Husband vs. Wife: Bypassing College for Business

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Lori and Marek Fuchs have never fought in their 16 years of marriage — except over money. In this column, Mr. and Mrs. Fuchs, a real-life married couple with three kids (ages 12, 8 and 5), articulate their very different approaches to personal finance.

This round, she says he's crazy for agreeing with a columnist who says college is a waste of money. He tries to explain, but hardly gets a word in edgewise.

It’s mom vs. dad, college vs. business and a doctor vs. a guy who partied his way through college and was lucky to emerge with a degree. Who do you think will win?

Mr. Fuchs: See that article I left on your nightstand for bedtime reading?

Mrs. Fuchs: Yeah. That’s not exactly my idea of good bedtime reading. While it definitely had intrigue and tension, there wasn’t a lot of romance!

Mr. Fuchs: Romance? It was a fine opinion piece written by TheStreet’s own James Altucher for The New York Post, all about how he doesn't want his two daughters to go to college. He did back-of-the-envelope calculations and it doesn’t pay. Considering the exorbitant tuitions, the kids are much better off starting businesses.

Mrs. Fuchs: Good Lord. Are we starting this again? Look, you are just going to have to pay for college you cheapskate, regardless of any back-of-the-envelope calculations Altucher might have done. And I’d like to hear what Mrs. Altucher has to say about her husband's “theories.” They shouldn’t let dads do cost/benefit analysis of college. Let me ask you, what is the purpose of college?

Mr. Fuchs: Mostly to party. And for that much money, it’s not worth it.  You can learn to party more cheaply. All I needed was a bottle of Scotch and-

Mrs. Fuchs: Are these tears of laughter or sadness dripping down my cheeks? That was your purpose in college — I remember it all too well — but what do you envision college doing for our three kids?

Mr. Fuchs: You mean you want them to aim higher? No home college schooling, partying with dad in the basement?

Mrs. Fuchs: Yes, college provides kids a chance to test out their independence in a safe environment. Not many kids have the life skills to be totally on their own at 18 and college lets them figure it out in a place where the odds of disastrous outcomes are slim. For God’s sake, there is usually a shoulder-high brick wall surrounding it.

And what about higher learning? Think of all the ideas and schools of thought that the kids are exposed to in four (or six) years. Exposure to new ideas and ways of thinking is invaluable. Do you really want our kids to have our small town as their whole frame of reference? I want our kids to be well-rounded and exposed to art, philosophy, history, literature and the sciences, not to mention new people with all sorts of life experiences.

Mr. Fuchs: Plus, the parties rock. Better than in our basement.

Mrs. Fuchs: Look, taking down Altucher’s article is like picking low lying fruit. Even Sidney Franks, principal at Highbridge Finanical Group in Tarrytown, N.Y., who jokes that in light of college costs, "everyone should be a plumber," does manage to point out that “even though it’s not all numbers, you are likely to end up with more money with a college education.”

Think about it, he says. Your social life is linked to both college and your profession, which means your kids are likely to find their spouses that way. If they run in college graduate circles, it’s more likely they will marry a college graduate, which means that in a dual income family, your child is getting the benefit of a college education you did not pay for. See? In that light, it’s a bargain. A two for one deal.

Mr. Fuchs: Come to think of it, I got the benefit of your doctorate, which my parents didn’t pay for.

Mrs. Fuchs: Exactly. Also, Altucher preaches entrepreneurialism as a fitting alternative and some, like Apple’s (Stock Quote: AAPL) Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s (Stock Quote: MSFT) Bill Gates, did drop out of college to start companies that ended up doing OK. But as Franks point out, how many teenagers are equipped to do the same? Or would even want to? Entrepreneurs are born, not made. “Besides,” he said, “the majority of businesses fail and what if you lose the money you would have spent on college? Your education is a union card in our society, but it’s also an insurance policy.”

Moreover, Franks added, “do you really want to start up a plumbing business at 18 or would you rather spend a junior year in France?”

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