hope that it will be enough when the time comes!

        • PFgal February 13, 2013, 9:56 am

          One of the great things about going to a state school was that most of my fellow students were money-conscious. Many were working part time or even full time jobs, and they really understood the value of those loans. I felt rich because my family paid my tuition and other costs, even though they weren’t “rich” and they saved from the time I was born to be able to do that. I certainly wasn’t the only one without a car. A night out was getting pizza and then seeing the free improv show on campus. We didn’t pay for expensive entertainment. I feel fortunate to have been surrounded by such grounded people. I didn’t get the most useful degree, but at least I had lower costs and made good use of what I had. Of course, I faced a lot of derision from high school friends (and their parents) for not going to a “better” school, but that just helped to give me a thicker skin.

    • Marcia February 7, 2013, 11:55 am

      Very good job there. You just have to do it sometimes.

  • reader from the rockies February 7, 2013, 6:23 am

    Phenomenal article. Once again the internet brings us revolutionary changes. This will be a tough nut for colleges, but for kids and families…..a real bonanza. Another fleecing of American families gets exposed. Thanks for a terrific article. Thanks MMM.

  • Mark February 7, 2013, 6:36 am

    Another excellent source to free education is the MOOC site Udatcity.com (similar to Coursera). They recently added a Parallel Computing course that is quite well done.

  • jlcollinsnh February 7, 2013, 6:37 am

    Great perspective, and I say that as a parent with a kid in college at the moment.

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time on https://www.khanacademy.org/ and can vouch for it.

    I started listening to hat he had to say on subjects I’m very knowledgeable about, figuring that would give me a sound idea of how reliable his content was. I was, and continue to be, impressed.

  • Ross February 7, 2013, 6:52 am

    Im really interested to see his job placement rate. I totally agree that this is the way to educate people for tech jobs, I just wonder if the corporate world is ready to hire 18 yr olds who didn’t go to college? But soon enough, if corporations don’t hire them, someone else will … thanks for another inspirational and life changing post!

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 7:16 am

      Most of the employers that are hiring non-degree folks are cutting edge companies like Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, etc. They understand that a degree in technology doesn’t mean anything so they’re already looking outside that cohort.

      This post titled “College was my biggest mistake” sums it up pretty well: http://stevecorona.com/college-was-my-biggest-mistake/

      • Jamesqf February 7, 2013, 4:06 pm

        That depends entirely on what you mean by “cutting edge”. The companies you name are doing things that are technically fairly simple (and from what I see as a casual observer, not doing them particulary well). The trick is to somehow wrap your kludged-together tech in enough tinsel that it becomes popular.

        • Walter Mundt February 13, 2013, 6:46 pm

          Slightly off topic, but: I worked for Facebook for a couple of years, and what they’re doing is certainly not “technically fairly simple.” It might have been technically simple in 2006, but you can’t provide an interactive service for a billion-and-counting worldwide users and still be “technically simple”, especially not on the kind of money you can make from ads.

          To put in another way, at any given moment a non-trivial minority of the human race is interacting with Facebook, and a small army of hackers is trying to figure out how to exploit the service. For every person that writes code at Facebook, there are literally hundreds of thousands of active user accounts, even assuming they’ve been hiring aggressively since I left.

          Even if it were simpler than Twitter, those facts alone are enough to make it a pretty challenging environment to work in. Twitter itself has clearly had to evolve in the same direction as its popularity has grown. Just because something looks simple from the outside doesn’t mean it is easy to build.

          Companies like Facebook really are cutting-edge in a lot of ways, technologically speaking. The reason they don’t require college degrees is that they can’t afford to; the supply of people with the knowledge and experience to build these sorts of systems isn’t big enough to let you reject anyone on a formality.

          Just to be clear, IMHO a degree really is a formality in this industry. If I were starting a company and had to hire one of two people with no real experience, the one with a CS degree is a slightly better bet. On the other hand, if I were instead choosing between a middling new CS grad and a 17-year-old high school kid with a couple of decent apps on the Android market or some neat stuff up on GitHub, the high school kid is probably the better pick by far. These days, it’s not actually that hard to be that kid, if you have the inclination to be (even if you are actually 35 and working at Wal-Mart or something).

  • Deena Dollars February 7, 2013, 7:03 am

    I would add to your list of resources EdX – it is similar toCoursera, but on a not-for-profit model, and a different set of universities participating. EdX was started last year by MIT, Harvard, and Berkeley, and growing. They offer great technical coursework by tenured faculty members at those schools — seriously, really top-notch people teaching intro courses, which is a level of instruction that was previously unavailable unless you *actually* went to Harvard, MIT or Berkeley. (I am not affiliated with them at all, I just believe in their mission.)

    I just started an intro to computer science course this week. It is a stealth move on my part to move toward a new career. I have a fancy Ivy-league graduate degree but I want more.

    • Deena Dollars February 7, 2013, 7:07 am

      Oh, and I would add one more thing — top business people are starting to really see that the higher education institution is going to be disrupted. Bill Gates has issued a challenge to universities to create a “10K BA” and venture capitalist Peter Thiel pays promising entrepreneurs not to go to college (http://www.thielfellowship.org/). Thought you might like to check those things out if you haven’t already seen them.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 7:52 am

      Thanks Deena, I’ll add that EdX resource to the article.

      • PFgal February 13, 2013, 10:09 am

        I’ve recently started courses on codecademy.com and udacity.com. I haven’t done enough to give good feedback on either, but they both came highly recommended and I do feel like I’ve been learning the programming languages that I’m focusing on so far.

  • Posted On February 7, 2013, 7:06 am

    So, in effect, computer programming (or technology as he describes it) has become a trade. Like bricklaying, or home construction, or other trades people traditionally learned in vocational school. Seems like another step in the process to equalize global wages…

    • Kiwano February 7, 2013, 10:52 am

      Funny you mention that, my first reaction to this article was “ahhh, trade school for programming; that makes good sense.”

      I have a friend who runs a tech infrastructure consultancy, and frequently expresses delight about how his business is becoming more of a trade than a profession, all while reminding anyone who cares to listen that plumbers retire richer (or sooner) than lawyers.

    • Gerard February 7, 2013, 2:33 pm

      Or, put differently, training (facts, procedures) vs. education (ideas, critical thinking). I think part of the problem with the higher-education bubble is that we (the university) have taken over some areas that are really more of a training thing and that could be more efficiently handled by community colleges and/ or a combination of self-teaching and a rigorous certification programme. Most education, engineering and business degrees come immediately to mind… maybe nursing and pharmacy as well?
      (Take my contribution with a grain of salt… I’ve done pretty well out of the university business in the past decade or so…)

    • Emmers February 10, 2013, 12:18 pm

      +1 trade school. I don’t want to diss the value of college/university education, because learning to think critically and analyze really *is* an important skill, but at the same time not all college paths are going to lead to jobs, so people eventually have some tough decisions to make.

      • Kenoryn February 13, 2013, 7:50 pm

        When us kids were deciding what to do with our lives, my mom told us, “Go to college if you want to get a job; go to university if you want to get an education.” We all went to university and now none of us are working in the fields we studied, mainly because you have to choose your field of study when you’re 18, with little exposure to the world, and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life when I was 18. In that regard, having a university degree probably prepares you better for things other than what you studied than a college degree does. ;P

  • jonhohle February 7, 2013, 7:10 am

    > My 12 year old Computer Science degree is now worthless because I learned an old language.

    I’ve met people from Colorado State, and thankfully their 4-year CS degree does not only teach them about a single, outdated programming language. If that’s all you got out your coursework, I think you missed something along the way. (And Ryan seems like a smart guy, so I doubt he missed it, so it sounds like he’s just selling.)

    I think the comparison with carpentry is a good one. Treehouse courses seem great for tradesmen. They allow you to get in and do a specific job with a specific technology. If you’re doing it right, a CS/CE degree should allow you to do the same, but also design and build the underlying technologies. Who’s designing new composite materials and blends for new flooring products – it’s not carpenters. I’m not saying these courses are not valuable, just shallow (when compared to CS)..

    Coursera, Khan Academy, etc. can help fill that gap, and will hopefully be disruptive. The biggest burden at many firms will be getting people through recruiting screens when they lack a four year degree.

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 7:23 am

      Yes, research and development for breakthrough products will come from academia, so the small percentage of folks interested in that line of work should go to college.

      However, the majority of people just want a decent paying, fulfilling career and it’s now no longer a given that a college degree will get you a job. The universities are selling you on a $100,000 degree based on something they can’t guarantee: a job.

      We’ve got to break the mafia-like hold that the universities have on the career market. There is an outdated belief that college is a right of passage that creates a complete adult. This notion is a modern one and is now breaking down.

      • Xabriel February 7, 2013, 10:46 am

        I agree with your point that the majority of people just want a decent career. But I don’t think they have a mafia-like hold on jobs. Universities that bill you $100k have taken the path that most long term ventures take: create a brand, then sit on it. People themselves, especially in the USA, have ingrained this feeling that “If my kids don’t go to college, they won’t succeed”.

        University level education should be free, or at least heavily subsidized, like it is in countries like Austria, and so I’m really happy to hear about companies like yours that are really driving the cost of technical education down. This will definitely put pressure on the higher ed system.

        One question though: Most universities are non-profits. And the ones that are for profit are sketchy at the least. How do you see your company not eventually becoming the mafia when the urge to make profits hits the stakeholders?

        • shavenllama February 8, 2013, 9:24 am

          I have nothing to add, I just wanted to show off my scarf too.

