Back in 1990, when I first began writing resumes and providing career consulting, I saw a number of retired Fortune 500 corporate executives who were seeking part time consulting positions. The majority of them had no formal education beyond high school, and every one of them said that anyone with just a high school diploma starting out in business today would never be able to climb the corporate ladder the way they did. They were right.
If you are wondering if finishing that bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree will be worth it to you in the long run, the evidence says overwhelmingly that it will. Never in U.S. history has a person’s educational level been linked to earning capacity as it is today, according a 2002 study by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The study, which compared earnings to education levels from 1975 to 1999, found that the gap in earnings for people with different education levels has grown significantly over the years. Back in 1975, for example, full time workers with a bachelor’s degree earned approximately 1.5 times what workers with only a high school diploma earned. And employees with an advanced degree, who earned 1.8 times the earnings of high school graduates in 1975, averaged 2.6 times the earnings of workers with a high school diploma in 1999.
The study indicated that gender and race can also play a part in the earnings gap, but across the board people with higher levels of education earn more than people with less education. According to the study, this growing earnings gap is attributable to the supply of labor and the increasing demand for skilled workers.
Several years ago I met with a prospective client in his early thirties and reviewed his work history of mostly short-term, dead-end jobs. Needless to say, he was very discouraged, and I suggested he begin taking college classes and work toward a degree, no matter how long it might take. He protested that it was not feasible; he just couldn’t afford to go to college. My insistence that he could not afford NOT to pursue his education and that, in fact, there are government grants and other loan options that would more than pay for themselves in the long run, fell on deaf ears. I wish I’d had this study back then to prove my point. A college degree can result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional income over a lifetime, and is well worth the time and expense.
In another instance I did some outplacement for a manufacturing subsidiary that was closing its doors due to a reorganization. The company offered tuition reimbursement to its employees, and among the clients I worked with, two stand out. They were both about the same age, they had both been with the company for 20-years, and they were both plant managers. One of these clients took advantage of the tuition reimbursement program and slowly but steadily took classes at night, earning a bachelor’s degree in 15-years. The other had nothing but a high school diploma and never took any classes. He thought his job would last a lifetime. He was wrong. Do I need to tell you which one fared better in the job search?
There are, of course, companies that will consider hiring a person who has industry experience, and if you see a job for which you are well qualified, but the ad says a degree is required and you don’t have one, send a resume anyway. You have nothing to lose, and I have known people who’ve been successful in landing the job because of their skills and experience, in spite of not meeting all of the education requirements.
Nevertheless, you are bound to find limitations everywhere you look if you don’t have that bachelor’s or (increasingly) master’s degree. I have had countless clients tell me how unfair that is, and in many ways they’re right. There are capable, knowledgeable, accomplished job candidates with minimal education who have much more real-world experience than some people with multiple degrees. It doesn’t matter. Fair or not, that’s the way the world is, and it’s not going to change any time soon. In fact, in today’s economy, with unemployment levels growing, unemployment for people with college degrees is just 2%, according to Career News.
So no matter where you are on the education scale, you might want to look into more schooling. The payoff could be considerable.
~Anne Follis, CPRW
© Copyright 2010, Anne Follis. All rights reserved.
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