I've started writing a small book on how to get out of poverty by using education. You can find what I've written so far at the github repo for Exiting Poverty Through Education.
Below, I've posted the second chapter, which I hope might be useful to someone.
Anyone Can Go To College
I can't tell you how many times people have told me that they "can't afford to go to college." The saddest part of it is that most of them actually believe it, and it is a bald-faced untruth.
Politicians like to bandy about phrases like "an education isn't worth what it used to be". Uneducated adults may try to tell you to look at people like Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college, started a business, and became a billionaire. Politicians do this because they want to draw attention away from the fact that higher education in the United States is massively underfunded compared to other nations, and convince voters that higher education isn't worth spending on so they can put your tax dollars somewhere else. Adults are doing it simply because they want to convince themselves that they can still get rich even though they don't have an education. When you look around, the cases where people actually manage to get out of poverty without either a whole lot of luck or a whole lot of work are few and far between. The simple fact is that if you are coming from poverty you almost always need a good education.
Let's actually take a look at Steve Jobs. He may not have gotten where he was just because of education, but the truth is that he had to use up a lot of luck to get where he did. Do you want to rely on luck to get out of poverty? Odds are that you won't even have any funds to take risks with if you don't get an education. A college education may not be the easy in to a good job that it once was, but not having a college education is an easy out of most good jobs. For every person like Steve Jobs who took massive risks and got massive reward, there are likely hundreds who took the massive risk and ended up living with their parents in the basement. But you? If you came from poverty your parents may not have a basement. They may be struggling to pay their rent, so how could they possibly feed and house you? It is your responsibility to plan your safety nets for your adult life, not theirs.
Some people will try to tell you that you can work your way up. They say that you can get a job at a fast food restaurant, save up, and then use that do [....some unspecified thing] that will help you get out of poverty. This is garbage.
If you are trying to get out of poverty using a minimum wage job, you are doing it wrong. You simply can't make enough money to pay your rent, feed and clothe yourself, and save up much of anything. You certainly won't be able to save up for college from a fast food job. Do you know how much a good college education costs in 2013? Really? Go google the cost of 4 years at Harvard right now.
Did you do it?
I did. Today it says that a full year of costs at Harvard is nearly $63,000. So 4 years at Harvard will cost you $252,000. With a federal minimum wage of $7.25, that's 34758 hours. With an average working year of 2086 hours, that is nearly 17 years working and taking nothing out of your paycheck to feed or clothe yourself, or to have a roof over your head. So no, you will never save up for Harvard at a minimum wage job. You will be dead before you can do it that way.
Why did I pick Harvard? Because the better the school you go to, the better the contacts you can make, the better your degree looks on your resume, and the more likely you'll get a good job when you get out. Rich people know this, that's why they send their kids to good schools. You think they just wanted to throw away money? It is about building as much opportunity for yourself as you can.
I'm not saying that online education isn't good. I'm saying that if you need to get out of poverty, online education isn't going to provide you the contacts or the instant prestige to get the job that you need to get to stay out of poverty. Once you already have contacts and prestige, please, go do online education. Learn as much as you can stuff in your brain! But until then, you need to go where the people are, and you need to go somewhere people think that you had to work hard to get a degree.
What about community college? Yes, you might be able to save up for a few years at community college if you scrimp and save for a long time. You may even be able to use community college to get a degree in something that is immediately valuable to your community, and get a job in it. You may be able to leave poverty this way, but I think it is not as reliable as a 4 year degree since the needs of a community constantly shift, and a very specific degree may be totally useless in a few years, and then you'll be back where you were before you started, a few years older, and a few years more difficult to educate.
If you are already an adult, then community college is useful to you. You may want to use community college to get a transfer into a 4 year institution. We'll talk more about how you might fund that transition in the next chapter: How to Afford College.