          • lurker February 8, 2013, 10:24 am

            LOL…laughing my scarf off, actually

      • Dennis October 14, 2018, 4:33 pm

        First, I want to thank you for what you are doing. I might even take a course, But my college education was much more than learning to get a job. My English classes helped a lot when I had to write reports. I learned a lot from my fellow students. As an electrical engineer, I even made use of my calculus and differential equations. I often had to write code and fix code written by others. During my career, I worked with ten different operating systems and programmed in ten different languages. I only learned FORTRAN in college. My whole working career was one long continuing education, For computer security, I went to Blackhat and Defcon conferences. In hardware, tubes were replaced by transistors which were replaced by IC op amps. In software, even languages like C++ kept changing. Borland was not the same as Microsoft which was not the same as VAX. The trick is to learn how to learn, and budget your time so you have time to learn while working. Language standards are upgraded every five years, at least they were for Ada. I retired at 56. The rat race is done for me.

    • Lucas February 7, 2013, 7:43 am

      Yes – especially if you are dealing with any sort of goverment contracting work – as they pretty much require 4 year degrees. It also doesn’t help that HR screeners typically know nothing about the technology the company uses and so rely on typical “certificate” types of measurements to screen applicatants.

    • Chase February 7, 2013, 8:42 am

      I find the reason for these structured four year degrees like CS/Engineering is that it teaches you critical reasoning skills. That is what those “useless” math course are for, even if you’re not going to be taking derivatives or interpolating things later on in your career.

      There are some people that are very bright and don’t need to take these courses, but for the vast majority of students getting these reasoning skill early on in their education is important for a full understanding later in their education.

      That being said, people that are smart enough can coast by with good grades and not learn much of anything…

      • Mr. Frugal Toque February 8, 2013, 7:50 am

        University, to me, was about giving students the “take care of it your damn self” skills that they weren’t picking up in the spoon feeding world of high school.
        Critical reasoning? Absolutely.
        “Quit your whining and deal with it?” That too, because there’s no one to pick your dumb ass up off the ground if you drop the ball.
        So I can see where this article is coming from – that there are lots of ways to learn how life really works and the expensive university route is only one of them.
        But for those of us who don’t have the entrepreneurial genes or the early life exposure, university is where we *had* to grow up. And getting through university was proof – to our future employers – that we were taking responsibility for ourselves.

    • Bob February 7, 2013, 9:29 am

      You beat me to it — a 6-month course to learn Ruby on Rails could probably get somebody up and running to build a fairly simple web site. But CS isn’t meant to teach you one programming language and then shove you into a job. You learn algorithms, data structures, etc that you *will* need in order to solve more complex problems.

      • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 1:26 pm

        You can learn all of that online. There’s no need for the expensive in-person methodology that traditional colleges offer.

        • Bob L February 7, 2013, 5:46 pm

          True, it’s possible to learn just about anything online if you have the inclination and self-discipline, and I applaud the efforts of people like you who work to wrest higher education from the clutches of expensive universities.

          But I agree with what Bob (different Bob) is getting at – learning how to program in a bunch of different languages is not a substitute for a rigorous 4-year computer science curriculum. If you work your way through assembly language, computer architecture, algorithms, data structures, compilers, programming language theory, etc., you will not only be able to pick up ANY language very quickly, but you’ll also be equipped with a fundamental understanding of what you’re doing that puts you in a whole different league from someone who took a bunch of courses on specific languages/technologies.

          I’m not saying that the only way to get this kind of knowledge is to attend a university. But let’s be realistic about what it takes and acknowledge that there is real value in the organizational framework provided by university education even if the knowledge is available elsewhere (which means you shouldn’t pay much for it!)

          • Mr. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 7:51 pm

            That’s a good point and I’m sure the best youngsters will figure it out for themselves: there’s no substitute for a deep understanding of the technology you’re working with. Learning a programming language is like learning how to squeeze the trigger on a cordless drill – you’ve started with something useful, but it will still take a lot more practice to become a carpenter.

            As a software engineer myself I found it extremely useful having learned the workings of a computer right down to the doped silicone of the P-N junction in a transistor. And then up to wiring a few of those together to make a NOT gate, and higher levels of logic gates through to little counters, and up much further to processor design, assembly language, compiler design, and on up through the more abstract languages to what we program with today, which is very fluffy and machine-disconnected.

            For all but the most high-level tech jobs, it really helps to know what can go wrong down in the messy analog world of hardware, so you’ll understand a hardware problem when you see one, and not get confused when writing software around it.

            Luckily, even all this stuff mentioned above is just a few courses. A dude could read a single well-written 300 page book and soak it all up pretty thoroughly.

            And THEN there’s the whole “how to work with other people in a large multi-person software project”. That’s definitely a few more courses or books. And you really need to work with a few dickheads to understand how important cooperative development is.

            But you might as well start with the programming language – it’s a lot of fun to do that part first.

            • Mr. Frugal Toque February 8, 2013, 7:34 am

              “And you really need to work with a few dickheads to understand how important cooperative development is.”

              Stephen King said something like this regarding writing: “Reading one really poorly written book is worth a semester of creative writing courses.” (paraphrased because I can’t bother looking up the reference).

              Indeed, one can learn a lot of lessons by working on one really, really poorly run software project.

            • Sword Guy February 9, 2013, 5:22 pm

              Then people working on government IT contracts ought to be about the most learned folks in the IT world because they can get lots more of that kind of experience than their underprivileged commercial IT counterparts.

            • Grant February 9, 2013, 8:25 pm

              One thing to keep in mind is that having a requirement of a degree, and/or a membership of an organisation (which in turn may require you to have a degree) is a barrier of trade, designed to protect reputation, ensure some level of performance, and of course protect pricing/wages.

              It is entirely appropriate for this to be the case – one should be able to depend on the reputation of a qualification to project some level of confidence (and it is definitely arguable about whether this is true in the real world!) If you were just some random, looking for someone to do X (computer related or not), and you didn’t have any specific knowledge of that arena, or indeed someone you trust to give you a recommendation, then you would look for pieces of paper that indicate some proficiency in that field…

              Sure, performance speaks for itself, and I would much rather find someone based on personal recommendation, but for someone starting out the piece of paper from a university can certainly help get past a HR department screening resumes.

              For me, the real benefit of this type of training is for someone like myself – after 10+ years working with carrier networks and 2 years being stay at home dad, relocating to a smaller city with no big carrier operation centres, I need to refresh my skills and possibly change my career direction.

              I’ll be returning to the workforce within 12 months, and I will be looking into some of these courses immediately!

            • Emmers February 10, 2013, 12:30 pm

              The drill/carpenter analogy is really spot on.

              I do wonder how well online universities will be able to teach the “get along with assholes” life skills, though.

      • Jamesqf February 9, 2013, 11:05 am

        Building a web site is not a tech job, it’s art. It’s like the difference between a rock guitar player, and the engineer who designed the amplifier.

        Just for the record, I’ve worked in CS for several decades, and have never, ever built a web site.

        • Emmers February 10, 2013, 12:33 pm

          Yeah, HTML is not really a programming language at all, in the way that C is. It’s not bad, it’s just different. They are different skills.

          PHP more closely resembles traditional programming languages, in that you can do interesting things with it; and since PHP seems to be what more and more websites are being built out of these days, it seems like learning a full programming language (C/C++/Java/whatever) before you learn PHP/Ruby/etc. would be valuable.

    • Emmers February 10, 2013, 12:28 pm

      CS degrees should teach you the fundamentals of programming, as well as other basic computery things. They’re not just about teaching you a single language — they’re about teaching you how to be able to learn *new* languages too, as well as all the other things. (I never got into the low-level stuff, as I came away with just a minor, but I’m able to learn new languages/scripting easily enough now. It’s enough skill to supplement other jobs, but probably not enough to be a Real Engineer.)

  • Mr 1500 February 7, 2013, 7:12 am

    Nice post. I cringe whenever someone tells me they’re getting into massive debt studying something that will have little value in the real world.

    iTunesU also has a lot of great courses online including Stanford’s iPhone programming course.

    iTunesU: http://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/
    iPhone course: https://itunes.apple.com/us/itunes-u/ipad-iphone-application-development/id473757255?mt=10

  • Lucas February 7, 2013, 7:40 am

    Great article. As an employee and hiring manager in a software company I close to 100% agree with the perspective that I would rather hire someone with relevent skills and real world projects than a “degree”. I saw way to many slackers and piggybackers in college (those people who use you to get the grades – especially in group work situations), and agree that I have used only a fraction of the knowledge I gained. I have used much more of my Masters degree knowledge as I had adjunct professors with real life expirience, vs research professors who were forced into teaching classes.

    There are unfortunatly significant barriers in many places though for those without college education. My company won’t hire you for a technical job without one (and they pay you more for advanced degrees regardless of skill), primiarily becuase they can’t put you on a federal goverment contract without certain “credentials”. These restrictions are certainly less in the non goverment sector, but they should be understood.

    Couple nit picks – There are many ways to get a college degree without paying $89,688, so not sure that is a fair comparison. You kind of cover these in your closing so no major smack down needed ;-). There are less options on reducing the # of years, but definitly the cost. I worked hard in highschool (graduated 2 years early), got good schollarships at an instate school and ended with a 4 year degree with $3000 in student loans (while living on campus). I then did my masters degree while working full time and my company paid for everything but parking fees adding up to maybe $500. My wife went to a community college for 2 years, transfered to a more recognized school and worked her way through as an RA and Computer lab assistant – ending with a degree and $0 in student debt.

