Education – more than just a degree.

It’s a part of my personality to feel the need to place a disclaimer ahead of topics that may be interpreted, perceived or judged differently than how I intended.

Maybe I didn’t express myself clearly or articulately enough or maybe there’s another reason, but I want to make certain readers understand that the objective of many a piece is to provoke thought, inspire reflection and spark conversations.

Still with me?   Great!  Let’s talk education.

In today’s society, we place enormous emphasis on college degrees and earning a two-, four-year or graduate degree is often not enough.  It seems where you went to school can often take precedence over the fact that you did.

Don’t get me wrong. I know that educational institutions are tiered like retail stores. There are the Walmart’s and the Neiman Marcus’s, the no name brands and luxury essentials.

And I don’t underestimate the challenge of prestigious colleges and universities or Ivy League schools, nor what an honor it is to be accepted, graduate and achieve Suma Cum Laude.  I’ve attended the Walmart’s and Lord and Taylor’s – didn’t quite go for the Neiman Marcus’s.

But if I had my life to do over again, I would have.  Why?  Because I was capable and because much of society does judge you by where you went to school.  It’s a lifetime community of alum who may age in years, yet retain their collegiate pride and keg party spirit.  It’s like an instant family of strangers wherever you meet your former alma matter peers.

I recently heard someone demean community college because it is equivalent to the last two years of high school.  Maybe so, but there are quite a few successful professionals who attended and went on to be superstar performers in their chosen lines of work.

There are also a great number of PhD’s who failed to thrive and MBA’s who ride on their resume and accolades, flying way under the radar and relying on the prestigious school name to keep them employed.

I think we overestimate degrees – and underestimate education, technical skills, work ethic, drive, passion and perseverance.

That community college graduate may work smarter and harder to prove himself, never giving up and relentless in his pursuits.  He may have been forced to attend a second rate school because that’s all he could afford or another reason that is none of our business.

The impressive young MBA may be extremely book smart, able to articulate well and know the right things to say, but she may not perform in the workplace.  When faced with real life day to day stress and challenges, business politics and a myriad of other factors, she may falter.

I’ve worked alongside both over the years.

There are brilliant tradespeople and civil service workers, highly intelligent bus drivers and waitresses.  Your local waste management person may hold a postsecondary degree, yet choose a more simple way of life.

A degree does not define all of who you are or what you want.  A degree means you studied and tested well.  Congratulations.

In 1900, there were 27,410 bachelor degree graduates nationwide and in 1910, 3% of adults over the age of 25 had a postsecondary degree.  In the 30 years to follow, college graduates increased by an approximate 110%.1

Today, almost 95% of Americans over the age of 25 (approximately 42% of the US population) had a degree of some type according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent data (07/2021). 2

So what’s my point?

Like everything else in life, we need to make time to dig beneath the surface because we can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.  We need to give opportunities to people we think can do the job – not rely solely on a resume or school name.

We need to encourage people to educate themselves – and today, that can be books, podcasts, free or subscription based online courses along with other ways to become the best version of themselves – degree, or no degree.

We need to temper the egos and ensure those who don’t yet see their worth believe in themselves.  There’s a lot to be said about a strong work ethic, a learning mindset and the motivation to succeed.

I’d take the person who never stops trying over the one who thinks their existence alone is enough.

Education is a way of life. We should never stop learning.  Degree or no degree, we need to view education as holistic – earned degrees, licenses, certificates and institutional achievements along with personality and character traits, motivation, desire, resilience, tenacity and a myriad of other qualities that make a person who they are.

Let’s not look down on people and be sure to give them a chance.  Let’s allow someone to feel good enough, capable and help them see their potential – not shoot them down because they didn’t go to an elite school or chose a different path.  It’s amazing what that encouragement and support can do.

In the words of Martin Luther King, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”  



Author: E.M. Murphy

A voracious writer, lifetime learner and eternal seeker who aims to open minds and hearts. Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a NASM Certified Behavior Change Specialist, humanity and humor is at the heart of my writing, reminding us that the key to success will always start with a genuine concern for others while making sure to be true to our authentic selves.

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