“…despite having gone back to college numerous times to update my skills…. I think I’ve finally given up on that, considering how little it gained me in the long term.”
That snippet is from my previous post. I know my college professor friends think I’m an idiot to believe that education does not necessarily directly benefit me. I know that my other friends with PhDs think the same. I can’t argue with them on the statistics. It’s easy to find statistics absolutely proving that further education, and specifically an additional college degree, assures people additional income for life. EarnMyDegree.com has a cute graphic showing that someone with a mere bachelor’s degree will earn only half of what someone with a professional degree will. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has an even better graphic directly comparing the rate of unemployment against the level of education that we receive. Want to be unemployed? Don’t finish high school. Want to earn more than $1,500 a week? Get a doctoral degree. Moreover, if you want to bridge the gender and racial gap in earnings, the way to do it is to get further education. Highly educated women earn more than so-so educated men. Highly educated women of color earn more than so-so educated white men.
All my life I have believed in the value of education in a cultural sense. Education is what connects us to our historical past. Education enriches our lives. It is the opposite of ignorance. But as I have gotten older, I have realized that not all my education has stuck with me. In particular, the education that was specifically designed to gain me a job. I’ve taken computer classes whose knowledge I could not apply directly because I did not have employment that required me to use the program. Buying the program for myself would have cost more than the class. How many of us personally own a copy of Quark, for instance? How many of us, who have PowerPoint on our computers free, create PowerPoint presentations just for fun? High school courses on computer programs are usually out of date even when offered. College courses can be, too, so you go the commercial route, to a trade school. These classes are very expensive, and most people in them are being paid for by their employer. If you are not, then you’ve got a problem because you risk losing your newly gained expertise if you don’t have an arena in which to use it constantly. It looks nice on my resume to say that I know Quark, but a one-week seminar, no matter how expensive, does not give mastery in a program.
What is education for, then? It’s for teaching us how to think. Everything else is a mere list of facts or formulas, all of which can be forgotten or become outdated. Knowing how to think applies to every situation in our lives on a daily basis. But even patterns of thought can become antiquated and dysfunctional, so the continuing value of education is in showing us how to think differently as circumstances change.
How we gain our education is the question. For young people, I would always recommend college because it exposes you to a wider world than you’re likely to have met previously. For older people who want to switch careers, further formal education makes sense and can give you a cohort of contacts who will become your new network. But there are others of us who don’t need another class or mastery of yet another application. We need to rethink how we’re dealing with our circumstances, how to make the subtle yet significant changes that will change the outcomes we’ve typically achieved in the past. Sometimes it’s easier to sign up for a course and pay for it than to acknowledge that our behavior or attitude is more significant in determining our worldly success than the list of degrees and certifications after our names. Sometimes we get sold the idea that more education, specifically new job training, will change our lives. For most people, it won’t, unless what is activated during the class is the desire to think differently and act differently.
On balance, I’m not against formal education, but I think that for me, right now, it’s not the answer. That does not mean that ten years from now I won’t decide to return to college for another degree.