The ROI of a Traditional Education
I never had the opportunity to be a traditional student - living the college life with a safety net and credit card from my parents.
I was fortunate enough to juggle full-time school with full-time work. As I look back, I wouldn't have had it any other way, the exhausting experience was well worth it because it pointed me in the right direction and helped me realize what I like and don't like.
College to me was about: work, productivity, advancement, intense study and research - real painful learning curves! But in the end you triumph and grow with confidence to take on your future and make the most of it
However, as a return on investment, is college really worth it? I guess that depends on what you can do with it. I was privileged enough to get scholarships for both my degrees, so the ROI for me was great. But would I pay $90,000 for a bachelor's degree for my son? Then another $120,000+ for a graduate or professional degree?
This Fast Company article analyzes several reports that suggest college graduates experience a 35-85% increase in income after graduating from college, nevertheless it really just depends on what your field of study is.
Engineers and business majors are at the top of the salary pyramid, while psychology and graduates in education and social work are begging for the table scraps. So given the right major, college is worth it…right?
Seth Godin points out that student debt in the United States is approaching a trillion dollars (five times what it was ten years ago).
He poses the question, “Are those in debt buying more education or are they seeking better branding in the form of coveted diplomas?”
The underlying question here is, “Does a $40,000 a year education that comes with an elite degree deliver ten times the education of a cheaper but no less rigorous self-generated approach assembled from less-famous institutions and free or inexpensive resources?”
If it does not, then what you're paying for are the connections, the doors it will open and the jobs it will snatch up. So then, it’s really a marketing strategy, and if it works then that expensive piece of paper will pay for itself rather quickly.
In my opinion, a marketing strategy could shift the dial, but that does not mean it's always worth the money.
So, is spending a trillion dollars on degrees the best way for individuals to go about marketing themselves? I wonder what the economy, and society, would be like if people spent this money on building up their work history? What if it was spent on just becoming smarter, more creative, resourceful and self-sufficient?
Would young, creative people with fresh ideas be more willing to take on greater amounts of risk because they owe less money?
Today, there’s definitely a shortfall of intelligent, bootstrapping, and motivated people in our organizations. I don’t believe we need better labeled or more certified people. We just need them to be motivated enough to solve problems and actually care about what they are doing.
My suggestion is this: take a little longer in college, couple it with work experience in your field of study and apply the things you learn in the classroom every single day. Then your job becomes more like a lab rather than just a job. In this scenario, you build a work history, create contacts, and get that ever-important piece of paper that says you're worth more than you really are.
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Paul Hill, Ph.D.
I design, plan, and evaluate economic development programs for Utah State University.
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