The worth of education is often discussed in terms of the fees you pay versus the career opportunities it gives you.
What does the largest country in the world think?
I well remember a statement made by the Chinese Deputy Minister of Education at an IT conference I attended in Beijing in 2004. He said simply, “China sees economic growth through education.”
Wow! The biggest nation in the world, which is about to overtake the US as the biggest economy in the world, sees education as the fundamental building block for economic growth!
But how ‘expensive’ is education?
I was lucky I grew up in the Whitlam era of politics when university fees were abolished in the 1970s. But that’s definitely not the case today. Education costs, no two ways about it. The average cost of studying for an MBA at the Harvard Business School is US$160 000. But that doesn’t stop it being the most prestigious and sought after business school in the world. Obviously the high initial cost of a Harvard degree is well rewarded in future career opportunities.
What is the value of education?
There have been a lot of studies in this area that have evaluated the ‘return on investment’ of education. Three are summarised below:
- The Economist reported on a study by PayScale, who reviewed 800 US colleges in 2013. They found that Harvard graduates could expect more than a 15% return on their investment over 20 years. They also found that an engineering graduate from the University of California, Berkeley could expect to be nearly US$1.1 million better off after 20 years than someone who never went to college.
- The OECD’s annual Education: at a glance study in 2014 found that tertiary education graduates across the OECD earn on average 70% more than the non-tertiary educated! This means that despite the rising costs of higher education in Australia the investment is still worthwhile. The study found that the net present value of a degree in Australia was roughly US$153,000 for males and US$105,000 for females.
- The Grattan Institute’s report notes that male university graduates earn about 50 per cent more over their careers than those with only a Year 12 certificate. And this is even after taking out the costs of education and tax. For females with a bachelor’s degree, the net earnings premium is even higher at 60 per cent. “The median male bachelor-degree holder has lifetime additional earnings of A$1.4 million, compared to the median male who did no further education after Year 12,” the report stated.
New career opportunities
Another aspect of education that’s often overlooked is the access it gives you to new career opportunities. I worked in the university sector, and universities obviously value the consumption of their own products (i.e. enrolment in their degrees). But if you want to be a lecturer in a university, you need to have at least a PhD (in general) before you’re even considered. Without one, the numerous other applicants with PhDs would be considered for interview well before you are. Even if you are a brilliant lecturer.
Don’t forget to finish that degree
I have had many bright young IT people work for me during my 30 years in the IT industry, and some preferred working to continuing to study to finish their degrees. Sure, they had a good job, and they often did very interesting work. But there will come a time in their future careers when the lack of the degree will see them disadvantaged – even though they may be excellent workers. So don’t forget to finish off that degree.
Makes you think for yourself
One of the positive aspects of studying for a degree is that you learn to think, to make decisions, to evaluate possibilities. You learn to do things by logic, not just by rote learning. That is one of the most important qualities a potential employer will look for at interview time.
So is education worthwhile?
Absolutely! On a personal level, I worked as an IT manager for several years. Even though I had a Science Degree and a PhD in computer modelling, I felt I needed to improve my qualifications. There were no IT or Computer courses in Australia when I started my Science degree back in the 1960s. But as an IT manager, I was getting less involved in IT and more involved in people management. Therefore, I decided to study part time for an MBA at Monash University, while working full time. Even though it was tough to combine both, plus the usual family life, I did complete my MBA. It definitely helped me get my first IT Director position in Queensland and a while later in Hong Kong.
Yes – education is worthwhile!