Law You Should Know—Gene Kelly Interview with Ken Landau

Welcome to Law You Should Know with attorney Kenneth J. Landau broadcasting from 90.3 WHPC FM.

Hi, this is Ken Landau, and welcome to Law You Should Know. Today we're going to have a unique topic—The College Myth and also preventing and being careful with college debt. And my special guest is Gene W. Kelly, and he's the author of The College Myth, and he's going to tell us why people should think twice before they spend tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars on college, and give alternative ways that someone should think about as a way to earn a decent living in today's society. Gene, welcome to Law You Should Know.

Gene:  Hey, thanks Ken.

Ken: And I should also mention you are the Head of the Accelerated Technical Training Institute, and you can be reached at And what was one of the reasons why you wrote this book?

Gene: Well, two reasons, really. Number one was, I was frustrated in seeing students entering into a lot of debt to try and get a good job, because that's the reason most people go to college. They kind of feel like they're obligated to in today's society, but they go to college with the idea that, "When I get a degree, I'm going to go leave college and suddenly I will have a good job." Well, we've seen that that just isn't the case anymore. What they end up leaving with is a degree 50% of the time—half never get it—and they end up with a lot of debt and no marketable skills. So that was one reason—my frustration at seeing that; having people with degrees, college degrees, sometimes advanced degrees, work in my warehouse because they couldn't find other jobs. And the second reason was I took a different path in life. I went to Trade School, I worked for some people, I ended up owning a manufacturing company, went on to do many different things in my career, and you know, became the millionaire next door. So, there's an alternative path, and that's really what the discussion is all about. I'm not saying college is bad across the board—not at all. What I am saying is if you're looking for a good job, you need marketable skills, and you need to be aware. And I know you're concerned about this—about the excess of debt that's being pushed on college students today is just wrong, and it's not really fully disclosed how they're going to be carrying that burden for possibly decades, maybe even the rest of their life.

Ken: And I think you're seeing people need a plan. They should not just wander into college blindly. They need to really think about their career; their particular major; the cost of going to a particular school; and what it's likely to lead to after graduation, if they do graduate.

Gene: Absolutely. You know, there's so much peer pressure and societal pressure to move immediately frot high school into college without really understanding why you're there, like it's some place to suddenly grow up. Well, you know, maybe twenty-thirty years ago when it would cost a small fraction of what is costs today. But now, you know, students are spending at a private university up to a quarter million dollars to get a four-year degree. And a lot of that is through incurring debt, and we had this... you know, again, our society figured that, "Oh, everybody needs to be a knowledge worker. Yeah, that's it—a knowledge worker." So they're going to work in a cubicle for the rest of their life, and that's where everybody's going to be trained to. So they quit getting any real skills, any tactile skills, and mechanical skills, anything like that, I mean we need a ton of those folks right now and we don't have them. And yet, they made it easy for them to take on debt. Well, if there was more and more debt available, colleges kept raising their prices. But that debt that the students are taking—it's easy to get in, but it's hard to get rid of it. You can't just write it off, or get rid of it in a bankruptcy. You need to make sure that the investment you're making in a lifetime worth of skills is really going to pay off.

Ken: And I think also there's a certain amount of peer and societal pressure to go to the fancy, pretty, designer college, which is very expensive, versus the cheaper, perhaps public college.

Gene: Absolutely, because, you know, I think that a lot of the community colleges are excellent value. You know, really, there are three things that an employer wants to know. They want to know, number one: what do you know. Number two: what have you done, experience in life and in work. And number three, most important: what can you do for me. So when you're doing an interview, those are the three things that you really need to come  to the table with. What do you really know that's applicable; what have you really done that's applicable; and what can you do for the employer? So, if you walk in there with just your piece of paper, and you're sitting there saying, "Wow, I've got a degree from XYZ!" Hey, that's great. That might get you an interview, but it might not get you a job, and there's a lot of people that haven't been getting jobs. So, if you spent a quarter of a million bucks, or a hundred-thousand or fifty-thousand to get that, company name expecting you're magically going to get a job, that's not where it's at. You need real skills.

Ken: And, part of it also may boil down to supply and demand. If you have a college degree, there may be plenty of those people like you, while if you're a certified auto mechanic, or a plumber, or electrician, there may be fewer people with those qualifications.

Gene: Well, Ken, since you mentioned that, that is exactly where we're training a lot of people today through the Accelerated Technical Training Institute, and the reason is because not every one wants to sit and spend their whole life in a cubicle, number one. The knowledge worker jobs went overseas because they can be done over the internet, so you're competing with billions of people, literally, for low dollars. And number three: the United States needs its entire infrastructure rebuilt, and most of the people that know how to do that are greying—they're getting older, they're retiring! I know guys that are 70 and even 80 years old that've been brought back out of retirement just to do welding, and machining work, and so on. So you're absolutely right. Having a base set of skills is critical, and that's where I started and then I went on from there. You don't have to, you know, always be in any one position, but the more skills you have, the higher up the ladder you can go, the more opportunities that you see, the more things that you can create. You know, it just becomes... the whole world is an opportunity, is the way I see it.

