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The UnCollege Blog

Interview: Why a High School Teacher Supports UnCollege

Paul Wegzyn was a high school salutatorian, majored in mathematics and economics in college, dropped out of an MBA/MSA program to play online poker player and now he teaches, farms, and blogs about education.

How did you learn about UnCollege and why are you interested in the UnCollege movement?

I first heard about UnCollege from a friend after I had set up my blog, which is about the evolving economy and how the current education system needs to be transformed.

I became very interested in the whole idea of "hacking your education" and wish UnCollege had been around back when I was in high school!

For me, I went through the entire education system without questioning what I was doing because it seemed that high school success was important for college and that college was required to get a good job and be financially successful.

I think the path mentioned above used to lead to financial success because the scarcity of a college degree used to differentiate a person. However, now a college degree is attained by such a high percentage of the population, which makes a degree far less valuable.

To differentiate yourself today, I think individuals should hack their own education by creating their own unique learning path. To do this, I would utilize all the resources on the UnCollege website find and connect with mentors in fields you're interested in, and display your skills/achievements through different mediums such as a personal website.

It is also important to remember that learning is a lifelong journey, and there is no rush to attend college or get trapped in student loan debt immediately after high school.

Could you elaborate on why you became a teacher?

Sure, that's a very good question because I never thought I would spend time teaching in a high school!

Well, after completing my bachelor’s degree, I still wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life, so I enrolled in a dual MBA/MSA (masters in accounting) program. After a short time in the program, I realized I did not want to be trapped in an office working as an accountant.

At the time, I had been playing a lot of online poker and before I dropped out, I met and connected with a few of the most successful online players in the world. I mentioned that I was planning to drop out of school, and two of these poker players offered to back, mentor, and coach me while I figured out what I really wanted to do.

I knew I never wanted to play online poker long term because it is a zero sum game that does little to benefit society, but I saw a short term opportunity where some players definitely had a large competitive advantage. Soon after, online poker became illegal in the United States, so I needed to reconsider what I wanted to do and how I could enrich and contribute to other people’s lives.

As I started reflecting back on my life and my education journey, I began to see more and more of my friends trapped in student loan debt. I then began reading student loan horror stories, and I was shocked to learn that there was about $1 trillion in student loan debt.

I knew I needed to find a way to help some of these students, so I decided to get back into the education system to learn more about some of the problems I had been reading about. I began tutoring at a community college, and then I started tutoring high school students in their homes and then via Skype. In the fall of 2012, I began teaching economics, statistics, and trigonometry at a private high school in Boston that has a unique student body comprised of students from over 20 countries.

You mentioned student loan debt a few times. What are your thoughts on the current $1.1 trillion in debt?

Obviously there is a lot of student loan debt, but there is also a tremendous amount of government debt (over $16 trillion in the US). Interest rates are near historic lows, and the value of fiat money has been steadily depreciating, so I really think the student loan debt issue is a subset of a much larger government debt problem.

But just to focus on student loan debt, I think this whole issue is going to be a complete disaster, and I am really worried about future generations. Often times, I find myself up late at night thinking about the education journey for a current student in elementary school or middle school.

What will the education journey will be like for these younger individuals?How expensive is college going to get? Are MOOCs and Open Course Ware sites going to be help drive down costs and create a new university setting? Where are the high paying jobs going to be to service all this debt?

However, in the short term, more and more individuals will want a student loan bailout or some short term interest rate reduction, which will only benefit current holders of student loan debt.

This potential bailout is not a great idea because it will most likely be inflationary in nature, the burden of the debt will be shifted to an already broke US government (and US taxpayer), and student loans will continue to be a problem until something is done to fundamentally fix how expensive education has become.

Some individuals argue that education is always a good investment, but if it was, then why is so much student loan debt and why is it increasing?

Also, many individuals will point to statistics that show how much more money college graduates make in their lifetime, but these statistics are not useful for today's students. First, these statistics do not reflect how expensive college has become and how much debt students take on. Second, much of the data from non-college graduates probably comes from individuals who were unmotivated and did little to create their own learning path.

Ultimately, I think college tuitions could be lowered by reducing government guaranteed student loans, and by making it more difficult for prospective students to borrow money unless they have a clear and concrete education plan. This would decrease demand for college, and help drive down price, but I know this would be a very unpopular political move that would be seen as anti-education.

All I know is that we don't have much time to address these issues because it is predicted that student loan debt could be at $3.84 trillion by 2023!

So what advice would you give to UnCollege readers?

Individuals should be reading all of your great blog posts and newsletters, they should be figuring out what problems other people have and then be thinking about ways to solve these problems.

I would also recommend that individuals:

- Learn more about money and investing

- Discover ways to generate cash flow through a job or other means

- Consider alternative education routes like vocational schools

- Take a gap year


-Do not take out large student loans if you plan to attend college

Finally, UnCollege readers should realize that many paths lead to a happy, and financially secure life. In today's world, most of these roads probably do not include the traditional college route.

You can connect with Paul on his page, his personal website or through Freedom After College.