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Is a degree really that valuable?

Typically, there is a correlation between unemployment and registration in colleges and universities.

Typically, there is a correlation between unemployment and registration in colleges and universities. This year however, due to the move towards closed campuses and increased online learning to reduce the risk of spread of COVID-19, there is talk that many prospective students are going to take a gap year and do something other than school.

It is also universally believed that there is a link between post-secondary education and income. A study titled “Comparing the Returns to Education for Entrepreneurs and Employees” 2004, Sluis et al, published by University of Amsterdam, found that advanced education led to an increase in income roughly between six and 10 per cent for employees and seven to 14 per cent for entrepreneurs.   

That being said, many of the richest people I know, who are now coming to the end of their careers in industry, have had little in the way of post-secondary education. It could be true that there was less opportunity to obtain post-secondary education 40 or 50 years ago.  However, some of those entrepreneurs who have succeeded without formal education have done so through a dedication to hard work and a determination to leave poverty behind. What education fails to measure and give credence to is the ability and motivation needed and displayed by those achieving higher levels of income.

As a wise person recently told me in an email, “People don’t care what type of degree I have. They care what mistakes I have made and what I learned from them.”

Post-secondary education has its place and it seems that it is harder to find jobs other than those at entry level that don’t specify some level degree of advanced training or education. Yet without grit and determination, many of those degrees and certificates will be useless unless the graduates apply themselves to finding work in their chosen fields. Unfortunately for many, some university degrees fail to set their graduates up for success by not providing a firm foundation in the necessary skills to succeed beyond the walls of academia.

In 2013, after 25 years of running my own businesses, I returned to school to obtain an MBA that I thought would allow me to have certain opportunities outside that of small business. I slogged away for two years and at the end graduated with three letters that I can now put after my name. What I discovered however, was that that education, was only the beginning. I quickly realized that in order to make more of a difference in the world, I needed to further that education with more knowledge and continuous learning.

Advanced education can be much more valuable than the increased income of 10 per cent that it is said to provide. That value lies in the ability of the student to put that knowledge to use in improving their situation and that of their community. This takes hard work and dedication.

We must acknowledge however, that there is a lost opportunity cost of two to eight years of the extra income generated by those who choose to go right to work after finishing high school

The ability to fail, to think critically, and to learn from one’s mistakes are not generally taught in school. Those traits are learned through observation, contemplation, and trial and error, a process begun by parents who teach their children to learn from their mistakes instead of making them think that everything they do is a “Good job!”

Without persistence, dedication to self-improvement, and efforts to contribute to the betterment of one’s family, community and ultimately to the world, we tend to stagnate as human beings. No amount of education or degrees can make up for a mindset that believes that barriers cannot be overcome or that happiness is dependant on money.

— Dave Fuller, MBA, is an Award-Winning Business Coach and the Author of the book Profit Yourself Healthy.  Believe that you are the sum of your education? Email