Rate of Return…The New Educational Shift?

Last month, CIBC Chief Economist, Benjamin Tal, commented that students entering post-secondary institutions are not choosing wisely their intended field of study. He also noted that there are some degrees that give students more bang for their buck when it comes to employment and even earnings. And his biggest observation from a recent statistical analysis was that a number of fields that are now extremely popular with students (i.e. education, social work, etc.) result in low earnings compared to the amount students invested in their degrees.

But what does this all mean for those students entering Grade 12 this year?

First of all, like any statistical analysis (especially one purely based on economic metrics), the need for rationale thought and reflection is paramount. An individual’s choices for learning and education are complex, multifaceted, and influenced by a variety of factors including passions, family, (mis)perceptions of reality, and monetary issues (just to name a few).

It is also important to recognize that the ‘return on investment’ speakease is a grave oversimplification of the entire education and learning environment. In fact, it may hint at something much deeper: The widening gap among today’s youth about what they perceive as realistic and what is just plain fantasy. The struggle between income and happiness; perceived status and true passion. These are almost dichotomous terms in own their existence.

It might be time to share some realities with our students. After three undergraduate degrees, one master’s diploma, and a second in the offing here are some considerations, if you will, for our soon-to-be graduates with post-secondary aspirations (Note: These are in no order of importance).

Are you truly passionate about a future occupation? Let’s face it, after your spring graduation times could (and probably will) get rough for a while. And maybe the only guarantee that we can promise you is that you will probably accrue a student debt. However, if there’s a master plan; something you love to do; something bigger than the current situation you often end up where you least expect to. And this is a good thing.

How flexible are you willing to be about the outcomes related to your education? Keeping your eye on the prize used to work for my parents’ generation. Most of us Generation X-types are not in the same field for which we went to university and got into debt for. It’s a given that today’s youth will have several careers in their lifetime. Gone are the days of the ‘company man’ as corporate loyalty is not worker based, but rather shareholder relevant. In this case, the worker will always be a distant second.

Work ethic matters (even when no one is watching). The truth is that nothing can ever replace or make up for an individual’s work ethic (or a lack thereof). Working hard (or hardly working) actually does pay off. And as the standard of ‘hard work’ has become greatly deluded the reality is that only the individual truly knows if he/she is really working to exhaust all opportunities (even when no one is watching).

Resiliency is the holy grail of life. This one goes back to elementary school; healthy and productive adults are those that are able to problem-solve, ask for help, utilize healthy coping skills, and maintain balance in their lives after disappointments and failures. (Yes, failure does exist: If you don’t succeed at something and simply choose to give up then, yes, you have failed). Have we as a society done our job to help to resilient, critical thinking, questioning, and problem solving individuals (helicopter parents: you need not answer this one…)?

The ‘indescribables’. What intangibles do you offer? What unique qualities do you possess that shine in the face of adversity? Don’t know? You probably need to find this out. Your future employers are gonna be pretty picky about who they add to their roster.

Learning never ends. Are you prepared to be life-long learner? Learning doesn’t end with a piece of paper saying that you met specific criteria determined by subjective entity. Admittedly, one thing that we as teachers do quite poorly in our roles is model lifelong learning (through the sharing of our passions) with our students.

Pocket change: Let’s be clear about this: A degree/diploma of any kind doesn’t really guarantee you anything anymore (except perhaps accruing a seemingly insurmountable student debt load); those that find meaningful and passionate careers often have what most youth do not comprehend–good old chutzpah–to grow and thrive.

 Even though our students might be picking their career options poorly, I suspect that without any definable skills picking even the more ‘lucrative’ career options won’t guarantee any sort of rate of return.

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