Bill Leff & Wendy Snyder of WGN Radio—Gene Kelly Interview

Bill: Judy, thank you so much. It’s Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder on WGN. You can reach us during the show at 312-981-7200. That’s a call or a text. Well, if you’re a parent, you’re going to experience this at some point, and that is your child or children going away to college. I’m going through it right now with not one, but both of my daughters, Reese and Kylie. Wendy, you’re still a couple of years away with your boys, but boy there’s a lot going on. There’s a book out called The College Myth: Why You Shouldn’t Go to College if You Want to be Successful. The author of that book, Gene W. Kelly, joins us on the phone right now. Hello Gene, how are things?

Gene: I’m going great. How about yourselves?

Bill: Gene, I can’t speak for Wendy, but as I just mentioned, for both of my daughters just a couple of short months away from going away to college, it’s very very stressful. And I’ve tried to make the argument that you’re making in your book why you shouldn’t go to college if you want to be successful…

Wendy: You really are trying to talk them out of it?

Bill: I’m not trying to talk them out of it, but here’s what we’re going through right now. One of my daughter’s, Reese, was accepted to Drake University the other day, and we couldn’t be more proud of her. But the price tag for a year at Drake University is $40,000 for a year of school. That’s a lot of money.

Gene: Absolutely. And the purpose of my book, the reason I want everyone to read it—especially people in your position right now—is to have the conversation with your children, where is this going? Because we’ve made it all about right of passage, and the falsity and the false premise that there’s going to be this great fantastic job for them just waiting on the other end. And if the purpose of going to college is to get a great job, and get the skills to get a great job, they’re failing. They meet a failing grade.

And, the massive debt that the kids are accumulating—we’re seeing a societal shift because of this. We have students that are coming out of college—as a matter of fact, I interviewed one for a job yesterday, and unfortunately a major University degree hasn’t been able to get a job. He didn’t have the skill set to get a job with me. The problem is they’ve got all this debt now, and they’re actually delaying buying cars, getting married, buying houses. This is going to essentially ripple through the economy for the next several decades. So, I think it’s unfair for colleges to promote and society to promote one path only—which is go to college—when in fact, that isn’t where the jobs are right now. Jobs are emerging technology—they’re emerging in the trades. We need people in the trades left and right, and these are jobs that often times can be fixed 6 figured jobs. Nothing to be sneezed at. So, there is opportunity out there, and my number on focus is to get folks just like you to read this book, have their kids read the book, and talk about it around the kitchen table. I am for higher education—I just want to make that point. But I’m for doing it smart. And that isn’t… a degree alone is not what gets to become successful. I’m the millionaire next door, and I don’t have a college degree.

Wendy: And, I probably shouldn’t admit this because everybody in my family gets embarrassed when I say this. I have an Associate’s degree in liberal arts. What is that going to do me? Well, nothing if I want to get back to school. But, I went to Illinois State for a year. I wasn’t ready to go to college. I wanted to get on the radio station there—you basically had to be an upperclassman—so I came home and went to Triton Junior College, and got my degree there, and then started in radio when I was 23 years old. I did not have college debt. My kids—one’s into music, and the other isn’t quite sure what he wants to do because he’s 11. And college has been brought up and everyone in my family says the same thing: how are the kids going to go to college? And I say, well, I don’t know if they’re going to go to college, and everyone gasps.

Gene: Right. Again, get copies of the book. I’m so passionate about this that I am giving away free copies of the book as downloads on the website So get them a copy, and at least have a debate over it. It’s not that there’s any one path for everybody. Let me back up a little bit and tell you how we got on this mess, in my view. Just like the housing market, some folks said, gee, back then, everyone needs to own a home. So they’ve made it such that everyone that had a pulse could get a loan to buy a home, right?

Wendy: Right.

Gene: What do we have? All this money flowing in the market. What does that do? It raises prices up up up, until finally—boom. The bubble burst. And it always does. OK. Heard a lot of families ripple through [4:46-4:50 indiscernible] economy, really. College—the same thing is happening. If you have a pulse, and you want to go to college, you can find a way to get loans. And those loans stick with you for life. I just read an article recently where seniors are dragging along loans behind them that they got in their mid-career. And it did not help them make more money. So, the real truth out there is there’s a bubble in college education—a huge cost that I would say if you don’t know why you’re going you shouldn’t be going, or if you can’t afford to pay cash you shouldn’t be going. Go get some real world experience, and then get the education if you want.