    Work hard, learn lots, and keep your eyes open to all the options – not just what everyone else is doing!

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 7:46 am

      Great work on getting through college so frugally. You’re definitely the exception, not the rule.

      • Rob aka Captain and Mrs Slow February 8, 2013, 1:44 pm

        My niece and her husband both did degrees (3 in total) him a doctor and her a nurse and graduated with the same amount of student debt that the average student who did one degree did. They did it, or will do it, she’s done he needs another year, by being really tight, living in cheap student housing and not having a car or cable They figure they can clear up the debt in one year after he graduates.

        Yes they have a reputation for being skin flints but that’s better than graduating with a crushing debt load.

    • Kenoryn February 7, 2013, 2:59 pm

      These numbers like $89K and up boggle the mind – tuition must be much more expensive in the States. My university’s tuition was $5,500 per year. Presumably it’s a little more now, but probably not more than $6,500. Is the $22,000 cited by this article just for tuition costs? Or does that include living costs? Even if you add in another $7K/year for living expenses, you’re only at $54,000 total. Any hardworking student can surely get some scholarships or bursaries. Add in a part-time job or tutoring during the school year, full-time job during the summer, and there’s no reason formal education should mean a pile of debt.

      • Mark February 8, 2013, 7:36 am

        Mine was about $20,000 per year, but that number includes cost of living. I think the official estimate was somewhere in the 22K range. The tuition was only about 8K of that. I had about $600/month in living expenses, so my total cost was more like $15K/year (I bought used textbooks and re-sold them, sometimes for more than I paid). Of course some go way above that and spend $30K, $40K, etc./year. Then they complain about their loans.
        I graduated in 7 semesters, so my total cost was near $55K. My parents paid much of the cost, and required me to live in a specific dorm my first two years. So, my cost was actually higher than this, but only because they required it to be. Once I moved out of the dorm, I dropped down to the $15K/year number.

        This was at the top state school in my state, Illinois. Tuition is actually quite a bit lower at other schools nearby.

        • MilwaukeeMN February 9, 2013, 12:34 pm

          I graduated in 2000 from a private college in Wisconsin. Kept changing degrees and transfering (to all private colleges) so it took me five and a half years (had almost 200 credits at the end). I had never tallied it all up since but did it now. My out of pocket costs for tuition, books, room and board were $45k of which I paid $40k cash and $5k in a loan. I went to all private colleges but got many scholarships. Without any of that my bill would have been… $85k to $90k for 5.5 years. I started with over $10k in savings after high school and worked every college summer for long hours and sometimes during the school year. Parents gave me less than a thousand dollars of spending money the whole time.

    • James L February 7, 2013, 4:34 pm

      I agree. I went to community college, and am currently in a non-profit University but my classes are free because I work for the University full time. Students seem to forget they can work part/full time and if they live within their means they will leave with 0 debt. I’m essentially getting paid to go to school +401k matching and other benefits. Oh and valuable work experience to boot.

  • Anthony February 7, 2013, 7:47 am

    Co-operative university programs can often solve a lot of the issues brought up in this post. If available, they are a great way to reap the benefits of conventional undergraduate training (which are numerous and often subtle) without going into substantial debt since you get paid for placements. Most importantly, you emerge with way more real-world experience, professionalism, and work social experience than a lot of your non co-op competitors. It also gives you an easy way to “shop around” for careers.

    Many of my peers and I went through this system at the University of Waterloo in Canada and emerged nearly debt free (if not entirely) and had well-paying jobs waiting for us when we left. This is a pretty common phenomonon there for students in fields such as engineering, computer science, accounting, economics, finance, math, physics, chemistry, and biology.

    • Chase February 7, 2013, 8:39 am

      Totally agree with this. There are some good universities that have co-op opportunities for engineering students. This lets you get credit for working, and earns you a decent salary for a 20-year old.

      My undergraduate institution required a total of eight months of full-time co-op experience to graduate. These positions paid on the order of $40-50k/year and if you did a good job got you a foot in the door upon graduation.

      I am now a graduate student pursuing a PhD, which allows me to get paid to go to school and conduct research, though at about 1/3 of what I could be making in industry. It is plenty to live on though.

    • Mrs. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 11:44 am

      That’s what I did too. The jobs paid well (and I earned more every year), I was able to pay for University and rent, and I even saved up to go backpacking in Australia my last year.

      At the end of my 4.5 year degree, I was offered a full-time position at my last co-op placement. I ended up declining, since I moved to the United States, but it was a giant leg up. I was already making $40K by the time I graduated and had 4 different job placements at 4 months each with great reviews.

      The schedule was also a lot better, with 4 months of Uni, 4 months work (continuously until I graduated).

      But, you had to maintain an 80% average to get into the co-op program.

      MMMs University did not offer co-op, but of course, he somehow managed to invent his own co-op program and do the same thing.

      In the US, I think they just call it an internship, but I’m not sure how many schools offer it or how extensive it is…

      • Mark February 8, 2013, 7:39 am

        When did Mrs. MM and Chase graduate college? I started in 2008 and co-op experiences were few and far between.
        I suppose I also didn’t declare a major till my 5th semester, and I ended in math and economics so maybe it’s the discipline that matters?

  • SavvyFinancialLatina February 7, 2013, 8:08 am

    I do agree that what we learn in college doesn’t always transfer to the real work world. I have my BS, MS, and about to finish my MBA. Most of the subjects I’m learning about in school are very strategic, while my job is extremely tactical.

    I didn’t graduate with student loans. I chose an in state school, instead of going to a private school. I went to the university that paid me the most to go to their school. I got scholarships that paid for my BS, MS, and most of my MBA. Then, I got hired and my company has/is going to pay the last $7,000 of my MBA program.

    I know this is not common. I was smart, graduated Valedictorian from my school, did a bunch of extra curriculars, kept up my GPA in college on top of other achievements. I was one of the “smart folks.”

    I do think that if you can’t get a full ride or almost full ride to school, you might as well start at a community college for your basics (seriously, I remember very little from my college basics…history is history you know?). Then transfer to a four year school. Always apply for scholarships!
    Seriously, I don’t know how many times I was told, there were not enough applicants for scholarships.

    Now, the more and more time I spend in corporate life, I realize I cannot be another ant in the workforce for the next forty years of my life. I’m either going to run the company by the end of it, or going to be finding my way another way. I don’t understand how people stay at their job for years and years.

    • lurker February 7, 2013, 11:44 am

      hi Latina. how many kids do you have and how big is your mortgage? glad you were smart about all this stuff before the “self-forged manacles” made their sad appearance…..cheers

    • Sara February 8, 2013, 4:16 am

      DOn’t forget about CLEP tests. I told a friend of mine about them and she was able to spend a couple of weeks preparing for three different tests for required classes, passed the tests and qualified for 9 college credits for the cost of the test. Basically, you just need an ability to learn basic college texts, which isn’t really that hard. Combined with some classes at a community college could not only cut costs for that first two years of college, but also move it along much faster. The other thing is that for a serious student, it is possible to load up on credits. It is possible to take 18 credits or more and still maintain a 4.0. And a part-time job. I did it. And that kind of focus makes you a good prospect for scholarships and graduate assistantships.

      • Sword Guy February 9, 2013, 5:35 pm

        I took advanced placement courses in high school and took the placement tests. I graduated high school with 23 college credits, 2 shy of being a Sophomore.

        There are a LOT more options for US High School students now than there were in my day, but they aren’t used by very many students. That’s their own darn fault.

        I chose a local University because I just couldn’t see stiffing my parents for an unnecessary $50,000 college bill.

        When I got my college catalog, I made a chart of what classes I had to take and planned my course selections from that. I NEVER trusted a bored, uninterested and possibly clueless “advisor” to do that work for me. I knew too many students who had to attend an extra year because they were missing one to three required courses to graduate.

        I took all required courses as quickly as I could get into them and saved my freshman survey courses for the last. My last semester was almost all freshman level courses. I graduated in 3.5 years with lots of extra credits.

        Lived at home, parents provided room and board, plus health and car insurance. I worked in highschool and saved my money for college, plus I worked in college, too.

        Didn’t owe a dime when I got out of school.

  • Joseph Ratliff February 7, 2013, 8:15 am

    Great post… it changed my perspective of where secondary (higher) education is going. There are possibilities, for sure.

    The Universities had better listen up, the next “disruption” I can see is less and less “screening” by potential employers based on having a 4-year degree.

    This disruption will especially happen, and could happen quickly, if alternative educational companies like Treehouse and others can prove their students can perform well in the jobs they’re being trained for. A piece of paper (read: 4 year degree) doesn’t improve things any if both candidates can do the same job with the same proficiency.

    Universities will eventually have to realize the information they once held as “scarce” isn’t “scarce” any longer. I say eventually, because breaking up decades (or centuries) of traditional thinking won’t happen overnight unless these education companies can make a big statement.

  • nancy February 7, 2013, 8:20 am

    Could you please change Harvard Open Learning to edx a collaboration of MIT and Harvard? If you read about the history MIT created the platform making sure that it remained open source for others to use. Then Harvard joined. I know it isn’t a big deal but Harvard shouldn’t get all the credit. It was originally called MITx.

  • Rahul Gupta February 7, 2013, 8:27 am

    Ryan, awesome stuff. I work on the South Side of Chicago as a high school teacher teaching seniors. I have many students who want to go to college but either don’t have the grades or don’t have the money. Or both. Several students want to do computer stuff but have no desire to go to trade schools and take out loans.

    I am interested in the high school pilot programs. Where can I get more information on this? Keep fighting the good fight!


