Investing in Education

Education is an investment in the future.  Just like investments have different rates of returns, studying different things will give you different payback. There are generally two types of education available to people after high school.  A technical education prepares you to do specific tasks.  A general education prepares you be able to learn.

Many people don’t understand the difference between these two types of learning.  Going to massage school may seem great in the short term.  It doesn’t take too long to learn and the pay is significantly better than what you can get from a job right after high school.  However, it doesn’t really prepare you for changing jobs in the future.  A liberal arts degree on the other hand, doesn’t usually prepare you to do much of anything in particular, but it prepares you for everything in general.  It takes longer and your starting pay may be lower, but your glass ceiling is much higher.

Many universities and colleges are struggling with this.  Do they teach specific task-oriented skills that will help their students get jobs immediately or do they focus on preparing students for general work in the future?  The schools that seem to be doing the best are combining both of these areas.  Their main focus is still on the traditional education, but they include some technical classes to give their graduates relevant skills for the current marketplace.

When evaluating continuing education opportunities, ask yourself how relevant the training will be in 15 years. That doesn’t mean you should avoid training related to specific technology and trends, but you need to make sure you have a balanced educational diet.  If everything you learn is obsolete in 5 years, you’ll have a lot of catching up to do.  However, if half of what you study is generic enough to last through your entire career, your skills will compound–making you much more attractive to employers in the future.

Originally published on January 12, 2006.


  1. says

    So right on! Nothing wrong with some general ed., but technical ed is so important today. I’m CFO at a public career school. We teach Welding, Nurses Aide, construction trades, LPN, and service areas. We also teach soft skills – show up for work, good attitude, etc. Without some technical skills, people are unemployable. Without soft skills, they can’t stay employed.

    Yet, convincing school districts to send students to career schools is like pulling teeth. Plus, many parents feel college is the only way. They forget about apprenticeship programs and other such opportunities. And they forget that learning is a life-long endeavor. Schools need to change; attitudes need to change.

  2. says

    @Mike – I think we’d be much better of as a society if we stop trying to send everyone to college. There is a community college a few miles from where I’m writing right now. Several members of the football team (and others) have special waivers so they don’t have to take tests with the other students. They get to go take it in a special room with someone reading the questions to them. This is to keep them from getting confused by reading the questions.

    I’m not sure how valuable a degree is if it doesn’t even show that you can read.

    I think if we can raise the profile of programs like yours it would help raise the output of society as a whole. I particularly like how you are focusing on skills beyond just the raw technical knowledge.

  3. says

    I have two degrees from a liberal arts college. I’m struggling to get a job because I don’t have the correct “certifications.” I know people who have the correct certifications, but they struggle to excel at their job. I am just thankful that I’ve become a well-rounded person. That means more than starting out with a high-paying job. I can complete the task oriented jobs if they would just hire me.

  4. says

    I took a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in College but admittedly, I’m not using it right now. I’m an online professional. Had I known, I would have taken computer courses and other technical stuff that would have been more useful…

  5. says

    Where are the Curriculum for becoming an entrepreneur and discovering your passion. From high school through college I found it very rare to see any material to help students figure out what it is you should be doing as apposed to what you have to do. Going to college in my assumption was to major in what I believed would provide a good living disregarding the fact of me loving to do it. Colleges should present freshmen with questions about what type of life they want to live and the career choices that provide those lifestyles, and tailor there learning to that direction. Most of this I have (and still) been discovering since college. I refuse to go on any longer with whatever life gives me and instead go after the life I truly want.

    The pressure to choose a major is a great one. I have seen from experience that people simply choose one they “think” sounds cool and end up living that choice unhappily.

    Great post, thought provoking…


  6. says

    @emdoozie – There are a few colleges that let you major in being an entrepreneur, but most of those programs are aimed at people looking for Master’s degrees.

    @Mighty – So take some computer related courses now. I think one of the greatest mistakes people make after college is to assume they are finished with their education. I’ve been enrolled in some college class for the last 14 years! Online education makes it even easier to squeeze in a college class in the evenings or on weekends.

    @Stuart – What type of certifications do you think would help? I would suggest picking a job based on what you can learn–not based on how much it will pay at least for the first few years. It might mean less money right now, but if you choose wisely it can catapult your earnings in the future.

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