Or, get an education in the trades. In fact, that’s one of the things we’re doing—we’ve set the entire educational system on its ear because the old way of teaching trades is still how most people teach trade skills, which is kind of the 19th century 4-year apprenticeship, and so on. And, we teach it through an accelerated process. If they want to learn more about that, it’s at the or over at People right now, for example—a study was just provided to me from the Department of Labor in Idaho, where lifetime earnings of an electrician, who currently is making $44 an hour in change, is greater than that of some who has a Masters degree in the states, and just under a professional license. SO there’s a huge opportunity in the trades, and with the greying of America, we need people desperately. Who’s going to rebuild our country?

Bill: Gene W. Kelly is our guest. He’s the author of The College Myth: Why You Shouldn’t Go to College if You Want to be Successful.

Bill: It’s Bill Leff and Wendy Snyder of WGN radio. Our guest is Gene W. Kelly. He was not in Singing in the Rain. Do not call with Singing in the Rain questions—it’s a different Gene Kelly. He has written the book The College Myth: Why You Shouldn’t Go to College if You Want to be Successful. It’s something I’m experiencing right now, and Wendy will be experiencing soon with her own boys. I’m sure many of you have gone through this yourselves. We’ve got a bunch of calls lined up, but Gene, quickly, I just want to make sure that I’m understanding this. Your main quibble with the college experience is predominantly the high cost of it, and then the fact that there’s no job guarantee once those four years are over, correct.

Gene: Absolutely. They don’t have the skills that the marketplace needs today, yet they’re incurring the debt that could’ve got them there.

Wendy: Alright, well we have some comments and questions here. Hi caller, what’s your name?

Shelly (Caller): Hi, it’s Shelly.

Wendy: Hi Shelly, what do you have to say about this.

Shelly (Caller): Well, I disagree. I have been working in corporate America for almost 22 years, and recently went to apply to a management position, and was told that I wasn’t going to get it because I didn’t have a college degree. And, they’re basically taking these young kids in my corporation and hiring them fresh out of college because they’re safe, and they have college degrees, and dumping everybody with experience. This is what I’m getting from corporate America, and my message to my 15-year old is, “Go to college, because nobody can take that degree away from you.”

Wendy: Your thoughts on that, Gene?

Gene: Well, I can tell you what… from an employer’s point of view. Now, corporate America… many of them are locked into this lock-step mentality, and they’re going to end up probably letting a lot of those people go—people with degrees because they’re not going to perform. And they’ll get their wakeup call. But as a business owner that has had 30+ employees, I find that most other business owners are concerned about 3 things, and these are the questions that your child is going to need to answer when they go for a job interview. Number one: what do I know that is applicable to this particular position, and a degree generally doesn’t do it by itself. Number two: what real-world experience do I have for this particular position. And, number three, most important: You’ve got to convince me what can you do for me? Those are the three things an employer really wants to know. And because they’re making an investment in that employee, a degree—great, sort of. I interviewed a guy yesterday, like I said. It was for a marketing position. He had a marketing degree. And, I asked him some basic questions. And, let me say, this is from a major university, and he couldn’t answer those basic questions on marketing. Four years, I imagine, probably a couple hundred-thousand dollars. Good luck with that. He’s delivering pizza part time.

Wendy: There’s something to be said for that, Shelly.

Shelly (Caller): Yup. And I have to say just one more thing. My husband’s got a job, and he’s been working in sales for 22 years. He interviewed with a company and they were very interested in him until he told them that he did not have a degree—that he has 22 years of sales and marketing experience—and he did not get it because they require somebody who has a degree.

Bill: They’d rather have the degree than the experience?

Wendy: That must not be a great company. It may turn out that it may have not been a good company for him then. Not going experience over degree—big whoop.

Gene: Yeah, that’s an H.R. Department… some PhD, which stands for Piled Higher Deeper, decided that this was a criteria, because after all, they had a degree. So that must make it important. What a boneheaded decision. What I want to know is the guy’s sales stats. If he can sell, I’ll give him a job.

Shelly (Caller): Well, I can tell you—he can. He’s an excellent salesperson. In fact, he has a glowing letter of recommendation with his company. Unfortunately, business is down in his industry, and they let him go. He has a glowing letter.

Wendy: Shelly, hang on, and we’ll get your number and pass it along to Gene W. Kelly, and then maybe you’ll believe him.

Shelly (Caller): OK.

Bill: Thanks Shelly, really appreciate it.

Wendy: Alright, hang on a second. Someone else who… the other side of the coin. This is Marie on the line. Hi, Marie. Gene W. Kelly here.

Marie (Caller): Hi.

Wendy: You had a comment?

Marie (Caller): Yeah, I have to agree with him. It took a couple of… a little bit of experience to get to that point. I am not college educated so I wanted my kids to be college educated to get ahead in life, so to speak. And, when I took my oldest to four-year school, I’m calculating because… we make good money, but not to pay $30,000 a year. So I’m thinking this kid’s going to have probably a $75,000 debt coming out of school. One reason or another, he ended up back home. He went to our local community college, got his 2-year degree. He is actually doing his dream job right now, and the kid’s 21 and has nearly $45,000 saved. Now, if he would’ve been coming out of—

Wendy: Gosh!

Marie (Caller): Exactly. He doesn’t make a lot of money. He lives within his means. But he, instead of having the debt of $75,000 at his age, and possibly having to move away from home, having to pay rent, having to pay a car payment… I mean, our deal with the kids was we will help you, especially at home, you pay for your community college education, which is a great education, and it’s only a few thousand dollars a year.

Gene: Yeah, a lot of bang for the buck there. But also look in the trades, because the trades is what’s paying higher wages right now, and not everybody wants to spend their whole life living in a cubicle. Because that’s where a lot of the knowledge worker jobs end up. So, look into the trades as well.

Marie (Caller): That’s what both my kids—the younger one, who’s a couple of years behind, is following his footsteps. They did vocational school in high school. They didn’t do all these extra curriculars. And, it was welding. They had a fabulous teacher, so they have that under their belts, and they both are going to school for precision machining.

Wendy: That’s awesome, Marie. We have to run, but thank you so much, and good look with the kids!

Gene: Yeah. I’d like to point out something else. When you invest a hundred to two hundred thousand dollars, do you realize how many different franchises can be purchased for that amount? This is a conversation that we’ve had in the family, even. You can spend $200,000, and own a franchise that’ll start making you money right away.

Wendy: Is that what you were going to say?

Bill: Gene, I swear to you—one of my best friends, who’s daughter is also about to go into college, said, “Instead of spending the $125,00 for four years of school, I would like to start her in a business. I want to give $125,000 and scout out a business and start her that way.” That’s not a bad move, is it?

Gene: Not at all. And, you know another guy I talked to who is very successful—he’s a film director—he gets people who ask him all the time what college should they go through for film school? And, the answer is: take the money you’ll spend at one semester at film school, and go out and make yourself a film. You’ll learn more.

Bill: Mhm.

Gene: And that’s the same… let’s not look at college as the only path. That’s my point. Let’s have the conversation, let’s give the children, the adults, the freedom to feel successful in whatever path they excel at. There’s a lot more in the book about how to excel in life, how to get ahead, how to become a self-made millionaire, and there’s a lot to the conversation. But, this is what we can probably cover right now, and that is, I want you to avoid the debt, and I want you to look into the trades as a potential option for education.

Wendy: Although somebody says, ask your guest about the trades, because there are some that are just not hiring right now… just kind of the specific thing.

Gene: Mhm. OK.

Bill: Blacksmiths are not doing very well right now.

Wendy: No…

Gene: Actually…

Bill: Wait, are blacksmiths doing well?

Gene: If you check into what a farrier makes with horses these days, it’s amazing. There’s a lot of artwork being done by the blacksmiths.

Bill: I apologize to the blacksmiths.

Wendy: You should. It says, “Please ask your guest what he means by saying that there are lots of jobs available in the trades. All the union trades are sitting and have been for 5 years.”

Gene: Well, you just said the word union, and I don’t want to go off on a big tangent there, but I’m not a fan. But I will tell you there’s over 300,000 jobs in various aspects of manufacturing available through a recent study. And the on-shoring of manufacturing is something we haven’t talked about. With the lower energy costs in the mid-west, there are companies who would like to bring their manufacturing back on-shore, back to the United States, because they have a better educated workforce, the costs are declining compared to the rising costs overseas, and the huge savings in transportation—not to mention it’s much greener—there’s a lot of reasons why they’d want to bring it back, including tax advantages and so on. So, manufacturing jobs that require trade skills: welding (which was said), precision machining, electrical (there are electricians needed left and right), plumbers (the state of California, it was estimated that we needed 10,000 new plumbers every single year just to meet the attrition of the folks retiring). So, I would say, take their nose out of the union hall, and go look around and find the skills that people are looking for. One of the things our institute does, the Accelerated Training Institute, is we teach in multiple trade disciplines because the real valuable guys out there are not the one who can just do one thing, and only have one view, but the people who can kind of take that 40,000 foot view of a problem, solve it, come up with a solution, and use skills from maybe several different trades to develop that solution.

Wendy: Well, you know what, we are out of time, Gene W. Kelly. We appreciate this. He’s the author of The College Myth: Why You Shouldn’t Go to College if You Want to be Successful, and you have offered to give a free media download—a book sample—at You know, and your mileage may vary. This may not help everyone, but it’s something you should definitely think about, look into, and talk about with your kids before you sign them up for colleges. We appreciate your time.

Bill: Thanks, Gene. Really appreciate it. We’ll do the news next, and more show ahead on Bill and Wendy WGN.