( reading time: 5 min. 15 sec, )

Education can provide a path to our dreams. Education allows us to bring more knowledge to more people. There are multiple options for learning things to influence our future.

Education is a wonderful option for me when it gives us the foundation to deliver knowledge and skills in the future. We need to know the cost and expected reward beyond having a degree or certification. The educational choice should move toward our financial goals, and it should be something we can engage with year after year to reap those rewards.

The path to knowing if the choices ahead of us are on target includes the following considerations. What is good for someone else is good for them. Each of us benefits from knowing the following considerations match our educational choices.

Education should have a target.

If the education reaches the target, it is good. What are your financial targets and your meaningful work objectives?

Let’s begin by asking what the meaningful work objectives are for you. When we start our careers, we may not begin with the target best job ever. If we are going to delay moving to acquire income and either spend resources or go into debt for our training, we want to have a reason to take this path.

What target makes this worth the income delay and any investment required? You don’t need to start knowing all the future pivots, but part of being an independent adult is making choices with the future in mind. Friends and family may support pivots, but it is wrong to expect them to carry the cost of those pivots. So, think of it this way. What path looks worth sticking with for the next twenty years?

This doesn’t mean you cannot pivot. It means you have chosen something to get started. It means the path, even if not initially, supports where you hope to be in your career and income skills. Career changes are common in the late thirties and early forties. They can happen at any point, but wandering from job to job is like the old cliche: the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. We need to figure out a win that happens on our side of the fence with our education and career.

Return On Investment

Look at education like buying a business. It is an investment, not a right of passage. In this article by SCORE, the Service Corps of Retired Executives of Southeast Minnesota stated four goals.

  1. Why is the owner selling?
  2. What are the financials?
  3. What is the business’s reputation?
  4. Does the purchase include everything you need to seamlessly run the business?

If we convert that list to how we think about our school and training providers, it might help us make a better decision. We hope people consider these concerns when buying a business because they are essential to making decisions that give a predictable return on investment. Sadly, too many of us have gone to college and not gotten a good return for the time or money we have spent on our education.

What are they selling?

At first, it seems like education is what they are selling. Getting the grand tour of a college campus is an introduction to all the amenities. Look at the dorm rooms. Look at the dining facilities. Look at the sports and recreational opportunities. Look at the incredible grounds with gardens and architecture. Oh, then there are the student activities and support services. And if that didn’t impress you, then let’s get an introduction to the alumni and professors with fame and accomplishments.

All of those things are good, but only some of those things increase our learning capacity or retention. It is natural to prefer an elevated experience to a simpler one. The priority with education, though, is what we listed above: results.

What are the financials?

If we go to a school, we want to know if the school can afford to provide the wonderful promises of education and beyond. We found another article by SCORE on this topic. Did you know that between 2015 and 2019, 86 colleges shut down or merged with other schools? That was all pre-COVID. In 2022, more than a million fewer students are enrolled in college than before the pandemic. This means schools have fewer funds.

Remember to ask if your degree or training will deliver the income you expect for your post-education life. Here is a link to the Bureau of Labor Statistics to research pay expectations. ( https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm ) If the career is in decline or doesn’t pay well, then the value of education is not as good. This is not a no as much as knowing what you are buying.

What is the school’s reputation?

The degree you get from a community school may have a different status than the big-name schools. The biggest concern isn’t the sports teams and facilities; those are all bonus options. The primary concern is getting the education you need.

Gone are the days when a degree would guarantee you a better-paying job or a job at all. There were places where this used to be accurate, but too many people followed that thinking without delivering more than the non-degree workers. If you get a degree, certificate, or other validation of training, you also need to retain the knowledge and skills to bring to your work in the future.

Does the tuition include everything you need for a future career?

Many careers recognize the challenge of the student retaining the knowledge in the years ahead. Some of them deal with this by offering and requiring continuing educational credits. This is a smaller future cost of education, but without it, the benefit of the education may not achieve your goals.

We also know people who went to schools for technical training where they implied there were guaranteed opportunities for graduates. From software development to HVAC technicians, the guarantee has considerations not presented upfront. You may have to move and leave your family and friends for technical jobs. You may have to spend time as an apprentice in the service industry before you can get one of those jobs. Finding an apprentice opportunity can be a challenge.

Free Blindness

When something is free, we often don’t consider the results of accepting it. Many schools promote free tuition, but you must read the small print. Your school may not offer any and all classes as free. Also, education isn’t free. If taxes pay for it, we are all paying for it. Please don’t waste other people’s generosity.

It would also be a flaw only to choose a free opportunity. The free opportunity would avoid future debt or working during our learning seasons. That is good if the choice is what you want to do for years to come. Nobody wants a free ticket to somewhere they don’t want to spend time. That applies to the time we are learning and where that learning takes us once we have our degrees and certificates.

Another consideration is beyond the degree. What makes one worker better than others is the mindsets they bring with their education and skills. We are not saying free means a person is lazy or lacking anything. That could be a sign of well-placed frugality. For some of us, it could also be the path to entitlement. When people carry entitlement into the workforce, it drains the power of teams and doesn’t build workplace culture in a healthy way.

In Summary

You don’t need to be sold on the benefits of education. It would be best if you were sure the path you take brings you the benefits you want in the future. It is best if the residual cost of education doesn’t drain our resources from life outside of our work. Good targeting, good ROI, and good mindsets will make our education rewarding. This is the answer to when education is a wonderful option for me.


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