It Pays Veterans to Learn: An Education Can Pay Dividends for a Lifetime

You may have heard stories about people applying for jobs and finding out that they over-qualified because they have too much education. But unless you have a doctorate in astrophysics and are applying for a job flipping burgers, that is not likely to happen to you. It is definitely not a reason to avoid advancing your education.

In fact, the opposite is the case: You should look to grow your academic profile every chance you get. It is no surprise that – in most cases – more and more education and training leads to higher career satisfaction and a better-than-average paycheck. After all, not many people with doctorates or master’s degrees are ringing up groceries at your local store. Nor are there many CEOs and high-level project managers who do not have college degrees.

So it is well worth noting that the word “learn” contains the word “earn.” There is usually a direct correlation between a person’s level of education and his or her level of income.

Some people have said that the rising cost of college education is making getting a degree too expensive and not worth it in the long run. But labor economists – people who study the relationship between education and earning – say that is a dangerous myth that lulls some into not pursuing higher education. In fact, the best evidence says that a college degree leads to a lifetime earnings increase of up to $350,000, even after subtracting the cost of that higher education. That return apparently applies to all undergraduate majors, not just those specifically tied to expected higher earnings.

The medical field has been very much in the news because it offers a lot of opportunities, job satisfaction, and job security. There are opportunities for those without college degrees, but people who pursue an education beyond high school have much higher earning potential. Medical jobs that do not require a college degree generally pay between $23,000 and $43,000 per year in most areas of the country. The pay rises to between $44,000 and $63,000 for people with just a two-year college degree. Advanced nursing positions that usually require a master’s degree pay upwards of $97,000. And we all know that doctors – who spend a lot of time in school – make the big bucks.

Nobody is saying you need to go to med school, but the connection between education and higher salaries is clear. And the value of education goes beyond what students read in books or hear from their professors. Employers understand that people who have earned higher education degrees know how to learn and will be quicker to pick up new skills and knowledge on the job. Also, when students interact with one another, they can develop communication skills such as persuasion and conflict resolution. In addition, because they are so busy, students have to develop time and task management skills to handle the many projects, deadlines, and other demands of obtaining an education. Students also have the advantage of learning from others – not just professors – while they are “hitting the books.”

The phrase “knowledge is power” might be overused, but it is true. People who have the knowledge and education more often than not find success in this world. While the recent recession hit everybody in one way or another, people without college degrees tended to be hit the hardest. So education, at the very least, can be a shield against economic adversity.

Sometimes that education comes from on-the-job training and independent study, but more and more employers are looking for college degrees when it comes to hiring for open positions. That is especially true now that there are more ways than ever to get a college degree. The traditional way is to learn on a college campus with ivy on the academic buildings and Frisbee on the quad. But as the non-traditional student becomes more traditional, colleges of all levels have learned to adapt. Colleges are offering more and more classes online and at night so that people who work day jobs can further their education at their own pace.

It is hard to put a precise dollar value on education. But, at the very least, earning a degree beyond high school widens one’s range of career opportunities and chances for advancement. Many of the jobs that did not require a college degree before the recent recession now have that stipulation; many jobs that required a bachelor’s degree now call for a master’s degree.

Companies can afford to be pickier when it comes to hiring. They are asking for the best, the brightest, and the most educated.

MANY OPTIONS

There are education opportunities out there for everybody, from people who want to earn a certification for a trade to those who want to go back to college – or go there for the first time – to earn a college degree. The traditional college is not for everyone, and options are available. For example, students do not have to be in a classroom to hear their professors lecture or even to take tests. The students can watch recorded lectures in the comfort of their own homes and on their own schedules.

Here are some of the major options:

Full-time, on-campus learning at a college or university. The most traditional route, this option enables the student to get the full college experience. He or she attends most, if not all, classes in a traditional classroom, and may even live on or near the campus.

Many people call this option a four-year program, but an increasing number of students are taking longer than four years because they are working jobs on the side or are pursuing double majors. Others, of course, take longer because they go on to earn graduate degrees.

The advantages of this option are the availability of professors and classroom learning. This is also more social interaction; and in some academic tracks, group work is encouraged, if not necessary. The social aspect extends beyond the classroom as well. The traditional campus usually offers a lot of activities for students: attending football and basketball games, joining fraternities, sororities, and clubs, etc.

This is the best option for students who want the more traditional experience and students whose academic pursuits require a lot of lab time. For example, people who are studying to become physicians – and even pre-med students – will spend much of their time in labs. On the downside, this is usually the most expensive option and may put students in a debt they would rather avoid.

Part-time/evening on-campus learning at a college or university. This option lets students take on their academic load with smaller bites, financially and time-wise. It is popular with students who have obligations beyond school – part-time and/or full-time jobs, families, etc. Instead of taking a full academic load each semester, students can take one or two classes in the classroom on their own schedules.

Many colleges and universities offer these classes at night so that students who also work typical 9-to-5 jobs can take the classes they need. Some schools also offer Saturday classes. The path to graduation is longer on this route, but this approach is also easier to maintain for older students because of their often extensive obligations.

One option in this context is distance learning. The professor and a group of students are in one classroom; other students watch the professor lecture on screens in other classrooms. This option helps students who have longer commutes to the main campus save time and money by going to a closer location. The main plus to this option is that it offers more flexibility. The downside is that it usually takes longer to complete academic requirements.

Online learning via a college or university that also offers on-campus learning. Some academic institutions that have on-campus classrooms have extended their reach in recent years. To be more flexible for today’s students, they have started to include online classes. These classes enable the students to view lectures and even take exams in their own homes or anywhere there is an Internet connection. Not every class has this option, and some classes are offered with both the online option and the more typical in-classroom option.

Online learning is no longer a one-way process. In many cases, the schools require that the students mount cameras on their computers so that the professors can observe the students during exams and can see the students when they ask questions. Skype and other technologies make communicating visually over the Internet much easier.

The advantage of this approach is that it offers a lot of flexibility: a student can take classes online when possible and in the classroom when necessary. However, it usually requires much self-discipline on the part of the student. And even with the modern technology, there is not a lot of student-professor interaction.

Learning at a trade or technical institution. This is the ideal approach for those students who are less interested in historically academic pursuits, but instead would prefer to focus on a trade they can master and then develop into a career. There is still classroom work, and some trade or technical institutions have basic academics such as English and history, but the focus is on the trade.

The schools start with the basics before moving on to the more detailed course work, enabling the students to progress at their individual rates. In many of their courses, the schools do not measure the progress of a student by means of classes such as freshman, sophomore, etc. Instead, the schools issue certifications – the student must pass certain qualifying tests for each level of certification.

The better schools offer the latest technology. In fact, this technology may surpass the technology at the student’s eventual work site – requiring him/her to learn to work with older technology on the job. But he or she will be ready when the employer “catches up” technologically.

These programs also have flexible schedules because many of the students are also working full-time jobs on top of going to school.

Union apprenticeship program. This is a good career choice for students who like to work with their hands and are willing to serve an apprenticeship for up to five years, depending on the trade. Students are encouraged to have good problem-solving skills and the ability to work collaboratively with a team.

The apprenticeships are usually paid, so students earn while they learn. After completing the apprenticeship, the student usually has the option of taking a job where he or she served as an apprentice.

This article appeared in the May-June 2015 issue of Search & Employ Magazine