Ken: And I think you were saying before that a four-year college is not the only way to acquire those marketable skills.

Gene: Well, I would challenge not the only way. It might not even be a way, because most of the colleges teach, you know... what they teach are a lot of “soft skills" and just not things that are immediately applicable. What we teach through our school, the Accelerated Technical Training Institute, is real skills that are needed and, you know, so they're welding, machining, plumbing, locksmithing, masonry, carpentry, etcetera—things you can get your hands on and do. But more important, what we teach is critical thinking skills and how to analyze systems. And what my students are able to do, and what I found myself able to do once I'd learned these skills, is to look at a variety of different problems. Even unrelated to the trade, but maybe a social problem, or a business problem, and be able to break down the system and analyze where in the system something's not working and make that quote repair.

And also, once you have those skills, you can use it if you're so inclined to start your own business, to be an entrepreneur, to hire other people with those skills, and you know, start a successful business. Well, think about it. Bill Gates. Zuckerberg. All the, you know, Dell—Michael Dell, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Most of these billionaires—they didn't even complete college. No one's going to there, and saying, "Oh wait a minute. We need to take away all your stock and stock options and your billions because you don't have a degree." There are more millionaires that are private business owners than there are that work for some company. And usually those often come from having a set of skills that you can leverage into a business, or work up into a business, acquire a business, or just even have the skills without the debt to start building a portfolio—buying houses, buying stocks, whatever it might be, because you're not paying someone else all this money. You know, our government has allowed people and helped people get in all this student debt, because just like during the housing bubble when they said, "Gee, everybody needs their own house", if you had a pulse you'd get a loan. Well, the same thing with school loans, you know, student loans. "Oh, everybody needs to have a college education. Everybody, come on, take on this debt."

Ken: And it's really one of the few areas where they don't test credit worthiness. If you're buying a house, or if you want to qualify for a business loan, you might have to demonstrate you have a business plan or competence or have a high credit score. But, as you said, the government or other lenders will lend you the money, because the government is ultimately guaranteeing the debt.

Gene: Right, right. Ultimately. But, they're not letting anybody off the hook on this. Oh, no! Doesn't mean you'll get away with it, but the lender or the, let's say, the school will get—doesn't have to worry about your success. They don't have skin in the game.

Ken: Exactly. And yet, you do because unlike the housing, you can't charge off student debt.  And, your parents—if they signed on to it—your parents may also be handicapped by the debt as they get older and need to retire and need money for their own needs.

Gene: Absolutely, Ken! A lot of people, a lot of families, are deferring retirement because they have to keep working to try and pay either for a student to go through school, or to help pay off all that student debt. I know a lot of families like that. I'm suggesting you look at a different route where, for a few thousand, or couple ten- or twenty-thousand dollars, you can get training that you can immediately go into the field and start making money with.

Ken: Right. We also do want to suggest to people who do want to go to college, or even graduate school, you major in a marketable skill; where you've done your research that you're going to learn a skill, whether it's engineering or accounting or something really marketable, and you've also done your due diligence about the program that the graduates are going to be sought after from that particular program. So, I agree with you, but—and certainly, just majoring in something that's not going to lead to a marketable skill is a recipe for disaster.

Gene: Absolutely. Know that... Ken, you're right, and I agree with that. And Ken, you know, once upon a time I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. And I went wisely before I tried to get into school, which I probably wouldn't have qualified for anyway, but I went and worked for a bit—for a little bit. Now—"Holy cow! This is not what I thought it was, at all!" Now what if I'd gone through seven years of college, saying I had the grades, before I even begin to work in the—I would've been trapped in that field the rest of my life just paying off the debt.

And there's another issue there, and this was in a long article in the New York Times a few months ago about debt. Veterinarians, if they went to certain schools, they have problems paying off their debt because a vet, even if they're sought after and enjoying their work, can only earn so much in today's world. And they have tremendous debt depending on the vet program they attended.

So I think a different approach to college is needed. One, that maybe you go out and test the world first. Learn some skills. Get a good job. Try different things. And then when it's appropriate, you go to college. And that's why I wrote a book. I wrote a book called The College Myth, and I am so adamant about this and so, you know, fired up about getting this conversation going in this country, that I'm giving away copies of the book.