    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 11:20 am

      Thanks Rahul! Please email me at ryan@teamtreehouse.com. I’d love to chat.

    • Mark February 8, 2013, 7:41 am


      Awesome. Good for you! What school do you teach at?

  • Jonathan February 7, 2013, 8:28 am

    http://www.codecademy.com/ is another great place to learn to code. They have courses in HTML/CSS, jQuery, Javascript, Python, Ruby, APIs, and a number of projects that help to develop skills in those languages.

    • Johnny @ Our Freaking Budget February 7, 2013, 10:49 am

      I definitely vouch for what CodeAcademy is doing. I’ve played around with their site for a few months and it’s incredibly user-friendly and intuitive.

      Smart companies know not to ask for a diploma — they ask for a portfolio of what you’ve done and what you’re capable of. There’s always exceptions to the rule, but being “qualified” for a job should be based on one’s ability to do the job, not on their degree.

  • William Cowie February 7, 2013, 8:37 am

    I like Ryan’s quote about universities manning the toll booth to Job Land! So true. Most big corporations still prefer the paper (the degree). My guess is it’s because the people doing the interview walked that path and we all know human nature: if it’s good for me it has to be good for you.

    So there’s still a lot of inertia creating pressure to conform to the old model.

    The good news is employment at large employers is on a long term decline, as more and more people end up working for small employers and themselves. Here’s a chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to prove that:


    Hopefully smaller employers will be less dogmatic about Big Paper as a job qualification.

  • Austin February 7, 2013, 8:43 am

    Hi MMM,

    I also like to check out MIT courses from time to time, their economics course is interesting. You may like to include these in your list:


    • David W February 7, 2013, 9:13 am

      Second that, although it seems to be a more traditional offering in the sense that there are predefined start/stop dates for most courses.

    • nicoleandmaggie February 7, 2013, 10:56 am

      I strongly recommend 14.41. The guy who wrote the best textbook teaches it at MIT and he’s fantastic.

  • JasonR February 7, 2013, 8:48 am

    Great initiative. Looks exciting. Thanks for including some aesthetic considerations in the code tool box. As a web designer I’m always confused by how many web designers are in practice actually web devs and how many people asking for web designers actually need web developers.

  • John February 7, 2013, 9:02 am

    I’ve been using Treehouse for a while, it’s a great resource and I’d highly recommend it! I’m a big fan of self education, especially in the web/app design/dev field. I went to university for a 4 year degree and then during the final year realized that the field I was in really wasn’t what I wanted to do, and so ended up teaching myself web design and development in every spare moment I had. I got a job a couple of months after I graduated based solely on my portfolio and skill-set (the employer didn’t care about my degree) and 3 years on I’m now a senior web designer/developer at a creative agency. The web/tech field is a great one for being able to learn new skills for little or no cost. The main thing is to never stop learning! I just wish I hadn’t wasted 10’s of thousands of great british pounds and several years of my life on a degree I’ll never use!

    As a side note, I’d like to say a big thanks to Ryan Carson who actually inadvertently introduced me to Mr Money Mustache through one of his talks! I’m a big fan of yours and your entrepreneurial approach to life and work is very inspiring! Keep up the great work at Treehouse!

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 11:24 am

      Thanks so much for being a Treehouse Student! :)

  • jethro watckins February 7, 2013, 9:33 am

    Just signed up at Treehouse! Thanks!

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 11:27 am

      Thank you! :)

      • jethro watckins February 11, 2013, 8:03 am

        Completed almost the entire Beginner Web Development Section in less than a week. HTML & CSS skills in a week?! Wow. So in 14 weeks I should have completed the entire Website Library section. Then off to Android Apps… : )

  • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies February 7, 2013, 9:48 am

    I wouldn’t be so quick to diss all those “useless” math classes. Though I do a lot of coding now, my background is largely math, and I’ll never forget showing up for day 1 of an internship for math students and being told “learn to code in these languages”.
    When we asked why they hired math students if they wanted us to code, the answer was clear. “It’s easier to teach people who already know how to problem solve to code than the other way around.”
    Anyhow, just my somewhat biased $0.02.

  • Brian February 7, 2013, 10:08 am

    Great post. I’ve been thinking about taking some classes to improve my programming (it’s seriously lacking these days) and I had not heard of Treehouse.

    I’m definitely still hurting from the loans I had to take out for undergrad, although my situation is not nearly as bad as some people. My girlfriend has over $100K from law school alone and she was on a half scholarship. It’s a mortgage! Absolutely kills me.

    If I had to do it over again, I’d probably go to the honors program at the state school for free, rather than the $50K a year private school I went to. I loved it there but I think the cost on my family and on me was not worth it.

  • simplicity seeker February 7, 2013, 10:13 am

    Course lecture notes and a bunch of other interesting material is available at MIT. I haven’t read that much of it, but a lot of their philosophy stuff is pretty good. You won’t get credited for it, but hey wasn’t this article all about he importance of learning!

  • Travis February 7, 2013, 10:20 am

    I’ve gone through some of the stuff at Coursera and it’s pretty good. I would also recommend checking out the Open Courseware Consortium for a hug library of free courses, http://www.ocwconsortium.org/.

    Harvard and MIT and part of this consortium and there is access to courses from universities all over the world.

  • TedM February 7, 2013, 10:33 am

    I agree that a college education can be obscenely expensive and inefficient; however, I would urge caution before throwing your unqualified support behind these online courses/systems as an alternate to college. The Universities HAVE (not “have had”) this mafia-like grip on the job pipeline. Look at the unemployment numbers for the non-college educated. Fair, rational or not, a college degree is still the most assured way of finding employment today.

    That being said, I am in full support of online education. I believe the quality of courses is improving at a stunning rate and that as it grows it will be a powerful engine for equality. But this is an evolving revolution, and I for one am not going to throw my kids on the front line.

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 11:31 am

      You’re looking at historic data, not what’s currently happening in the tech industry. I don’t know a single cutting edge tech company that requires college degrees. In the past, yes, it mattered very much. Right now, it doesn’t.

      I’m not trying to be respectful. I’m just explaining the current state of the tech industry that I’ve observed first hand.

      • TedM February 8, 2013, 9:48 am

        Admittedly, there isn’t good sector by sector data on unemployment rates for college degree vs. no college, and I have no reason to doubt your first hand experience in the tech industry — but it is nonetheless anecdotal evidence. In the broad scope there is strong (and current) evidence that a college degree is the biggest predictor of high starting and lifetime income.

        If two equally experienced candidates came to one of these cutting edge tech firms, and one had a degree from Stanford and the other had a certificate/badge from Treehouse (or rather if one has a degree from Stanford…and a badge), who gets the job?

        I just view it as a risky proposition to not go to college. But as I said, there isn’t good degree vs non-degree employment data that narrows down to a sector like tech. I honestly encourage you to get some, I think it’d be great for your company…AND you can show me up! (Two birds one stone!) Best of luck.

        • Craig June 10, 2017, 1:28 pm

          I agree Ted. It’s a fantastic debate, but as I read all the comments, I kept thinking all this disruption talk is highly anecdotal.

          Lots of tech companies have raised big money on grand notions of disruption when they had absolutely nothing (Theranos? Zenefits?). It must have been infuriating to the incumbents, watching these imposters raise huge money at silly valuations, all those glowing media write-ups, when the incumbents knew they were complete fartbags. Nobody would listen though, they just had to ride it out until the inevitable day of reckoning.

          We briefly bought into a passionate entrepreneur’s vision of childhood education and it turned out similarly. Kept telling us how well our kids were doing in every way while we kept seeing evidence to the contrary. Finally we tested our kids independently and the results were beyond bad. We brought this to the school and it was odd how completely in denial they were about it, first attacking the test then ranting about traditional education ruining our kids. Other parents were obviously having concerns because they followed suit with similar results. This was not some flaky, minor league effort by the way – their brand is on fire, opening hundreds of locations around the country right now. They praise Khan too (again, wonderful theory).

          For me, it was yet another reminder that the plural of anecdote is not evidence. The for-profit guys will roll out their best students and success stories as proof, when the average result is often sub par.

          I’m all for figuring out how to better educate our kids at lower cost, but I think we would all benefit from hard evidence. As my Irish grandmother would say, a little more beef please.

  • curtis February 7, 2013, 10:49 am

    Enjoyed watching Treehouse grow Ryan. I was a user about a year ago but dropped off due to time constraints and no clear direction. Is your job placement an answer to the devbootcamps of the world and is it possible somewhere to elaborate on exactly how that process works? I’d be more interested in resubscribing if I felt I came away with a good foundation to actually apply for jobs. Thanks.

  • TOK February 7, 2013, 11:01 am

    Does anyone have any insight as to whether there are opportunities for part-time work after completing these types of programs? Or is the focus mainly on finding full time employment for ‘graduates’?

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 4:37 pm

      There are a ton of folks that are doing freelance web design, development and mobile development. It doesn’t have to be a full-time gig.

  • Johnny Moneyseed February 7, 2013, 11:14 am

    What an awesome dude! I’m glad there are people out there trying to debunk the whole “you have to go to college to be successful” myth. I personally didn’t attend college out of high school and was fortunate enough to land a job and work up to almost $75k/year. Plus they paid for me to get my Bachelor’s degree.

  • Debt Derp February 7, 2013, 11:23 am

    Where was the information 5 years ago!?

