The Investment in Education

By: Dr. Kohl

I have been exposed to people with many challenges and opportunities as a former academic and through my road warrior travels and interaction with a wide variety of groups. In recent years, questions have arisen concerning the topic of young people and education. With U.S. University and college debt exceeding $1 trillion, and major questions concerning quality of education and the difficulty of securing employment for the Millennials, this is a topic that is top of mind. As an educator who has taught over 10,000 students at Virginia Tech and Cornell University, let’s have some dialogue on this important subject.

Is a College Degree Worth It?

One of the major questions I receive concerning education is, “Is the high cost of a college degree worth it?” First, not all young people need to go to college. In some cases, a vocational degree in a specific skill set can be a track for a bright future. A college degree is less important than a college education. Too often, while teaching since the advent of standardized learning and testing, students would comment, “Tell me what to study for the exam so I can complete the requirements for school.” This often diluted the intellectual curiosity and engagement that is a necessary life skill. College education with a blend of internships and industry experiences can provide a baseline for employment, but also the pursuit of life fulfillment, something that is meaningful which is not based on high earnings or salary.

Who Pays?

Many financial advisors suggest that the family invest in their children’s education. I totally agree; however, the family should explore its goals and priorities. From an educator’s standpoint, the younger generation will be much more engaged in their education if they contribute up to 50 percent of the cost, whether tuition, fees, or living expenses. Another suggestion is community college, with a much lower price tag. Basic courses can be completed in smaller class settings which can build confidence in the learning process. Today’s employment marketplace finds that the most popular education is the four year college education with the student returning to community college or vocational school for a specific skill.

The Course Versus the Instructor

Students have many choices of majors, courses, and instructors. The old rule of the road is to select the instructor over the course. An engaged professor who is passionate about their field of expertise or education in general can be like fertilizer and rain on a seedling. Personally, I became interested in economics as a result of a community college professor, finishing his doctorate at Syracuse University, who could apply economics to everyday decision-making. A suggestion for student, parent, and grandparent visits to campus is to sit in on some classes and interact with current students. Explore the list of award-winning teachers and educators usually displayed on campus or on their website and take their courses.

Education and Employment

There has been much discussion on the relationship between education and employment. If one explores employment rates versus education levels, there is a trend. The average workforce participation rate is at an all-time low, at approximately 63 percent. For those who do not graduate from high school, the rate is 44 percent. For those who finish high school, this rate jumps to 58 percent. Some college or vocational school finds approximately two-thirds employed, and for those with a college degree, nearly 70 percent of the workforce is participating. Yes, education is important for employment; however, emotional intelligence and common sense often determine the level of income. As one of my former “C students” who is now a multi-millionaire jokingly reminds me, the “A” students are the researchers; “B” students are managers, and “C” students are the entrepreneurs by whom the “A” and “B” students are employed. This particular student attended my classes, interacted with people, and understood breakeven analysis and sales negotiations very well.

In the knowledge-based, information-packed society, one size does not fit all in education. Education is process, not an event, which requires an initial foundation of formal education with the lifelong learning venues to enhance the skill base. Hopefully these insights will be helpful whether you are mentoring your child, grandchild, or a young person in your community.