Uncovering the why behind continuing your education

Roslyn KuninLabour Day holds special significance for young people and even many adults, marking the transition from summer holidays to the beginning of the school year. We are often reminded that the best lives are lived with purpose, so a question arises for those entering classrooms or engaging in virtual learning: What is the underlying purpose of their educational pursuits?

For elementary school students, this question often lacks relevance. Their parents and the legal system assert that attending school is a fundamental aspect of their lives at this stage. For high school students, it is not much different. While they do have the choice to leave school and pursue entry-level jobs with modest wages, the majority recognize that without completing high school, their prospects for the future remain limited.

Beyond high school, education takes on a more substantial cost in terms of tuition fees and the potential wages one could otherwise earn.

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Thus, a purpose becomes imperative to continue studying. The most common reason is the aspiration to secure a well-paying job and improve one’s quality of life. If this goal guides your intentions, paying attention when selecting what to study is crucial.

The best courses are the ones that teach you how to do something that most people want done. For instance, careers in the medical field hold great promise, considering the universal need for healthcare services provided by doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals. Similarly, engineering is pivotal in constructing reliable infrastructure like buildings and bridges.

However, gaining expertise need not necessitate extensive university training. Our society could not function without technologists, technicians and trades workers. Entering a college, institute or apprenticeship to qualify in these occupations takes less time and money than a university degree and opens the door to many well-paid opportunities.

Unfortunately, many pursue a post-secondary education out of inertia rather than with a clear purpose. They may be expected to go to university just as they were expected to go to elementary and high school. There isn’t anything else they particularly want to do, so continuing to study postpones entry into the workforce by a few years.

In this context, some students overlook potential career paths and job prospects when selecting their programs and courses. A belief that virtually any degree will lead to a successful career is outdated. While this perspective held true when university graduates were a minority, the landscape has changed drastically. A significant portion of Canadian adults aged 24 to 64 now possess at least one degree, and more than half have some form of post-secondary education.

Increasingly, employers are no longer using a degree as a sorting device when considering job applicants. They realize that unless an applicant has acquired some specific and desirable skills, the mere fact that they have a degree does not make them better employees.

Of course, not all learning needs to be focused on future work and career opportunities. One of the best reasons to study is for the love of learning. The mind, once expanded by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions; enriching oneself with knowledge leads to a better and broader life. Professors now complain that too few students enter the classroom with a love of learning. It is wonderful if that is your purpose in returning to school, but do not expect it to automatically lead to a job.

Yet another reason for attending university, one of the brightest and most successful people I know suggests, is the opportunity to find a life partner. Never again in your life are you likely to find yourself surrounded by so many unattached people in the same age group!

To all those heading back to school, know what your purpose is. Here is hoping that you achieve it.

Dr. Roslyn Kunin is a public speaker, consulting economist and senior fellow of the Canada West Foundation.

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