De-constructing Society’s Educational Norms: Do your Life Goals Really Require a Traditional Education?

The validity of the entire educational system, and in particular for the purposes of this post – traditional public and private post-secondary degrees has been under the microscope much more in recent years. And for good reason. Costs are growing disproportionately and resulting in huge debt loads, most of the coursework is available for free online, and people are starting to realize that interest-based learning will ultimately lead to more satisfaction. Since this is a personal finance blog, we’ll start with costs.

Education Inflation

The cost of a traditional college education has skyrocketed. Since 1978, the CPI and wages have increased ~3 times, housing prices have increased 4X, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13!

tuition inflation

At the same time, some of these same private institutions (Stanford, MIT, Harvard) are offering their classes online for free. Hmm… that’s odd.

The Difference Between School (Being Taught to) Vs. Genuine Interest Based Learning Immersion

School is all about testing, and attendance, and credits, and tuition, and note taking, and pop quizzes, and scores, and bell curves, and fear, and all that stuff that doesn’t necessarily make you prepared to enter the work force as a professional ready to positively contribute to society.

True interest based learning, on the other hand, comes only from self-initiative to follow your interests and become immersed in hands-on experience. You’re great at something because you want to be – and our entire society benefits as a result.

School can get you in the door to an employer and can help you climb the ladder.

Interest based learning and the passion and experience that comes from it, can make you elite.

Which sounds better to you?

Which Nurse Would you Rather Have?

A person that I’m very close to is studying to be a nurse right now. In researching all of the educational opportunities available to her, she ended up choosing to go with a 1.5 year accelerated associates degree through a community college that offers a number of online courses and on-the-job training versus a bachelor degree from a university. The associate costs one-fourth of the price of the bachelor’s.

And here’s where it gets interesting. Those graduating from the associate program are getting chosen by employers over those with the bachelor’s degree – AND getting paid just as much. Employers are recognizing that they are better prepared to enter the workforce, smashing down the wall of traditional thought that ‘higher degree = more qualified employee ‘. In this case, ‘less school + more experience > more school + less experience’. It’s rare, but a start in the right direction.

That’s the employer’s perspective, but what about the customer’s? Your significant other or mother or father ends up in intensive care. Who would you rather want to have taking close care of them?  The nurse that just graduated with his/her expensive piece of paper the nurse – OR – the nurse with an associate degree who spent two years shadowing and working with nurses in intensive care

Which ‘Engineer’ would you Rather Have?

You’re the CEO of a tech startup in Silicon Valley in desperate need of expanding it’s user base through the use of social media. Because you’re a brand new company, you’re just starting to hire. You were engineer #1 and you’re looking for engineer #2. The two most qualified candidates that apply for the job are a 20 year old kid with no degree and a PHD in computer engineering from MIT. Easy choice, right? Not so fast. The kid has built 3 multi-million dollar selling social media applications while the MIT grad has a stellar resume with no real world accomplishment. Which do you hire?

But the Resistance is Strong from Larger Employers…

In the last example, what sounds intuitive to me (hiring the kid), would not happen at most large corporations or other institutions. I’ve been employed by an employer who only hired those with a bachelor’s degree and higher who graduated with a 3.5 GPA. NO EXCEPTIONS. The same employer has turned down highly qualified candidates without a bachelor’s degree who would have ran circles around the new college grads with their shiny degree.

When an HR department at a large company sits down and comes up with criteria, or bars that they need to set – degree and GPA are often at the top of that list. They look for differentiators, and degrees and GPA’s are two of the most common criteria in which they can differentiate. In the end, it ultimately ends up hurting them.

Where do you want to get to?

Regardless of where we are in our careers at the moment, we usually aren’t quite where we want to be (we = young professionals, but it could be argued that we = everyone). Realistically, what is your end goal? Where do you want to be in 20 years? If you could be doing exactly what you want to be doing for the rest of your life and make a sustainable income as a result, what would you be doing? Think about this for a few minutes…. or years….

Once you’ve answered that question, ask yourself this: “what learning experience will best prepare me to get there?”. Try to throw all pre-conceived societal standards out the window. This is all about you and what you need to be successful in your mind.

If you have the ambitious drive to get through the door of a large corporate icon and climb the corporate ladder, there are plenty of educational institutions that will be happy to take your money.

If you want anything else, I’d love to hear what it is and what you think it will take to get you there.

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