Certain topics rise in waves. One popular wave concerns the value of a college education, the important role of trade schools, and whether a liberal arts degree is the new, new thing. Within the waves, confusion arises.

Educational trends and concerns can improve our decisions. However, if it leads to indecision on an educational path, then more harm is done than any good. We need to cut through the crap and focus on what will give us the best foundation to pursue our life work.

A College and Education Review

To set the stage, let’s review several snapshots – from college value to thoughts on trade schools.

liberal artsQuestioning the value of college degree

“According to Richard Vedder, who is a professor of economics at Ohio University and the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, we had 115,000 janitors, 16,000 parking lot attendants, 83,000 bartenders, and about 35,000 taxi drivers with bachelor’s degrees in 2012.” (The Daily Signal)

Highlighting the value of trade jobs

“Here’s the truth: The majority of jobs currently available today do NOT require a four-year degree — they require training. And many of these same jobs offer a salary that can grow much faster than vocations that require the assumption of a massive student loan. And yet, millions of students are systematically discouraged from pursuing these opportunities. Parents and guidance counselors still cling to the notion that anything short of a four-year degree will lead to some sort of vocational consolation prize.” (Mike Rowe, Parade)

Outlining the college financial concerns

“One reason for the flight, Vedder and Strehle argue, is that the costs of higher education keep rising while the returns for a college diploma are getting worse. Tuitions and fees rose by 74 percent, adjusted for inflation, from 2000 to 2016, while the earnings differential between high-school and college graduates fell 10 percent.” (National Review)

Pointing out what a liberal arts education can offer

“Critical thinking skills are the soft skills most lacking in new grads, according to hiring managers surveyed for PayScale’s report, How to Win in the Skills Economy; 60 percent of managers said that grads lacked those skills. A liberal arts education can help students fill that gap.” (PayScale)

Getting to a deeper conversation on the value of a college education

Is a College Education Worth It? A good question and ProCon.org outlines it well.

Liberal Arts for a Lifetime

Enter in George Anders and his new book,

You Can Do Anything: The Surprising Power of a “Useless” Liberal Arts Education. In his last book, The Rare Find, George highlighted how organizations creatively you can do anythingfound new, innovative talent. What he does in his current book is highlight the stories of how liberal arts graduates find their impactful way. In some respects, his two books are two sides of matchmaking.

Tony Wan says You Can Do Anything is “Chicken Soup for the Liberal Arts Soul.” I love his characterization, and I think he got it right. What George Anders does is tell what liberal arts graduates have pursued and achieved, and he tells it in a compelling way. Each story is motivating. Through the stories, we feel the challenges encountered, the broad perspective at work, and a learning spirit undeterred.

As someone with a Bachelor of Arts, I relate. You face uncertainty in what your degree will deliver for you, but you realize your degree gave you the capability to think through a path to take and keeps you in an adaptive, growth-oriented state to navigate whatever comes your way. This is the value of a Liberal Arts degree.

The beauty of a storytelling approach is that it can be used for those who earned a Bachelor of Science or a two-year trade degree. Throw in apprenticeships, and the storytelling value expands. Although his book focuses on Liberal Arts, the underlying theme of “you can do anything” can be found in so many individual stories, and we just need to tap into them. Within the stories, the value of education pops.

Maybe George Anders will write a book for each educational approach because we can benefit in understanding how people make their education work for their career and community life. Many will benefit from these stories and may help individuals find the best educational fit for them.

Learning Never Ends: An Imperative

In the book, George Anders highlights Daniel Pink’s three intrinsic motivational rewards:  autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Liberal arts graduates excel here. As George states:

“You are driven by a desire to control your life, learn about your world, and accomplish something that endures.”

Spot on. And this thought carries through all chapters of life.

When I worked in Washington, DC, I lost control of where my career would go, getting tied up in a presidential transition. I swore I would never be in that situation again, so I went back to learning. Two years later, I left DC to pursue my MBA. Twenty-four years later, I left the corporate world to work harder to “accomplish something that endures.” Although I am still working through the details of this plan, it will likely include getting my Doctor of Education.

No matter our age, we need to keep learning about our world and then applying it in the most meaningful way possible.

A point across the education spectrum is:  No matter if BA, BS, AA, trade degree, or apprenticeship, keep learning, mastering and broadening your insights and skills, and enliven your purpose in meaning and impact.

Pursue the Best Education Fit for You

I am tired of reading about whether a college education is worth it or how trade degrees need to rise in greater acceptance. Part of life maturity and growth is learning. Whatever educational path suits your goals, mindset, personality, and style, pursue it wholeheartedly and with an open mind. Afterwards, use what you learn with greater meaning and keep building on it. You never know what will unfold as you keep working and learning.

If you need some motivation and inspiration, start with You Can Do Anything – no matter your age or point in your career. Continuing our educational path does not end after high school, college, or graduate school. Learning enhances and develops our maturity. More than being wiser, we spend more time working on what matters most for the most people possible.

Pick an educational path. Go forth and always learn!


Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash
What role does education play in a person's life? How does it change as we age?