Investing in education, not necessarily a college degree

Millennials are getting drawn to online degrees more than formal colleges, suggesting major changes in high education in time to come

Even as Albert Einsteinclaimed, that “The only source of knowledge is experience,” so the millennial generation appears to be abiding by it.

The Millennials, the first digital natives, growing up with Internet and smartphones, experienced firsthand, the uncertainty of economic growth and the relentless downward spiral of employment during the 2008 economic meltdown, as jobs froze, worse still, as companies crashed and individual wealth was destroyed overnight.

This made Millennials wary of following the priorities of earlier generations. A recent report by the US Census Bureau finds that Millennials are following a totally different set of priorities.The report says, “What is clear is that today young adults look different from prior generations in almost every regard: how much education they have, their work experiences, when they start a family and even who they live with growing up.”

In particular, the recession appears to have colored the millennial perspective to college education, making them view it more in terms of financial gain than acquisition of knowledge. A recent study by the British Psychology Society found that US Millennials’ reasons for going to college are more tied to making money than acquiring knowledge. This is different from the outlook of earlier generations.

In a separate study, researchers from San Diego University assessed surveys from college freshmen in the period 1971 to 2014, and found that 71% of millennials now feel making money is important, while only 55% of Baby boomers shared that perspective. Researchers also found that the number of Millennials who value education,is 7% less than Baby boomers. This indicates that the quest for knowledge has been gradually superseded by the desire to increase earning capacity.

The ballooning cost of college education appears to have as much, if not more, to do with the change of millennial perspective on education. Today, millennials have collected $1.4 trillion in student debt. According to College Board, the US non-profit representing over 6000 of the world’s leading colleges, an in-state student today has to pay $20,090 an year, while an out-of-state student will pay $34,220 an year. In contrast, in 1970, annual college fees at a public college was $3,015 at today’s value, and a four-year private college charged $13,149 an year at today’s value.

So, while college fees have been escalating out of control, the economic value of a college degree is significantly devalued in the current economy.Today’s college degree has earned its derogatory name as the “new high school diploma.”  With the Bachelor Degree forcing undergraduates to accept lower-skilled jobs at lower pay grades, the BA has become the minimum ticket to any job, rather than being the key to high-paying executive jobs. It is, therefore, understandable that millennials will value the college degree for what it can bring them, in practical terms. They don’t have the luxury of learning for learning’s sake, like the Boomers.

However, founder of Microsoft Corporation and US business magnate Bill Gates, says, “So, if we’re really serious about all lives having equal value, we need to make sure that the higher education system, both access, completion, and excellence, are getting the attention they need.”

US business magnate Warren Buffetsaid, “Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.”

The story goes that Buffet told a group of students, “”Read 500 pages like this every day … That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

Dale Carnegie’s President and CEO Joe Hart, once said of Warren Buffet, “, “One of the traits that is awesome about him is he is such an active learner. It’s something that’s made him very successful.”

So, do Millennials really value their education? Or are they mechanically paying the price for something they are expected to have? As Buffet told Forbes at a recent interview, “”Ultimately, there’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself. Nobody can take away what you’ve got in yourself, and everybody has potential they haven’t used yet.”

What is more, Buffet never equated education with a college degree. He has said, “The best education you can get is investing in yourself, and that doesn’t mean college or university.”

Meanwhile, young people are increasingly becoming more comfortable with acquiring online degrees. According to a recent Harris poll conducted by nonprofit Growing Leaders, 69% of 18-34 year olds said they acquired more knowledge from technology than from people. This appears to be a growing trend which will inevitably extend to the younger Gen Z too.

President of Growing Leaders, Tim Elmore said, “I think higher education will be in trouble.” He says young people have watched older siblings acquire college degrees at great expense, then get low paying hourly-paid jobs with bleak prospects for high-paying jobs, while being thousands of dollars in debt. He says, “They graduate from college, and now they’ve got $28,000 in debt and they’re a barista at Starbucks, which they could’ve done before college.”

Despite this negative scenario, Millennials are still the most educated generation up to now, with 34% of them having at least a Bachelor Degree.

Millennials have lofty visions of making a difference in the world. Probably they understand, more than earlier generations, the words of former South African leader, Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

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