Ken: Right. And Gene, we have to take a short break now. When we come back, I'll let you tell our audience how they can get a free copy of your book, and we'll continue our discussion about The College Myth and preventing college debt from controlling you. We're talking with Gene Kelly—he's an entrepreneur. He's also the head of the Accelerated Technical Training Institute, and you're listening to Law You Should Know, here one WHPC 90.3FM, the voice of Nassau Community College in Garden City Long Island New York. Also over the internet at We'll be back in a moment.

[Commercial Break]

Ken: Hi, this is Ken Landau, and welcome back to Law You Should Know. We're talking with Gene Kelly—he's the author of the book The College Myth, about why it's not the best idea for someone to just attend a four-year college, especially a private college, unless they're certain they're going to have a marketable skill and be able to repay their loans at the end of the process. And, Gene, in a minute I'm going to let you give out the information on how our listeners can get a free copy of the book. I also do want to mention that there was just a message about the paralegal program here at Nassau Community College, and I think that's one example of a low-cost high-caliber program that can lead people to a marketable career. And just one example that you don't have to spend a lot of money or a lot of time on acquiring a marketable skill. Gene, I know you're very passionate about the topic and that's why you wrote the book, The College Myth, and just tell our listeners what the book is about and how they can get a free copy.

Gene: Sure Ken, thank you. Well, the book The College Myth is available, free, at You go there, you can download a free copy. If you want to buy a hard copy, it's available through Amazon, as well. The other thing that I want—you talked just a moment ago about some local job skills. And there are so many things like that—so many good private institutions. There are some people that try and give private institutions a bad rap. But the fact of the matter is, dollar for dollar invested, more people are going to work immediately after getting a private skill set, or a skill set—true skill set, marketable skill set—from a company that is in the business of marketing education, because they're highly regulated. You have to deliver for the most part. There's a few bad apples in any orchard, but you know, the public institutions and universities—they don't... aren't really held really to the same standard, because "Gee, you got your degree!" But in any case, whether it be private, public, whatever, as we said earlier, you really need to do your due diligence and understand is there a market for those skills. Am I going to be able to get employed. We're very big in trying to train people in one of the areas where there's the largest gap in our country right now, which is in marketable—excuse me, is in actual physical trade skills: welding, machining, locksmithing, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, masonry. These are things that need to be done here in the United States. They are not going to be exported off-shore. In addition to that, there's an interesting phenomena happening right now with the low-energy cost that we're getting out of the Midwest. We are actually starting to onboard manufacturing again into the U.S. The problem is, the biggest stumbling block is they can't find enough trained people—people with basic trade skills that can do these jobs. So, there's literally right now, at any given time, there are literally hundreds of thousands of jobs available in the trades. It's a huge shortage.

Ken: And as you said, just to go back to the beginning of the program, that some people discourage someone from learning trade skills. They see it as demeaning or not egalitarian, but many people are going to be hurt by going to—automatically going to college, or even getting graduate degrees if there's no jobs available that are going to give them enough income to repay back the debt and live a decent life.

Gene:  Absolutely. And if someone gets a job, a good well-paying job, not just a paper hat job where they're working in some, you know, easily replaceable business—by having skills you can move up within that company, you can start your own company, you can save money that, because you don't have the debt of college, and start investing... there's many different opportunities. And even in life, later on if you went to college after that, got a great job, became the CEO of a major corporation, got money coming out of your ears, you still know how to do stuff, which is—I find so many now don't even know how to handle basic repairs in their home, around their vehicles, etcetera. I actually had a conversation—well overheard a conversation between my son and his roommate, where they were working on something and the roommate said, "Hey, you got a screwdriver?" and my son said, "Sure, what do you need—a Phillips or a flathead?" And the other guy said, "Uh, well gee, I really don't know much about that sort of thing." And this is an educated kid!

Ken: But I do want to also caution that the—and maybe this is true from your experience—that the school, the college industry, and even the graduate school industry, do a tremendous job of advertising and pushing their programs, and having people sign up for the programs, and signing up for all kinds of loans so they can attend those programs. And it's up to the student to really make sure that it's a good investment of their time and money, because they may graduate with a degree, but they're also going to be stuck with that debt.

Gene: That's a fact. And that is the whole point of The College Myth.

Ken: And it's not just college—it could be a Masters degree or a PhD or even a law school degree. Just getting a degree is not automatically a ticket to a high—sufficiently high-paying job in today's world.

Gene: If you don't have marketable skills, you can take your degree but you better be good at asking "Would you like cream—room for cream?" (indiscernible 20:58), OK? So that's where a lot of those folks end up, in the kind of jobs like that. And we need people in all types of jobs, but why not have something at the end of the day—you made something, you built something, you created something, you have a reason for getting up in the morning to go to work and be excited about it. And, you're not, you know, tossing and turning all night having a giant, you know, pile of debt hanging over your head. It limits people further—people are delaying buying houses, they're delaying getting married, they're delaying having kids, all because the debt they're carrying. This is wrong, and it's going to cost us a huge—it is a crisis now, and I think it's going to get worse, and so...

