Adam Ruins College

Aug 20 2017

Class is in session as Adam explains why the chances of becoming a dropout billionaire are not in your favor, why selecting a top college is harder than you think and why the once groundbreaking student loan system has created trillions of dollars in debt. Here are his sources.


"Bill Gates was only able to succeed without a college degree because he was freakishly hardworking genius and had advantages that almost no one else does."

Malcolm Gladwell. Outliers: The Story of Success. Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

"Before he even went to college, his family enrolled him in an expensive private high school — a private school that just happened to have a rare, state of the art computer that almost no other kid would have access to."

Bill Gates. "Lakeside School." Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, 23 Sep 2005.

"So by the time Bill dropped out, he had thousands of hours of programming experience and was already an expert!"

"Gladwell's Outliers: Timing is Almost Everything." Bloomberg, 19 Nov 2008.

"Before he even left Harvard Gates and his partner had already founded Microsoft..."

Alice Kreit and Jessica Wanke. "Timeline: Bill Gates." NPR, Jun 2008.

"...and sold the first software that ran on personal computers"

Walter Isaacson. "Bill Gates, Inside the Gates." Harvard Magazine, 20 Sep 2013.

"[Bill Gates] didn’t even officially drop out! If [he] failed, [he] could have always come back to [his] ivy-league education on [his] parent’s dime!"

"Bill Gates Talks Dropping Out Of College And Reveals His Biggest Extravagance," This Morning. ITV, 26 Oct 2016.

"[Jeffrey Dahmer] dropped out of college..."

Charles Patrick Ewing and Joseph T. McCann. Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology. Oxford University Press, 2006.

"When you focus only on the famous success stories and ignore the lesser-known failures, you’re committing a logical error known as 'survivor bias.'"

Carmine Gallo. "High-Tech Dropouts Misinterpret Steve Jobs' Advice." Forbes, 6 Dec 2012.

"College dropouts are 71% more likely to be unemployed."

Robert J. Zimmer. "The Myth of the Successful College Dropout: Why It Could Make Millions of Young Americans Poorer." The Atlantic, 1 Mar 2013.

"College grads makes more than high school grads at every point of their careers."

Brad Hershbein and Melissa S. Kearney. "Major Decisions: What Graduates Earn Over Their Lifetimes." The Hamilton Project, 29 Sep 2014.

"Since 1985, on average the United States has lost over 300,000 manufacturing jobs per year."

Enrico Moretti. The New Geography of Jobs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

"In the past 20 years, software jobs have grown by over 500%. And in the past decade, internet jobs have increased over 600%."

Enrico Moretti. The New Geography of Jobs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012.

"In the six years after the great recession, less than one percent of the jobs created have gone to those with a high school diploma or less."

Anthony P. Carnevale, Tamara Jayasundera, and Artem Gulish. "America's Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have-Nots." Georgetown University Center of Education and the Workforce, 2016.

"America is facing a shortage of college graduates. . . . By 2025, two thirds of all jobs in the US will require education beyond high school. . . . At the current rate... However, the country is expected to face a shortfall of 11 million skilled workers . . . over the next 10 years.”

Bill Gates. "Help Wanted: 11 Million College Grads." Gates Notes, 3 Jun 2015.

"When US News started these rankings in 1983, they were basically just a popularity contest. They would ask college presidents what they thought of each other’s schools."

Stephanie Owings-Edwards. "The Effect On Wage Of Attending A US News And World Report Best College." Journal of College Teaching & Learning Vol. 2, No. 10 (2005).

"But this opened them up to criticism."

Luke Myers and Jonathan Robe. "College Rankings: History, Criticism and Reform." Center for College Affordability and Productivity, Mar 2009.

"Starting in 1988, US News reworked their ranking system into a complicated formula."

Stephanie Owings-Edwards. "The Effect On Wage Of Attending A US News And World Report Best College." Journal of College Teaching & Learning Vol. 2, No. 10 (2005).

"We weight these categories however we wanted. It’s subjective! And we change ‘em almost every year!"

Malcolm Gladwell. "The Order of Things." The New Yorker, 14 Feb 2011.

"Now, when a school slips in the rankings, it can affect the number of applicants they receive, their research funding, even the all-important alumni donations."

Christopher C. Morphew and Christopher Swanson. "On the Efficacy of Raising Your University’s Rankings." In University Rankings: Theoretical Basis, Methodology and Impacts on Global Higher Education, edited by Jung Cheol Shin, Robert K. Toutkoushian, and Ulrich Teichler. Springer, 2011.

"For some schools, that even means they’ll lie."

John Tierney. "Your Annual Reminder to Ignore the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings." The Atlantic, 10 Sep 2013.

"At Claremont McKenna, a senior officer lied about our SAT scores for 6 years."

Richard Pérez-Peña and Daniel E. Slotnik. "Gaming the College Rankings." The New York Times, 31 Jan 2012.

"At Clemson, we gave other schools low ratings to make ourselves look better."

Max Kutner. "How to Game the College Rankings." Boston Magazine, Sep 2014.