    I, like so many of my peers, fell into the debt trap. I thought that you had to go to the best school you could get into if you wanted to ever be successful. It doesn’t matter if that school cost $40,000 per year; just borrow the money for it. I was completely convinced that this is what I had to do in order to get a job. I was convinced that this is what everyone did and that it would all work itself out. It was an expensive lesson to learn as I am now trying to climb out of the hole I dug.

    The problem is that you are asking a lot of a 17 or 18 year old to know better. Think about it. Most High Schools offer no courses in personal finances. College Counselors repeat the mantra that college is the only ticket to a career. Then as an 18 year old you can go get a blank check that you won’t start paying back for four years or longer!

    When I was 18 I had no concept of what it actually meant to borrow $30,000 at 6.5% with a four year deferment, and that was just the first year! Since before I could even remember I had it drilled into me that I needed to go to college in order to be successful. I went from having a little bit of spending money in HS to now being given thousands and thousands of dollars. I had never had a bill and I had never learned what a budget was. I had vague ideas that avoiding credit card debt was important but not much else.

    The point that I am trying to make is that we need to do a better job of making sure that young people understand just exactly what they are getting themselves into. The pre-loan counseling the government requires you to go through is a joke. How many people actually know that even private student loans can never be discharged in bankruptcy? And that there is no special payment plans for these loans? How many people know that most students don’t graduate in four years and end up with even bigger debt loads?

    The question is how do we bridge the gap between the masses that still see College as the only option and these online tools? These blogs and other online sources are great but they are still only reaching a minority and overall are considered risky and fringe. Also, where is the discussion about colleges changing to adapt to this? I loved the on-campus experience and think that it is pretty important as well. Is there a way to mesh these two styles and create some new hybrid university the takes the best from both traditional education and the new online approach?

    Overall we are a long way from drastic change but I commend people like Ryan for offering these kinds of alternatives. Choice and competition are powerful forces that I hope will accelerate the change and benefit the student. Wonderful article today.

  • Mrs. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 11:30 am

    Excellent article! I love when people challenge conventional thinking. Ryan – it’s an honor to have you here in our neck of the woods. :) I think you’re on the leading edge of something huge. Thanks for the interview!

    I wanted to add a couple of other great resources for self-education:

    1. Learning a new language – http://duolingo.com/

    I’ve only just begun, but so far it is an incredible tool. They even conducted a study that concludes that 34 hours spent learning a language via duolingo is equivalent to one University semester (11 wks).

    2. Programming for Kids (or adults just starting out!) – http://scratch.mit.edu/

    There are a bunch of programs, but we found that for our now 7 year old, this one is really easy and fun. I’ve had to work with him, but we’ve created some pretty cool projects and he’s soaking it all in. We’ve made a bunch of pretty cool games and he loves being able to see what happens behind the scenes (the forever loop fascinates him). :)

    • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies February 7, 2013, 11:42 am

      Ahh, I remember when we discovered we could make infinite loops in BASIC… and that we could add a BEEP command in there as well. Endless fun for us, lots of beeping mini-computers in our 7th grade classroom.

    • Marcia February 7, 2013, 12:21 pm

      Thanks for that tip! My son is almost 7, I bet he’d love that programming for kids.

    • woodnclay February 7, 2013, 1:14 pm

      Thanks for this and I agree about Scratch! My 11 yr old son uses and loves it so I bought him a Raspberry Pi for his birthday, for ~£25, so he can explore even more.

      This whole post and the responses are really inspiring! Thank you!

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 4:40 pm

      Scratch is awesome! They’re using it at http://codeclub.org.uk and it’s blowing up. So cool.

      It really is an honor to be on the blog – thanks again. Hope to meet you and MMM someday! :)

    • Amy February 8, 2013, 8:11 pm

      I agree about scratch. I used to teach at a middle school for kids with learning disabilities or behavioral challenges and they loved scratch. I even had some of the elementary school kids doing it. It was a big hit and some of the things they created blew me away.

  • SK February 7, 2013, 11:37 am

    “Obviously other career verticals like medicine will require traditional degrees and I don’t see that being disrupted in the near future.”

    Good start on online education however I see huge inefficiencies and university mafias in medical doctor, pharmacy and nursing professions in US as well. Having grown up in India, doctor and pharmacy related costs in US are just plain ridiculous. Then again these costs are high partially due to entry bar in these professions has been kept artificially high in so that whoever made into these professions then can make insane earnings. Recently my wife had to go to an ER and they had to run CT scan etc. It was about ~3 hours visit (with ~1.5 hours in waiting) and total bill charged was more than $15,000 (in India the same thing would have cost ~$150). I have HDCP plan but after first $3000, I only need to pay 10% of the cost so it was not too bad. However I saw that during this entire process the actual work was done by the machines which are designed by engineers and the high paying doctors were nothing but technicians. Even though as an Electrical Engineer I am making good six figures salary and growing my ‘stache as fast as I can, I am angry that medical professionals are charging these ridiculous fees. Additionally, I see that most pharmacist salary in my areas is in six figures as well and m0sstly they are doing is a mechanical work of filling prescription that could possibly done by a smart vending machine.

    Anyways, sorry if above sounds like a rant (and probably it is), but when I was in India I thought medical field was inefficient but cost and inefficiencies in US are just worst. I feel that there are artificial barriers to entry in these fields created by existing professional lobbies, universities etc. so that they can keep charging these ridiculous fees.

    I hope something is done in this regards in 10-20 years as well.

    • Dee February 7, 2013, 12:44 pm

      When I mentioned to a colleague that my daughter was thinking of studying to be a pharmacist, he warned me that robots are taking over much of that work. See, for example: http://singularityhub.com/2010/05/09/robot-pharmacists-are-picking-your-medications-literally/
      It is hard for a young person to know what to study today.

      • SK February 7, 2013, 12:51 pm

        Wow, thanks Dee!

        So I am not crazy then. I was talking to my colleagues few days back about my experience and that pharmacist job is manual and can be automated. They practically laughed it off. Now on to sending this link to them!

        • Meadow Lark February 7, 2013, 2:45 pm

          At my hospital we have “Rosie the Robot” who does a lot of the Rx filling. I think the humans are there just to talk to the other humans, ie I call and say, “Would you remind me how fast I can give this IV med” and “can I put these 2 meds in the same syringe?” Yes, 6 figures so I don’t have to read a book or look it up on line.

          • Kenoryn February 8, 2013, 11:14 am

            Hope they don’t all get replaced with robots! I really like my pharmacist and find they’re a great front-line health care resource for someone to talk to about medication or product side effects, combining certain medications, and general questions about different brands, regular non-prescription drugs or over-the-counter things. Health is not something I usually want to rely entirely on internet information for, and a pharmacist is a lot more accessible than a doctor where you need appointments and have more restrictive hours. That would be especially true in the States, I guess, where on top of that, you have to pay to see your doctor!

            I’m sure it’s just a matter of time now until the States gets a system where healthcare is free for everyone, though, barring takeover by tea partiers.

      • Aaron February 7, 2013, 2:07 pm

        Maybe study robots? Until we make robots that build and fix robots.

    • Aaron February 7, 2013, 2:12 pm

      Sounds like it could be more financially responsible to fly to India and pay to have a CT scan done there.

      Although even here I know that there are more private companies getting into the CT/MRI business and offer lower rates than you find at hospitals. A good option to go with if it isn’t a life or death emergency.

    • Dancedancekj February 8, 2013, 5:28 am

      As an electrical engineer, how would you like it if you worked on your project, submitted it, and then were told “We are only paying you 30% of what you thought your project was worth” and after paying your overhead you only got to take home 10% of what you originally charged for your project?
      I would focus your anger more towards the inefficiency of the medical system in the US and less on the medical professional. More than likely the reason why the doctor charges the fee is that the cost of overhead is high and the insurance company likely does not reimburse them much.
      Are there inefficiencies among medical practices? Sure, there are plenty. Are there crooked medical professionals who charge prices that are far too high for procedures? Rarely, and these are mostly for esthetic procedures from my anecdotal experience, not things like CT scans.

      • Tony February 9, 2013, 6:29 am

        Sorry, but your point is way off. This is another example of how people in the US are plain cheated by your health system. I live in the UK and had a privately paid MRI scan last year and it cost £300, or about $450. This in the country that invented the MRI scanner, and pays its doctors very well.

        I just checked and a full body CT scan in the same hospital, one of the best in the Country, is £650, just over $1000.

        And bear in mind that this was elective private – if I’d been prepared to wait a month or so I could have had my MRI done for free on the NHS. And doctor’s get paid well on the NHS too.

        You guys are being robbed blind by your health system.

        • JaneMD February 10, 2013, 2:36 pm

          Your medical professional does not set the price on your bill. It is a highly complex equation determined by the government, the insurance company, and the hospital. The US is obsessed with ‘progress’ and personalized care – so everyone pays for the full time pulse ox monitors, the new cancer wing, the new CT/MRI machine, and so forth. Procedures and new equipment are rewarded with lucrative business contracts and publicity. Until there is a serious shift in people’s expectation on how we use our healthcare, expect more of the same.

          Your physician owes around $160K when he/she leaves medical school and residency salary for the next 3-5 years if $40-50K. I went to school on scholarship and worked like crazy during my summers and holidays full time as a nursing aide. I entered medical school without debt and was considered very frugal – I still owed 150K at graduation. I owed $180K at residency graduation, plus HubbyJD’s 90K law school loans, plus a $130K rental out of state.

          (Resident physicians sign an essentially blank contract to work whatever salary/hours/location they match into and cannot negotiate or unionize, btw.)