Ken: Because of the amount of debt has spiraled out of control...
Gene: Totally.
Ken: And there's some people called the "College Debt Bubble", just as we had a housing bubble a few years ago.
Gene: It really is. It's gone up over 2000% in the last 30 years.

Ken: And until the very the past few years, no one even thought about it. As you said, they proceeded blindly into signing up for that college at 50 or 60 thousand dollars a year; choosing a major that would not give them any chance of paying it back.

Gene: Well, and, you know, about four years ago I wrote this book and started the process of, you know, sounding the bells and banging the drums and trying to make people aware. And now they're starting to come around. I just recently revised the book and it's out for further distribution. And, like I said, I went to the point of just giving it away free because I want the conversation to be happening everywhere. What's best for our students, our kids?

Ken: Right. And also, as you mentioned, on one hand they're going to have massive college debt. But on the other hand, they're going to be under—or unemployed degree earner, so psychologically they're not going to feel good about all the time they spent, you know, earning that degree because it's not going to be worth much.

Gene: A lot of them actually end up stunted and stuck on the couch because they don't feel that they can go out and get an entry-level job. And so, since this job that they had in their mind that they thought was going to be offered to them isn't available, and they're not qualified for it, they just get stuck and it's very depressing, and I'm trying to break people free from that. And that's why our trade skills that we teach virtually via video and online—in fact, if they want to learn about those they can go to Learn some trade skills very rapidly, go get a job, start building your own little empire, if you will. So that's the message, Ken. We've got to get people to break free of the shackles of society that's saying, "Oh, you must go to college!" And instead, say, "No, what you really need is the skills that's going to enhance your life, whatever direction that is, whether it's college or trade school or doing something else."

Ken: Right. And of course, if you are going to go to college, you've got to make sure you carefully pick your major—that it's going to provide you with a marketable skill, perhaps Accounting or something else or engineering? And you also got to make sure that you're getting the best bang for your buck, and choosing the school carefully. And that skill—

Gene: And graduate quickly, because the average right now is 5.7 years to complete a four-year degree.

Ken: Right. We just have a moment or two left in the program. Just tell us how to get the book for free for our listeners, and just sum up your—what you think the book will tell them about.

Gene: Well, I think the book will help them determine whether or not they want to go to college, or take an alternative path. They can get a free copy at

If they want to learn about how to acquire trade skills to get into the trades, they can go to And I really wish everybody the best. I want to see people in America achieve their dreams like I have, and that all starts with getting a job that you can do, that you can be proud of, and then building from there.

Ken: And for those people who do have student debt, there might be things they can do to maximize the repayment, to refinance, to stretch it out. There might be some type of forgiveness[unsure? 25:25] programs, but they should check with a lawyer or accountant who is knowledgeable about those areas. And whatever you've heard on today's show is presented as information only, and not as legal or financial advice. But they take advantage of the book. Think carefully before you sign up for any kind of training or graduate school, even a trade school or four-year college. Pick a marketable skill and look for the best bang for your buck. And Gene, any final thoughts?

Gene: Well, America right now needs people with trade skills, so I really encourage them to look into that arena that could give them the bedrock to build a family; to build a future for themselves. And, I'd strongly encourage that, and avoid debt as much as you can.

Ken: And I think people can also find people in those fields—ask them how they like the jobs, how they got their training, and what they like and don't like about it. And speak to potential employers about what kind of background they like people to have, and what sources they like for training.

Gene: That's absolutely true. And think we've hopefully given people a little bit of opportunity to pause and think and consider, even if they're halfway through the college process, before they acquire a lot more debt, make sure they're at least on the right path.

Ken: And some people go to a community college first, as opposed to a public community. One is a way of getting some—a step toward higher education for free without inundating themselves with debt, and saving on the cost in the process. And again, every step hopefully acquiring a marketable skill.

Gene: And I think community college is a lot of bang for a very small buck.

Ken: And I think the society is starting to encourage that, and society is also encouraging people to rush in and sign up for all the student debt, and for parents and relatives and family to do the same as well—to proceed cautiously. OK, I'd like to thank our guest Gene Kelly, and you can get his book by going to for free download. And please keep in mind, whatever you've heard is for information only. You're listening to Law You Should Know, here on 90.3 WHPC the voice of Nassau Community College in Garden City Long Island New York. Please join us next week at the same time for another program on Law You Should Know. And these programs are also available over the internet at, and our free podcast is available at