The value of an education


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I see a great deal of debate recently about the value of higher education, and whether the high cost of university is worth it from a job market/earning power perspective. I have this debate myself recently, seeing the challenges my own children are facing, coming out of college and trying to enter the workforce.

I have a few thoughts on the topic that I would like to share.

The debate scares the hell out of me

We already live in a society that does not particularly respect or reward intelligence, certainly not the way it should. People are very rarely rewarded or recognized for academic success, except insofar as it might help them be financially successful.

Most parents would much more proudly proclaim their child’s talents as an athlete or entrepreneur than as a scientist or researcher.

In addition, we see a strong social trend towards active disrespect of scientific or research disciplines because the results might challenge religious dogma and political rhetoric.

I see the arguments against higher education as threatening the very future of our society. We already have far too few young people entering engineering or scientific disciplines.

You get what you pay for

Ok – so I am not referring specifically to what your higher education costs, in dollars. What I really mean is that you get out of a higher education pretty much what you put into it.

If you are studying something for which you have a passion, if you throw yourself into your studies heart and soul, if you embrace and enjoy the entire experience, then I have no doubt at all that you will see great value from your education both economically and personally.

If on the other hand, you are only there because your parents said you should be and they are paying for it, if you pick your program based on least difficulty or avoiding early morning classes, and if you only apply yourself to least extent necessary to get by, then you will probably get out of education exactly what you put – diddly squat.

So, like many things, what value you get out of higher education depends very much on what value you are looing for.

A good education is more valuable than a mediocre education

A few generations ago, higher education was available to a small enough segment of the population that getting a university degree, no matter in what field or from what school, gave you a significant competitive advantage when it came to the working world.

More recently, say in my generation or the one before it, higher education had become significantly more accessible, but it was still typically sufficient to have a good degree from a good school (and have had reasonably good marks) to have a high probability of long term success.

Now, however, having a degree is not in and of itself a strong differentiator when it comes to the job market. It is now more important that ever to invest in an education that matches your goals. If your goal is to be highly employable and make lots of money, you better be very careful to choose a discipline and a school that matches that goal. Otherwise, you will be one of those who sees your education as a waste.

Education does not guarantee success

This should be obvious, but an education does not in and of itself guarantee success. Actually, nothing guarantees success. All you can hope for is to follow a path and takes actions which improve the probability of success.

People often point examples of very successful individuals who did not finish university, and say “that proves that you do not need higher education to be successful”. That is very true, but remember that such cases statistical outliers, and are so rare as to be meaningless in planning you future. Others often use these examples to support statements like “higher education is a waste”.

Again, what is critical is to have some idea where you are going, and then choose a type and level of education which is appropriate to those goals.

But please, do not discount higher education completely based upon questionable, anecdotal evidence.

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About

I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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Posted in Education, Life, Rant, Society
One comment on “The value of an education
  1. […] few weeks ago, I wrote a post about The Value of an Education talking about the debate that is going on as to whether post secondary education is worth the cost, […]

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Please keep in mind that any opinions, points-of-view, comments, or other content which I post to this site are mine and mine alone. They in no way reflect the views of my employer, my country, my dog, my cat, or anyone else you can think of. To paraphrase Monty Python, "That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is, too."

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