          • Mr. Money Mustache February 10, 2013, 8:06 pm

            Sounds tough. With 5 years at a punishing $40-$50k, a single Mustachian might juuust barely be able to fully repay a $150k student loan debt, after accounting for taxes and living expenses. Then if you ended up averaging $250k over your next 5 years of full doctorhood, you’d barely be able to retire in extreme material comfort! :-)

            • JaneMD February 11, 2013, 7:20 am

              My pediatric post tax paycheck was $3000/month for HubbyJDStudent and Child1. Rent was $1200 a month across from the hospital. We had one used, paid off car since I walked to work. We didn’t eat out and packed our lunches every day. I worked 80+ hours a week and went to 1 movie in 3 years (Star Trek). We didn’t buy an antenna box for 2 years, let alone have cable or rent a movie ever. Our vacations were spent staying with family.

              So even if I had 1000 left every month x 36 months of residency – I would have never paid down 150K in 3 years – or 5. As you can see from my blog, even now our combined household finances don’t bring in 250K per year.

  • Jamesqf February 7, 2013, 11:43 am

    “My 12 year old Computer Science degree is now worthless because I learned an old language.”

    Sorry, but this is just crap. Yes, there are language fads – when I was starting out, things like Forth and Prolog were the languages of the future- but you know what? Somewhere underneath all the confused paradigms of your new language, there is some geek like me getting paid well to code in C. I also make a good bit of money taking programs that your up-to-date types have coded in hot-langage-du-jour, and recoding them to run an order of magnitude faster.

    Same applies to much of the rest of what I learned in school, several decades ago. Many of those tools – everything from basic algorithms & data structures to those centuries-old differential equations – are things I use regularly. The tools, though, however useful they may be, were not what was important. No, the critical thing I learned was how to take whatever tool was available and use it.

  • win February 7, 2013, 11:53 am

    How many kids have you placed in $40,000 jobs?
    Can you give some examples?

    In a less skilled arena, I know a 20 year old girl who makes $50,000 as an assistant manager at a convenience store called Wawa.

  • WageSlave February 7, 2013, 12:16 pm

    “My 12 year old Computer Science degree is now worthless because I learned an old language.”

    My CS degree is also about 12 years old,and I didn’t learn an “old language”… in fact, I didn’t even take a course that taught how to program a certain language. It was virtually all theoretical work, or domain-specific application of the theory. Furthermore, one of my professors actually said: “Anything we teach you will be obsolete in a few years. What we’re really teaching you is how to learn.”

    I am a hiring manager for programmers and system administrators. It’s company policy to only hire people with college degrees, and even then from “pedigreed” universities (i.e. top-tier engineering/CS schools). I fought this rule so that I could bring in people who lacked a degree, but otherwise looked strong based on their resumes (experience and/or certifications). I gave up on that because the candidates were consistently of lower quality. It literally became a waste of my time. (To be fair there are plenty of duds with fancy degrees, but from a sheer numbers perspective, candidates with degrees have fewer duds than candidates without.)

    To me the duds are the ones who have a very shallow understanding of the material; they are skilled by rote: they can follow procedures, do what they are told, but have no clue what’s going on “behind the scenes”. When there is a request to do something that goes beyond their shallow understanding, they can’t deliver. They are generally bad at problem solving/debugging, because they lack the ability to conceptualize the whole system start-to-finish.

    To me, these online courses sound like an Internet version of trade schools. The biggest problem is going to be convincing hiring managers (such as myself) that these candidates can stand with the college graduates. I’m only one data point, but I haven’t seen any evidence that this is true. And in my previous job (Fortune 100 MegaCorp), I wasn’t a hiring manager, but I helped recruit summer interns. For summer interns alone, we had a *massive* stack of resumes that took four people about two hours just to pare down to a manageable few dozen that we could actually look at closely. When you’re dealing with that many applicants, you need a quick way to filter out junk. Nobody has time to even phone screen 100s of candidates. I’ll be the first to admit it’s imperfect/crude/heavy-handed, but college degree vs no college is a quick and easy filter. It definitely results in stellar individuals getting passed over and yet still lets in a lot of duds. But tell me of a better way to prune the list of applicants to a reasonable size.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 8, 2013, 9:16 am

      I agree with some of your points, Wage. Engineers or developers who went through great programs like MIT or Canada’s University of Waterloo are almost always very bright. And people who took just a few courses and then peppering their resumes with acronyms of everything they have “mastered” are usually trouble. And as you’d expect, the pedigreed people have no problem – every Waterloo engineer can pick from a giant brochure of $100k-and-up jobs around the world – often well before graduation.

      But the self-learning route works well for self-starters. As a hiring manager, would you be impressed with someone who trained him/herself, then put out a popular bit of software that is now highly ranked? What if they started and ran one or more small businesses during high school, demonstrating exceptional technical ability? I’d gladly hire that person. So if you don’t get the major university degree, you need to be willing to prove your qualifications elsewhere first – before getting admission to a high-quality job.

      • David February 9, 2013, 7:13 am

        Hi MMM,

        While I think that these courses might be a valuable tool for someone who has no opportunity to go to university (either due to geographical location, money or lack of prior education) to get a better job, I think that in absolutely no way a replacement for a university degree, or at least not for the degree you get in the system I went through (Dutch technical university).

        In this area there are drop-outs anywhere between the first year of the education and the graduation moment (some of them as close to one month from finalising their thesis research). So while someone who drops out a month before graduating might have received for 99% the same education as someone with a degree, my former boss would only hire the graduates, for the simple reason that he could rely on them to keep working at a difficult job and actually finalising a project. It shows the ability to really bite the bullet and keep going, despite having to do all the work yourself without very much guidance. In my own experience doing the independent research at the end of the study was definitely the hardest part: anyone can follow a course and make an exam, having to define your own goals and area is much harder.

        Of course, using the roll of paper you get at the end of university just as a very expensive method to separate the men from the boys (a crude expression perhaps) would perhaps not justify the price tag. However university also taught me something else, and that is independent thinking, and that is what many employers are looking for. People who can look at a software design, and using a programming language to convert that into a working piece of software can be found anywhere. If I would need to hire someone I would be looking for someone who can make his own decisions if that is needed, so he/she won’t be fiddling his/her thumbs for two hours if the manager happens to be in a meeting or abroad. And I believe that way of thinking can not be thought via a shortcut course like the one suggested here.

        That being said: I definitely see the value of these kinds of courses, but please, for the benefit and perspective of the people subscribing to these courses, don’t pretend it’s a complete or equivalent substitute for a university/college degree, because it is not.

        • Mr. Money Mustache February 9, 2013, 9:54 am

          Nicely Said, David – a good explanation of the real benefits of a (technical) university education. I tend to agree, because I too went through the big difficult degree and got all the same benefits. You and I feel we are awesome for having accomplished it – Hooray for Us!

          But this article is partly intended to open the eyes of conventional people like you and me, to see the work and life opportunities that lie outside of that path. University is still ideal for getting conventional jobs. But it turns out that unconventional jobs are fun too.

          And because such a high percentage of high-achievers are channeled through the conventional system and then locked away into safe high-salary jobs with very long workweeks, it leaves the unconventional sea of self-guided education and small-scale entrepreneurship relatively uncrowded for those who care to come out for a swim.

          But I had to leave the conventional track before I got to see all of this!

          • David February 9, 2013, 10:09 am

            First of all, I apologise if my post came across as if I was feeling superior because of my degree, that was really not my intention. I have genuine admiration for anybody doing a job and trying to be excellent at it, regardless whether it is a professor doing an excellent teaching job or an uneducated plumber going the extra mile to deliver top notch work instead of a quick fix that “will do”.

            That being said, I like the nuances added in your response, as it being a great opportunity for some people to gain a profitable skill set. This can greatly increase the financial welbeing and comfort of many people who might not have access to it otherwise, but Ryan Carson is really promoting it as THE alternative to universities, which are a sure fire way to get “conventional” jobs at a university thinking level, which might be a bit too ambitious.

            PS: Thanks a lot for the link to the blog of Chris Guillebeau. I had not heard of it yet, and he seems like a mighty interesting fellow!

  • Marcia February 7, 2013, 12:18 pm

    I find this to be interesting and fascinating compared to my experience. First of all, I’m old (a few years older than MMM) and I went the traditional route. I have a degree and a job that lends itself to the traditional (chemical engineering/semiconductors).

    I also have a phobia/ lack of skill in the programming arena. I’m not sure how much of it is lack of skill and how much of it is phobia. I’ve been able to set up databases and do basic programming, but my method is not very sexy/skilled, more “brute force”.

    Regardless, I like this option for learning things for less and on your free time. I have learned several things this way – thus far, they’ve been more on the “home front” – self taught cooking and sewing. I’ve also self-taught some on blogging. At work, I’ve self-taught programs like Excel, JMP, mask design, Visual Basic, Access, etc. I may have to sign up on Treehouse at some point. (Right now with a first grader, an infant, and a job, any free time is spent cooking, exercising, or sleeping.)

    I have to wonder when I plan for my kids future also. Our own experience is that we chose rather expensive top-10 engineering schools. However, we both went on ROTC scholarships (which paid tuition, books, fees). I covered room and board with jobs and scholarships and some loans, hubby’s parents covered his. College is more expensive now and our kids won’t be eligible for financial aid. So we have 529 plans, but certainly not enough to cover 4 years at the level of school we attended. I am hesistant to save that much for the very reason that I don’t know what they will want to do. If they are like their parents: 4 year engineering school. But what if they aren’t?

