Education and Careers: The Paths We Choose

We all know that education prices are skyrocketing, and the return on investment (ROI) is not so clear. Degrees, they say, used to guarantee a job, and now jobs that used to only require a bachelor's degree require a master's, and so on. This means that the ROI has decreased, and that higher education is undergoing inflation. Technological changes, moreover, are eliminating midlevel service jobs.

According to a May 2011 report by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, full-time workers with a bachelor's degree earn, on average, 84 percent more over their lifetime than those with only a high school diploma. If workers, then, with a bachelor's degree are now filling jobs that those with only a high school diploma used to have, then living conditions and salaries for them are poor, and salaries for those without a degree are unlivable. In this situation, it is necessary to earn a higher degree, and yet, hard if not impossible to receive a decent ROI for the time and money spent.

In comes online education. Online higher degrees are becoming more credible and more common. And as if on a linear train of thought - in comes free online education, offered from top universities around the country (MOOCs). Moreover, the career opportunities that only a degree-in-hand allow are merging with online ed options: just a few weeks ago Georgia Tech announced that it was merging with Udacity to provide a reasonably-priced computer science program. In the totally unbalanced situation of higher than reasonable brick-and-mortar degree prices versus free online education, hybrid models are emerging as one way of answering to the issue for positive ROI outcomes.

ROI: What Does It Really Mean? OR Is Money What It's All About?

According to government projections, by 2020, only three of the thirty fields with the largest projected job openings will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position: teachers, college professors, and accountants. Most of the available positions will be midlevel jobs not easily replaced by technology such as retail sales associates, fast food workers and truck drivers.

College graduates who majored in zoology, anthropology, philosophy, art history and humanities are now among the least likely to find jobs appropriate to their education level, while nursing, teaching, accounting, and computer science graduates are the most likely. Graduates with degrees in marketing, finance, human resources, and advertising are seeing an increase in career opportunities and therefore ROI.

'While engineering and computer science consistently rate among the top-paying college majors, students should also research employment demand and hot skillsets,' Andrea Porter, communications director at Georgetown's CEW, said to USNews for a piece called 'College Majors With the Best Return on Investment.' "Research what skills are most valuable in the labor market... and depending on those 'hot skills' you can also obtain a certificate that will provide you skills that will set you apart," she added.

Katie Bardaro, a lead economist at PayScale (an online salary database), contributed to the piece by stating that engineering, physics, computer science, and mathematics boast strong earning potential and low unemployment rates, which can help prospective employees reap the highest return on their education investment.

Many are concerned, because where there are jobs there isn't enough talent and where there is talent, jobs are limited. And since ROI is usually only calculated by the maximum money one receives for their time spent in college, top-paying careers which are in-demand are listed as the top careers.

If you are cut out for the analytical work, these advisers say, then do it! For the money.

But what about for those who don't necessary need the maximum paying career - those who see what they want to contribute and what they themselves are talented in as important first, and then wish to identify how to make a living? Is money the most important thing to all of us? When did economical ROI become the most important aspect of continuing one's education? And the answer of course, is always for some, and for other's: when this became a concern.

No, money is not the most important factor for all of us. "Teachers aren't in it for the money," for example, is a common expression of the profession. But money can help us get places. Money is necessary to survive. A decent paycheck, good working conditions, and fulfilling our dreams is the ideal for many of us.

If money was the only thing that mattered, then perhaps we would all heed the advice of the higher education advisers who say - enter computer science now! Perhaps it is not that we do not have the ability, talent or work ethic, but simply, that our interests lead us somewhere else. Some of us have our own visions to follow. What then?

Fulfilling Our Highest Visions

We have an economy that is based on creating revenue by selling things we don't need cheap and making a profit vs. filling real world needs for humanity's benefit. We are conditioned to want more money and certain things - often brands. There is too much competition in fields we don't really need, and too many shady businesses and practices that take advantage of people. Imagine if we focused on the best and putting capable people into jobs that actually serve people, imagine if money didn't matter the way it does for people and businesses of today. But it does because money is the most powerful thing in our world. Even knowledge doesn't come close to the power money allows a person to yield.

Technology should make things easier on all of us, not take away a limited amount of jobs and further the economic gap between the wealthy and the poor, making only the hardest jobs that cannot easily be filled by technology what's available to uneducated people. All people should be well-educated. All people have potential. Meaningless jobs should be filled by computers, and people should be encouraged and able pursue their dreams. Make the world a better place. Make themselves better. Make others better. And help the community.

Perhaps I am too partial to romanticizing education. I truly believe that it is one of the most powerful forces in the world; that knowledge, not money, should be the most powerful. However, true education, education of this magnitude, is not, I believe, about pushing out "job-ready" graduates with "hot skills" at the right time or moment to enter a certain market. I believe the true graduates are the ones who leave college having faced themselves, and the world around them, and are ready to enter it; that specific skills are as important as life-skills, self-confidence, and general intelligence. That these hot skills don't in fact add up if graduates are looking at the job market to pick a career, rather than finding their career based on their innate talents and desired life, whether this means that they work in advertising, as a teacher, professor, fisherman, farmer, agriculturist, or politician. We must find our own path and therefore happiness instead of the world demanding, stealing, insisting it away from us.

So while education is a good and now an almost necessary cost in the vision of this country and our place in it, and while many things influence our futures in a numerical and calculated way - our parent's education, our education, society's demands, and media influences - we must insist on making our own dreams and happinesses real. ROI is not only about money gains, although it is often discussed in this matter. You are not a determined by the money you make.

Of course, we must have some kind of practical plan. We have to make it work. And following our happiness, indeed can take a lot of work. And many make their visions work by combining them with one of the strong in-demand fields such as in science, technology, education or business. If we love the outcome, then the work in the end means something. This, in my opinion, is what matters.