Should I get an education or a degree? From John Robb

John Robb is one of the best thinkers on Resiliency – his blog on resiliency is here.

Here is a post today that sums up the preparation for the world that is emerging – the world of where you make your living yourself in a network – “The Maker Economy”

Should I get an education or a degree?

I’m often asked by young people either on the cusp or already in college:  should I get a degree?   What’s the resilient choice?

That’s a tough question.

In 2008 some economists demonstrated that a college degree was typically worth $300,000 over a lifetime of work.

Unfortunately, 2008 was a lifetime ago.  The big bureaucratic conveyor belt of industrial education that led to a lifetime of white collar employment is done.  Put a fork in it.

From now on, the majority of us will need to manufacture our own work.  Either by starting our own local businesses or showing sooo much excellence in an area of interest online, that other people can’t wait to work with us.

This gets us back to the original question:  should I get a degree?

My answer is that you should be asking yourself:  to really do what I am passionate about, should I get an education or a degree?

  • For the few that want (or can, given the competition for the few slots available) to serve in a bureaucratic capacity at some global company or institution, the answer is still a degree.
  • For those of us that want to start our own business, the answer often is:  I need an education.
  • For those of us that already have a degree, but want to move forward in a new direction:  I need an education.

If education is your answer, your future is looking bright.  Resilient Education is already here and it is getting better, broader, and richer fast.  Best of all, it’s inexpensive (and in most cases, free).

Where can I find it?  There are lots of efforts underway, but the best is Khan Academy.  Take a look at the course catalog.   It’s rich.  Amazing.  Many of the people I know are already using Khan Academy for all of their continuing education.

Thing is, if life without the protection of a degree sounds scary, then you aren’t resilient.

2 responses to “Should I get an education or a degree? From John Robb

  1. To John Robb:

    Universities are among the oldest institutions in the history of the world, and were established primarily to offer education – not training and skills with which to gain employment. There is a difference between education, training and skills. They are not the same thing, although sometimes they can certainly overlap in the real world, and in post-secondary institutions. As a Career Counsellor, I can tell you that the clients I have had with university degrees almost always obtain better quality employment than those without. The type of post-secondary training one chooses is directly related to the individual’s career goal as well as what is realistic for them at the given time.

    Here in Canada, only universities offer degrees (education included), colleges offer one year certificate programs and two year diplomas. The learning environment tends to be more of an “applied” nature and usually involves and “OJT” component. Sometimes, people in need of training may choose college training over university simply for the need to enter the workforce sooner. The other very important factor in choosing college versus university is the individual’s learning style: some people are very “hands-on” learners and are not suited to the classroom, books and lecture-style of learning in most university settings. There is also the on-the-job/apprenticeship method of training and employment, which if you are familiar with this, provides both at the same time. I also come across the entrepreneurial types, who are by nature, very ambitious and driven with strong leadership qualities and typically quite bright. These people may not need any training, education, or degree to become successful in their chosen field due to their natural skills and strengths.

    Coming from a small city in the smallest province in Canada, I can also tell you the labour market can and does influence the kind of education/training that people choose. In PEI we have a high unemployment rate, so those with the either the best connections or the best qualifications (education, training, skills, possibly degrees) generally get the best jobs, whereas in more populated cities, where more jobs and workers are in demand, less qualifications are required for many positions, so more people are employed.

    So, in closing, I would like to suggest to you, Mr. Robb, that you explore other theories, facts and concepts related to the world of work, and “education.” You may also want to read the following link:


    Dianne Birt, MEd., CCC
    Career Counsellor and Mental Health Therapist

  2. Your point made all the sense in the world 30 years ago Dianne. A University education was still an education – it was very inexpensive – in my case all but free – and back then 80% of people had jobs where s credential like that counted.

    Today a student often gets a poor learning experience with large classes – little contact with the prof – text book versus enquiry – as the process.

    Today most leave with 20 – 50K in debt and now the jobs are disappearing. In 1980 80% of people were employed in jobs. Today it is 60% and the “Job” is disappearing.

    More and more people are having to create their own employment that demands that they have real skills – I don’t mean here only technical skills – but more important the skill of being self relient and self motivated. School reinforces the opposite of these skills. School is all about fitting into a structure and being obedient.

    Who today still demands the traditional credential? Mainly bureaucratic organizations. Which organizations are under the most pressure and who are reducing their workforce? Bureaucratic organizations.

    What organizations are growing the most and offer the most good work? Networked organizations. How do they hire? They demand that the person can do and prove that they can do the work. A degree does not do that.

    Not to say you should not have a degree – but that you must not over invest in one.

    Can you get educated to a high level without attending 4 years full time at a university? Yes you can now – 20 years ago this was hard. Now all the best universities are offering their best content online. New businesses are opening up to make it easy to get more from these.

    What John is asking is for people to consider the ROI on their choices now in the context of the new workplace and the costs of getting a degree that is itself so much less than it used to be.