    My nephew just graduated from school as a large-truck auto mechanic. Not a “traditional” school. My sister (who did not attend college) seemed somewhat embarrassed to me about his choice – I don’t think she was ashamed, per se, but thought I might look down on that choice. I simply said that he needs to choose what will work for him…it was a reasonable cost for the school, it’s what he loves to do, and he’s 19 and employed. Also, you can’t outsource fixing trucks like you can outsource semiconductor manufacturing.

    As a parent, I stress and I worry. But all I can do is save my money, teach my children to be frugal and smart with money, and hope for the best. Too many parents let their kids go to school and borrow a bunch of money for useless degrees. I remember being 18. I remember at least being smart enough to realize that some degrees had better prospects than others. I still wasn’t smart enough to wade through the loan applications on my own. College students then, and now, are in this weird adult but not yet adult world.

  • Purple February 7, 2013, 12:42 pm

    This is yet another brilliant article MMM. I actually think though, that this article could equally be written with respect to more junior education.

    Lately, my husband and I have been thinking about how best to hack the education system for our 7 and 9 year old kids. After working towards a strategy, we have come to see school as separate from focused learning.

    I had been quite dissatisfied with the slow, low-expectations version of maths and spelling available at our otherwise brilliant school. We have now put in place a model of intense outside bursts of spelling improvement with regular 20 min morning sessions on the Singapore Maths Curriculum.

    The kids are flying and stimulated with these activities – and I am so happy to see their fundamentals being built rapidly. The bottom line is that I now see this as part of our / their ongoing lives – setting really outcome-focussed learning goals and finding the most efficient way to achieve them.

    All this makes me LOOOOVE the internet sooo much!!! We are so lucky in this day and age.

  • Sister X February 7, 2013, 12:48 pm

    There are other ways to get around paying huge tuition costs as well. I work at a university and one of the benefits for staff is free tuition for myself, my spouse, and any dependents (until the age of 26). My husband didn’t have to pay for any 300 or 400 level credits for his first degree thanks to my job, and he’s now pursuing a second degree in a different field. I’m taking a graduate course. All we had to pay were minimal fees.
    I have a teacher friend who’s getting a graduate degree, and then will go on to take more classes for free as well because her husband is staff. It’s such an incredible opportunity and it will increase both her desirability in the job market and the amount she’s paid.
    As for textbooks, the ebook revolution has made things way cheaper. A lot of books, especially non-textbooks can be found online. Libraries are a totally underused resource: a lot of libraries will place textbooks on reserve for limited checkout times for students and it’s easy enough to scan/photocopy the necessary material so that you don’t have to sit in the library all day. Our library has a lot of necessary texts in ebook format so they’re really easy for students to access. In addition, a lot of schools are trying out textbook rental programs so that students don’t have to buy a $300 book they’re never going to look at again after their course.
    There are so many ways to make school cheaper, most people just don’t bother to look for them!
    I do think that a university education can be very valuable for some people and it will never go away entirely. The culture, the support systems, can be hugely helpful to people who aren’t self-starters. Mrs. MM wrote a post a while ago about how she needs external motivation. Well, the structure and framework of a university benefits people just like her because there’s motivation beyond just “I want to learn this”.

  • Mrs PoP @ Planting Our Pennies February 7, 2013, 12:56 pm

    Thought I’d share this from today’s WSJ: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324906004578288341039095024.html?

    Big MOOC Coursera Moves Closer to Academic Acceptance

    Online-education provider Coursera is one step closer to academic acceptance, saying Thursday that the American Council on Education would recommend colleges grant credit for the successful completion of some of its free classes.
    Whether schools follow that suggestion remains unclear.

    • Simple Economist February 8, 2013, 1:32 pm

      Thanks for the link. WSJ also had an article about a few large state universities offering credit for classes like these. The article is called College Degree, No Class Time Required from about two weeks ago. It talks about bridging the gap between learning skills and getting recognition (credit) for it.

  • Brendan Ronan February 7, 2013, 1:19 pm

    Hello Mr Money Mustache and Ryan Carson –
    This is my first reply on MMM but i’ve been a longtime reader of both blogs.

    Here is a little back-story:
    I’m a somewhat recent college graduate (2011) with a worthless bachelor’s degree in History and 4 years of sales and customer service experience at Apple Retail, and am now working as an entry-level web developer for about 30k a year. Currently, I try to live as “Mustachian” as possible, with my wages being spent on minimums of food, rent, and modest credit card payments each month. I bike to work, eat 3 meals a day at home and my girlfriend and I spend our weekends walking or gardening instead of spending freely. We do not subscribe to cable and do minimal driving. Sadly, there’s very little left over to save after covering basic expenses, and i sometimes feel like my intelligence and ambition is being wasted at my current job.

    I have been thinking very critically about how i want to approach the next few years of my life, as i am still fairly young (27), and am not saddled with crazy debt or a family to feed.

    Here’s the Issue:
    After spending some time researching education options, i believe i have the following options for gaining some credibility in my field:

    1.) Wade through a massive amount of qualifying work through continuing education or online, then apply for a Masters program in CS.

    2.) Pursue an alternative option like Treehouse or Devbootcamp (we are located just north of the Bay Area so this would be feasible).

    The main reason why i’m considering a Masters degree is to resolve the credibility issue when searching for higher salaried employment, or when starting my own business (don’t worry, i’m NOT looking to create a gamified task tracking iPhone app). Despite being a literate college graduate and fairly confident in my intangibles, without something truly stellar in my resume, i might be passed over by any other recent CS grad, or i might not be able to sell myself to a potential investor. I’m not sure if being a master of Treehouse or Code Academy will give me that pizazz i’m looking for.

    I know that one way or another, i’m going to eventually need to pay up if i want to play the game as effectively as you both have. It seems like the only “sure” path is to go the Devbootcamp route, but even then i’m not sure if that will be a lasting solution. Any advice, Ryan or MMM?

    • Aaron February 7, 2013, 2:38 pm

      You could try interviewing now. At worst you will learn what they are looking for, and possibly get an answer to your question. At best you could get the job without having to do either.

      Don’t forget to follow-up, and if you don’t get the job, ask then what you could do to make yourself a better prospect (i.e. would it help if I gave you a portfolio of work like you would generate at Treehouse). Never hurts to ask for a job you didn’t get (and your interest may get them to keep you in mind the next time they have an opening).

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 4:43 pm

      The most important thing is to learn (ideally through resources on the web like Treehouse, Udacity, Code School, etc) and then start building real projects. Get them into Github and then start applying for jobs at startups. There are tons of jobs and not enough people to fill them. They’ll look at what you’ve done in the past, not at your degree. You can do it.

    • Accidental Miser February 7, 2013, 6:58 pm

      Have you considered moving to someplace like Austin or Raleigh-Durham?

    • Ralph Wonpark September 29, 2013, 7:19 am

      How about becoming a history teacher? Your reply strikes me as one coming from someone not too sure of what he wants to do? Have you worked through “What Color is your Parachute.” There is more to life than programming!

  • Nikhil February 7, 2013, 2:23 pm

    While I completely agree that job oriented education is in need of a major rehaul focusing on contemporary techniques, the death of universities would be very sad indeed.
    Research-y sciences like astronomy, medical science, physics and so on require a mentorship/coaching provided by spending years with a dedicated teacher and a dedicated part of the field so that you can actually move the field forward and create innovations that move humanity forward along some plane. They also need a significant amount of resources which are out of reach for any single person. For researchy things at least, universities should continue to exist.

    • Kenoryn February 8, 2013, 12:00 pm

      I was thinking about that too; things like chemistry (which is one of my majors) involve a lot of hands-on learning time working with things that are a) very dangerous if mishandled and b) extremely expensive. Its not something that could reasonably be done in a self-directed environment or even at a community level. But I wonder how diverting the other self-learnable streams will affect things like chemistry. I’ve never really thought about it before, but it occurs to me now that surely programs like the humanities and computing, which require little expensive equipment and much fewer faculty members & staff, must subsidize expensive programs like chemistry and physics that have lab managers and assistants as well as profs and TAs, huge volumes of expensive materials, and million-dollar machines for students’ use. Perhaps these will become more specialized and exclusive programs in future, offered at fewer institutions, with a smaller number of graduates in the field, and higher pay and better job prospects for those who do those programs. That would be OK for me. ;) Not so good maybe for a world that needs more scientists.

  • djoly February 7, 2013, 2:27 pm

    I teach one class a semester at a local community college. just yesterday I assigned my advanced computer graphics students the creation of logo/mastheads as per MMM’s recent competition. This gave me an opportunity to assign some specific MMM blog posts, followed up with a discussion.

    I think it opened some eyes, and I’m hopeful a few will delve deeper.

    This current post will get special mention in Monday’s class.

    • Jamesqf February 7, 2013, 4:16 pm

      “…I assigned my advanced computer graphics students the creation of logo/mastheads…”

      Seriously? I’d say that’s something better suited to an art class than computer graphics – in which you should learn how to build tools for those art students and others to use.

  • Justin@TheFrugalPath February 7, 2013, 2:56 pm

    Going to community college to clear up the basics can be one of the best financial moves a student can make. Lower living expenses, classes are about 1/4 of the price and the classes transfer. Going away to school for the “experience” just means drinking and partying and going to class when you’re sober. It doesn’t make much sense to pay extra for that.