"At Iona College, we lied about multiple categories on the survey for nine years."

Abram Brown. "Why Forbes Removed 4 Schools From Its America's Best Colleges Rankings." Forbes, 24 Jul 2013.

"And it worked. If they hadn’t lied, Iona College would've been 20 spots lower in the rankings."

Robert Morse. "Iona College Admits to Inflating Rankings Data for 9 Years." U.S. News & World Report, 1 Dec 2011.

"Northeastern sent 200,000 personalized letters encouraging students to apply to their school even though they only had room for 2,800."

Melissa Korn And Rachel Louise Ensign. "Colleges Rise as They Reject." The Wall Street Journal, 25 Dec 2012.

"To attract the 'right' kind of student, schools spend massive amounts of money building luxury dorms with fancy amenities that have nothing to do with education at all."

Kevin Carey. "How to Raise a University’s Profile: Pricing and Packaging." The New York Times, 6 Feb 2015.

"Since 1963, the total cost of attending a private 4-year college has almost tripled."

"Table 330.10: Average undergraduate tuition and fees and room and board rates charged for full-time students in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by level and control of institution: 1963-64 through 2015-16." National Center for Education Statistics, Nov 2016.

"That’s about $10,000 more than most Americans earn in an entire year."

"Measures Of Central Tendency For Wage Data." Social Security Administration, 2015.

"42 million Americans currently have student loan debt totaling 1.3 trillion dollars."

"Federal Student Loan Portfolio." Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education, 2017.

"Before 1972, students could get federally-backed student loans to pay for school. But there weren’t enough to go around."

"Lessons Learned From The Privatization of Sallie Mae." U.S. Department of the Treasury, Mar 2006.

"But the party foul began when the government moved to privatize Sallie Mae in the 90s."

Eric Westervelt. "'I'm A Student-Debt Slave.' How'd We Get Here?" NPR, 11 Jul 2016.

"They paid colleges to ditch government loans and sign up for their program."

James B. Steele and Lance Williams. "Who Got Rich Off the Student Loan Crisis." Reveal, 28 Jun 2016.

"And sponsored cruises for financial aid officers."

James B. Steele and Lance Williams. "Who Got Rich Off the Student Loan Crisis." Reveal, 28 Jun 2016.

"Sallie Mae even placed undercover reps at university call centers, where they tricked students into thinking they were talking to college loan officers."

Jonathan D. Glater. "Colleges Hiring Lenders to Field Queries on Aid." The New York Times, 29 Mar 2007.

"And soon, student borrowers were stuck with the worst type of debt you can have."

John Wasik. "Why college loans are the worst debt." CBS News, 23 Jan 2017.

"Many borrowers have monthly payments that are so low they don’t even cover the interest. You could be in a situation where you’re paying hundreds of dollars a month, but your loan is still growing."

Kaitlin Mulhere. "Help! I have $123,000 in student debt." Time, 18 Nov 2016.

"One in four borrowers are behind on their student loans. And over 8 million are in default."

"Annual report of the CFPB Student Loan Ombudsman." Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Oct 2016.

"If you default on a federal student loan, the government can garnish up to 15% of your wages, tax refunds, and social security payments."

"Administrative Wage Garnishments." Student Loan Borrower Assistance, accessed 1 Aug 2017.

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel. "The disturbing trend of people losing Social Security benefits to student debt." The Washington Post, 20 Dec 2016.

"Because now, unlike almost all other debt, it’s nearly impossible to declare bankruptcy for student loans."

"2005 Law Made Student Loans More Lucrative," All Things Considered. NPR, 24 Apr 2007.

"In 2010, the government finally cut out middlemen like Sallie Mae."

Peter Baker and David M. Herszenhorn. "Obama Signs Overhaul of Student Loan Program." The New York Times, 30 Mar 2010.

"The Solo company was relatively forgettable until the 1970s when Robert L Hulseman invented the sturdy, yet disposable Solo Cup. While most people prefer red, he preferred blue."

Richard Sandomir. ["Robert L. Hulseman, Inventor of the Solo Cup, Dies at 84."] The New York Times, 30 Dec 2016.

"You're six times more likely to be killed by hot tap water to become a self-made, dropout billionaire."

Matt Novak. "One in four self-made American billionaires dropped out of college." Gizmodo, 10 Nov 2014.

Neil Herndon. “The Odds Are Against You: Things More Likely than Winning the Powerball.” Forbes, 13 Jan 2016.

"You're four times more likely to be murdered at the Grand Canyon."

Matt Novak. "One in four self-made American billionaires dropped out of college." Gizmodo, 10 Nov 2014.

Melissa Chan. “10 Crazy Things More Likely to Happen to You than Winning the Powerball Jackpot.” Time, 7 Jan 2016.

For More on This Topic

Bill Gates didn't just drop out. He was freakishly smart and hard working:

College is worth it:

A great long-form article about how Northeastern systematically gamed its way to the top:

How Sallie Mae made a killing on student debt, making student debt much worse in the process: