The Michael Dresser Show—Gene Kelly Interview

Michael: Gene Kelly with us. Gene Kelly is the author of The College Myth. An educational thought leader, he's an entrepreneur, an author, and a speaker, and a Napa Valley winery owner. And we're going to talk about college—good or bad? Hey Gene, welcome to the show.

Gene: Hey, thanks for having me on the show. We're on the subject because I'm really passionate about this. We're trying to make a difference and, you know, save family's futures, children's futures, and parents' retirements, and everything else by realigning the thought on this.

Michael: Sure. By the way, 100 years ago when I was in high school—maybe 150 years ago—we had wood shop, we had auto shop, we had metal shop, we had... you know, we had those things. So, if you were not going to college—ongoing and continuous education—you had something that would prepare you to go out into the world and work. They don't have that today. And you're forced into college, and if you do go to college it's going to cost you 20 grand anyways, minimally. And, what happens if you drop out of college? You still have the loan—that $7,000 to $12,000 loan that you got 10 or 15 years later, if you don't pay it, it can end up to be $20,000.

Gene: Well, yeah, and Michael—those numbers are really low, even. You're spot on, but they're really low. Here's what happened. We, you know... you remember No Child Left Behind?

Michael: Sure.

Gene: We had this idea in this country that everybody needed to go to college whether they thought they needed it, or not. And we're going to... "one size fits all." We're going to push everybody in that direction. It seemed like a good idea at the time, because everybody was going to be a knowledge worker. We're going to rule the world because we're the smartest people around—knowledge workers. The little thing called the "internet" came along, and all of a sudden those knowledge workers are competing with people—billions of people—around the world that speak multiple languages, have a couple degrees, and are willing to do the same for $7 an hour.

Michael: Sure.

Gene: And I don't know who wants to compete with that.

Michael: Well, by the way... let me hold you up for a minute. You're spot on. Not only is it there, look at the different business that are closing up today—going to Ireland, going to different countries—because they can't afford the taxes, they can't afford this, they can't afford the competition. And there's where the problem is.

Gene: Well, we've got an excited opportunity though, here in this country, that not enough people are talking about yet. And that is with the low-cost energy that we have in the United States now throughout the upper Midwest, that there are many companies wanting to onshore their manufacturing. And because it's cheaper for them without the transportation, and higher quality with American workers—but they can't find them. There's like 300,000 jobs going unfulfilled in the trades. And, you know, you could outsource some of your knowledge worker stuff, but who's going to fix your plumbing, your roads, your infrastructure, and so on? You can't outsource that to India—it needs to be done here!

Michael: Sure.

Gene: So this is a huge gap we have, and that's why I wrote the book The College Myth: Why You Shouldn't Go to College If You Want to Be Successful. And by the way, I'm so passionate about this, you can go buy the book on Amazon or you can go get a free download of it on the website at So, this is what, you know, what my passion is. I took a different route in life. I went through one of those trade schools. I ended up owning a manufacturing company. I've got multiple things I've done. I've been very successful. As you say, I've got a winery and a vineyard here in the Napa Valley now, too. You know, you don't need to go "one size fits all." Now, I am not against higher education—let me be clear about that. Life should be about learning continuously throughout your life. But you're not getting the job skills that they need when they walk away with those degrees. And, I tell—and it's in the book—but I tell prospective employees that there's only three things that an employer really wants to know. And that is, what do you know that is applicable to my job? Number two: What have you done, experience? And number three, most important: What can you do for me? And a lot of these people think, "Well, I've spent $200,000 on my paper, and now someone should offer me a good job." And that's just not the way it works. And the numbers are scary. A private university here in California is a quarter of a million bucks for four years. The average student time that they go through most schools in the United States—the average cross country—is over 5.7 years. Now, to get a B.A., they could've been making money during that time. They could've been investing. I have one friend—he only went through high school, did automotive, ended up owning a couple of automotive shops, started buying real estate, ended up in owning car dealerships, and the man probably owns a hundred houses in the Napa Valley. I mean, it's worth a fortune. You know, it's about the drive and the individual being responsible, taking responsibility for their actions and their own education. So that's what the book is about.

Michael: Gene, let me jump in with this, because I think it's extremely important with what you're saying. If you look at the kids that are going to college now, a great percentage of them—when they're through with college—they're back home again because they can't get a job and they can't afford to live on their own. Who's working? The plumbers, the carpenters, the electricians—all of these men and women are working. And the other ones that went to college didn't because I think college got... there's got to be dollars behind it because somehow this impetus to go to college was motivated by something. It wasn't the kids, it wasn't the parents, it had to come from somewhere.

Gene: Yeah. And it's gone up over 2,000% in the last 30 years.

Michael: Yeah.

Gene: And those debt levels are just astronomical. And, what's happening is not only do kids coming back home and feeling kind of defeated because they thought after four years they'd have that great job. So, a lot of them are actually... they feel some of these trade jobs are beneath them, which is just wrong thinking.

Michael: Sure.

Gene: And [mic cuts off 6:10] good paying jobs are satisfying jobs. And a second thing is they're... because of this debt, they're delaying buying cars, delaying starting families, they're delaying getting married, and buying a house, and all the things that they should be doing in their 20s and 30s and early 40s—they're delaying all that. And on top of all that, the parents who just went deeply in debt to fund this education are delaying their retirements. So, I mean, it just messes up the whole curve. And it's all bad money... and you can get a college loan if you've got a pulse. Do you remember when it was the same way in the housing market?

Michael: Yeah.

Gene: And what happened? It all collapsed. And it was because the government said, "Everybody ought to own a house in America, even those that can't afford it."

Michael: Yeah. But the biggest part of the collapse—and by the way, I totally agree with you. There are people who owned homes that shouldn't have owned homes. There were organizations that went to the banks and went to the bankers homes and demonstrated so they would make loans to certain people. But the problem with it is they took the loan and individually they packaged them up to separate loans, and they sold them for a profit. Those people who bought those packaged those packages up, sold them for a profit, and it went on three or four or five times later. So, that home that they've got in there for $800,00 or $900,000, or a million dollars, is really only worth a $100,000. So, when it crashed they were left with nothing.

Gene: Yep. Yep. But my point is, it was all driven by access to easy money, you know?

Michael: Yeah.

Gene: And that's what's happening right now with college. People can get a loan to fund an education, that may not be a good investment, just by signing on the dotted line. And right now, they can't charge those loans off even in bankruptcy. So, I mean, that's not legal advice, but that's what my understanding is. So, you need to really look at what it is you're trying to achieve. I also have... I'm not just a person that brings a problem to the table—I also created a solution. And we have a company The Accelerated Technical Training Institute, where we teach job skills, real job skills—welding, electrical, plumbing, so on—through a process of distance education and hands-on home study that is only thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands of dollars, for all these skills. And they're lifetime skills! When you need to know how to do this stuff, you're not going to be a victim of someone taking advantage of you in your home or, you know, redoing something. You know what should be done even if you don't do it yourself. And so, those skills that you were talking about that have been ripped out of the high schools and the community colleges, we're training those at both an entry and an advanced level, but through a modern accelerated process using video instruction. So, for every hour of what would normally be a classroom, you get 5, 10, 15 minutes of real instruction, and sharing it with 20 other people... here, it's accelerating and compressing, so that you're getting full knowledge instruction. And then if there's any technical questions, you communicate with the instructor over the internet and over the phone. So, I mean, it's really changing the whole paradigm of how these skills are taught. That's part of our goal. That's part of my mission. But the first is that at least alert everyone that the social pressure of going and getting in debt over getting a piece of paper isn't right for the vast majority of people. I'm not saying it's wrong for everybody, you know? Someone that knows clearly they're going to be a doctor or an attorney or something like that, fine. But this is an expensive to go and just play around and figure out, "Gee, well what do I want to do?"

Michael: Yeah.

Gene: You need to have a purpose, and it's good that you're working your own way toward that.

Michael: But very important also, Gene, is you've got to have somebody symbolically holding your hand because you wanting to do something doesn't necessarily mean you automatically and innately have the skills to do it. You don't. So you've got to have people who know what to do that you can follow. We all need mentors.

Gene: Right. And that's what we provide, is... well, first off, I talk about it in the book—the different skill sets. The book goes well beyond just "don't go to college." In fact, it helps you make that selection yourself. And also, it offers a number of other potential opportunities for you to go in other directions. Ideas, paths that have worked—some that have worked for me, in particular, and that I have been successful in. So, like I said, I'm passionate enough about it. I'm giving away the book as a free download at Go and get it, and learn from it, invest in their own education starting with doing some research there. But anyway, obviously I get wound up about this because I really feel that America has been kind of hoodwinked over this. The social pressure is intense among high schoolers and their peers, parents—parents feel like they're bad parents that they can't provide an Ivy League education, and that's not true. So, there are other paths. That's what we're talking about. And again, there's other solutions, and if they want to learn about those trade skills they can go to and they'll learn about that path, as well. In fact, there's actual courses that they can take there, so that's

Michael: See all of this... Gene, let me just jump in just for a second, because I think it's extremely important. I'm listening very closely to you. And everything that you've said, you're spot on. What's underneath it is, all off these are learned—I won't call them skills—but learned behaviors. Let's call them behaviors. And if you can learn something, you can unlearn and relearn that we've been driven towards this in result. We have been taught that this is the way to go. And when somebody goes that way, and they end up that much in debt, and they're back at home, and they're totally dependant—which is an interesting word—then all of a sudden you've got more and more people depending upon the government to be able to take care of them. And that is one of the reasons behind all of this. Without being a conspiracy theorist, which I'm not—I'm a pragmatist—so when it really comes down to it, you have to look at which we're being driven. Driven is the word here.

Gene: Well, I think the people driving the bus that direction—even though I believe they're driving it off a cliff—many of them truly believe they're doing the best thing. But what they're not willing to do is stop for a moment, smell the coffee, and really analyze the outcomes. In a business, you have to, because otherwise you're out of business. And that's what wakes you up. Government—they can keep going the wrong direction for a long long long long long time, and it's even generational, and still keep going. It just gets worse and worse and worse. You know, they say one of the problems when you find yourself digging a whole, step one: stop digging.

Michael: Yeah, no. Absolutely. Very quickly, because we're starting to run out of time. I want to touch on the—where did it go, I lost it... the...

Gene: Well, I'll just plug the book one more time, if you don't mind while you're thinking of that.

Michael: Well, go ahead.

Gene: They can get the free download at So you actually spell out the word "the" at And then the other one was the for courses on how to learn electrical, plumbing, welding, machining, locksmithing, masonry, carpentry, and so on.

Michael: That's where I was going! I couldn't find the name of it.

Gene: OK.

Michael: Great. OK, now, by the way. One more time please with the website, and we're good.

Gene: Sure. for a free download of the book, or if they want to buy a copy of the book, go to Amazon—it's available, they can purchase it there. Or, if they're interested in learning about trade skills, go to www

Michael: That's the one I was after

Gene: And you can learn about the courses and you study at home.

Michael: Wonderful. We would love to have you back on.

Gene: Thanks, Michael—it'd be great.

Michael: OK, ok. Take care, and thank you for being here. Bye bye.

Gene: You got it. Bye bye.