  • Sara February 7, 2013, 3:31 pm

    The UK’s Open University has a site called Open Learn with free content from some courses. They have also partnered recently with some “real” universities to develop a site called FutureLearn.
    And I agree about the libraries – all the world’s knowledge to borrow for free – why not use it? And you don’t need that specific recommended textbook. The one next to it is just as good- it’s the date that matters (subject depending of course).
    Although how you pay for that library if the university is economically unviable is another matter. Libraries are always first in line for the massive budget cuts when things go financially KaKa. And don’t get me started on how much publishers charge libraries for journals.
    As you may have guessed I am a librarian tho’ not in a university.
    But to me the implications of your speculation on these developments are a lot less universities in the world. It will simply not be financially viable to have so many. That may be a good thing if it means you only need to be able to afford a laptop and have a decent Internet connection to get educated.
    But it will be painful for those caught up in the destruction.

  • Accidental Miser February 7, 2013, 3:44 pm

    Thanks, MMM! Another great article about something near and dear to my heart.

    When my kids were young, we made it clear to them what the deal was with education. You can go to any school you like as long as we don’t have to pay for it. Also, we will not sign any PLUS or other kinds of loans for you. You can live at home until you either graduate from college or drop out of college. We will feed and clothe you and you can drive our extra car if we have one for you while you live at home.

    That’s it. To date, one of our sons graduated with a chemistry degree from a state university and works as a chemist at a power plant. The next son is a senior in electrical engineering also at a state university. Our next son decided to leave school and try living on his own. Number four is a sophomore, also in engineering school. (Sons 2 and 4 also have $20/hr internships with a large utility company.)

    My sons have managed to get educated without taking out enormous loans and will have their degrees paid for within a year of graduation with no problems. They each had smallish scholarships and most of them worked while in high school.

    Our contribution to them consists mostly of expenses we are incurring anyway (housing, utilities, etc.) We buy them clothes at the thrift store if they need a pair of pants or a shirt, if they don’t care for what we can find, they buy their own.

    Since we discussed all of this with them up front, they were able to prepare mentally and financially for their college years.

    And that’s how we kept ourselves from going broke via kid’s student expenses!

    • Elaine January 4, 2015, 1:07 pm

      I was the oldest of six children, and while paying for post-high school education was never discussed, I somehow never expected my parents would pay for it or would have been able to pay for it. I lived at home for the first 4 years, finishing up a music diploma and doing university part-time. I taught music, worked in the summers, and got a few small scholarships and bursaries. For the last two years of full-time school I lived away from home with 2 roommates and did the same sorts of jobs. I was able to get some provincial assistance. Used the grant part of it and banked the loan part. Paid it back 6 months after I graduated before I had to pay any interest on it. While it was in my hands it was earning income for me! No debt after school and I paid for it all myself except for living at home for the first four years.

  • Blancalily February 7, 2013, 3:49 pm

    Very interesting post MMM. I’ve been thinking a lot about this topic as I am wrestling with deciding whether or not to fund a 529 for my 2 year old. When he was born, I struggled with the question, “what if he decides not to go to college?” Now, I struggle with the growing evidence that college may become increasingly irrelevant. With the explosion of innovation in self-education, it is seems reasonable to imagine that “college” will look completly different 16 years from now. Any other parents have compelling reasons to fund or not to fund a 529 for a 2 year old (who is unlikely to have any siblings)?

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 4:42 pm

      We avoided the 529 savings plan too. I figure my son will probably be able to earn his own way through school, if he doesn’t take a completely different path (or end up financially independent with an online empire right out of high school!). In the event that he does need help, I’ve got his back in the form of existing savings.

      • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 6:07 pm

        The Mrs and I are thinking about this right now. Do we specifically save for our kids’ education? My hope is that universities will be unnecessary for most career paths in 13 years (my oldest is five yrs old) but it seems irresponsible to save nothing.

        I guess you’re right – we’ll have a cushion of our own to help them out with if they really need it but I’m certainly not going to fund a luxurious lifestyle for them while they’re at school.

        • Dee February 8, 2013, 5:38 am

          One factor to consider: My daughter is approaching college age and I recently learned that it might have been better for our overall finances if the money set aside for her college had not been invested in a 529 account, even with the beneficial tax treatment. For purposes of assessing need for financial aid, money in a 529 account is, of course, credited as 100% available for college funding. Money in other investment accounts held by a parent is not. My daughter’s account has $ 76,000. Were that money in my regular investments, most schools would only expect $ 7,600 of it to be available for college. Colleges (even state universities!) routinely “discount” tuition for top students, but the amount of that discount is often based on the family’s finances, using such formulas. For those of you with young children and some financial savvy, this might be worth checking out. Also, in my case the state provides no 529 incentives; some states do. You might also check out state “prepaid tuition” plans if your state offers one that has portability. Non-moustachians might need the designated “it’s for college” 529 savings plan to avoid spending the money on vacations along the way, but for those of us who save automatically, it might not be the best choice. The biggest advantage of the 529 is I can say to my daughter, “This is your budget for college.”

          • Ryan Carson February 8, 2013, 11:51 am

            That’s really helpful, thank you!

          • nicoleandmaggie February 8, 2013, 6:45 pm

            I think that’s only true if the plan is held by the student rather than by the parent.

            • Dee February 9, 2013, 4:49 pm

              Thanks! That’s good news—I think. The plan is owned by my deceased father’s trust…

            • MilwaukeeMN February 12, 2013, 2:37 pm

              I switched my basic bank savings to a parent’s account the year before college for that reason. If it was in mine, they’d want to take it all BEFORE any needs based assistance.

    • BadAss CPA February 7, 2013, 5:59 pm

      My daughter is five months old and I heavily researched 529 plans. It’s just a mental thing I guess, but it’s far easier for me to invest when there’s a set amount or limit. No problem maxing out 401k’s or Roths, there’s a max and I set a plan to hit it. With a 529 it was a mental burden of trying to figure out how much would be needed, and then accounting for variables like community college, private vs public, no university at all, etc…

      Ultimately, I decided to open and max out a Coverdell account. There’s a limit of $2,000 annually so by the time she’s 18 there should be at least $36k but likely more due to inflation adjustments. It will be large enough to alleviate the burden, and still be small enough to encourage smart and frugal decisions.

      One of the other positives is the money can be used for anything education-related, not just college. So I can buy her a computer once she needs it, pay for high school textbooks, etc.

    • Emmers February 10, 2013, 12:55 pm

      We’re funding a 529 because it’s transferrable between family members, so if our kid decides to pursue another avenue, we can just give the money to someone else, or to *their* hypothetical kid. If they decide to go into a field that doesn’t pay very much money (e.g. something where you end up working for an NGO and helping other people), we’d like that to be just as feasible as an engineering career. The world needs helpers as much as it needs creators.

      • Mark Schreiner October 20, 2020, 1:43 pm

        People who work for for-profit enterprises or for themselves are also helpers (of humanity), provided that they do an honest day’s work for their pay and do not otherwise cheat or cause unusual harm to the environment and are not producing weapons of mass destruction and so on. Their help to their fellow people is less obvious than that of, say, those who dish out food at a shelter for the homeless, but they are helping nonetheless. Of course, the food disher-outers likely get more emotional satisfaction because they get to see (and be thanked by) those people who they help.

  • CS Degree February 7, 2013, 4:11 pm

    Love reading MMM as I have learned a lot, but man, I get let down hearing about software pay, and especially MMM’s “origin story”. I’ve got a Computer Science degree, and right around 10 years experience. MMM made more than I did when his first year, and then his second year he’s making about the same as I make today! Then in this posting, talking about starting salaries approaching 100k. Where are these jobs? Am I just in a bad area in the US? Ugh. At least I’m frugal.

    • Mr. Money Mustache February 7, 2013, 4:37 pm

      Yeah, I have always found it very helpful to share salary data, as knowledge is power. Get your software jobs with companies that have headquarters in silicon valley or another high-demand area, and you’ll get paid a good salary regardless of where you actually live. But also shop around, network, job hunt. There is no reason for a 5+ years experience person with in-demand software skills to be making under 100 these days – when I left 7 years ago that was standard, and demand has been high ever since.

      • CS Degree February 8, 2013, 5:46 pm

        Yeah that is a good point, the economy isn’t exactly the best where I’m at. Or even in the whole state, really. But being able to telecommute these days makes yourself available to a lot more companies than in the past. Or like I’ve seen you recommend in the past, move to a better area….but being mortgage bound makes that a bit more difficult. I think it’s just unfortunate I started out around the dot com bust, and with a below average salary. Even though it’s increased a fair amount, it’s still increases off that initial lower salary.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup February 7, 2013, 4:45 pm

    I think this is also great for people that want to increase or expand their skills. I plan on going to a 3 month network security class to earn a certification. It makes it easier to succeed.

  • Lin February 7, 2013, 4:54 pm

    For the private university I went to for my BA, I didn’t take out that much in student loans and after two years out they are almost paid off. I got a lot of scholarships.

    My parents did, however, take advantage of me at 19 with having access to those private student loans and pressured/threatened to not let me go back to school if I didn’t take out 40k, none of which went to college tuition, etc. Starting up a new business with no income and unable to take out any more normal loans, they used it instead for daily expenses and managed to spend it all in a year. Which, now that I have my own household boggles my mind.

    A part of me still can’t believe they put me in that kind of situation and I’m slightly bitter about it. At 19 I wasn’t in a place to really say no. They make payments regularly, but I shudder to think if anything happens to them because the loans are in my name with them as a co-signer. So in that sense, my cost of college is potentially way higher than I ever wanted.

    • Ryan Carson February 7, 2013, 6:16 pm

      WTF? I can see why you’re bitter about that :(

    • Emmers February 10, 2013, 1:01 pm

      I hope they enjoy their catfood when they’re 80.


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