Can I Learn?: An Argument for Continuous Education

August is coming to a close which, for me, almost always means back to school time. No, I’m not preparing to send any little ones off to class with a backpack full of Elmer’s glue and safety scissors. I’m the one downloading textbooks to my iPad and printing out syllabuses as I prepare to finish up my third degree. While I enjoy learning and the sense of embarking on a new journey that accompanies the beginning of each semester, I have to be on the defensive around this time of year as well. For some reason, people aren’t very supportive of my quest for lifelong learning and I’m often left second-guessing my decisions to put even more letters behind my name.

I blame Kanye. Why? Because it’s easy and everyone’s doing it. Second, he’s the one who made it popular for people to go around saying that degrees won’t keep you warm at night. Finally, he and other wealthy college drop-outs are making it easier than ever to place a lower value on institutional education. Whether I’m typing out loud on Twitter, contemplating embarking on a new learning adventure or filling in old friends from high school on my current activities, someone will almost always react negatively to the news that I’m almost 30 years old and haven’t spent more than 18 months out of school since I was four. The belief is that I’m wasting time learning when I could be earning (never mind the fact that I hold down a career while taking classes) or starting a family like a good girl should. When did things change?

At one time, especially within communities of color, education was viewed as the ultimate route to a better life, respect, and self-actualization. Although I was the first in my family to graduate from college and no one would dare confuse my parents with intellectuals, my education was everyone’s priority. I was praised for doing well and certificates for everything from perfect attendance to science fair honors adorned our poorly wood-paneled walls. In high school I was forbidden from getting an after-school job because my job was school and extracurricular activities like sports, student government, and drama club. Somewhere along the line, however, the idea of education as the pathway to success bit the dust. And what’s replaced it? Has education lost its luster when you can get a better life and respect though professional sports, hip-hop and an Internet startup?

While college and graduate school can be expensive endeavors, I think we ought to focus on ways to make education more equitable in this country instead of acting like it’s not worth our time. In my experience, few people who have gone to college would say that it was a complete waste. Personal growth, learning about topics you wouldn’t necessarily study on your own, and meeting all types of people are some of the positive outcomes of a college experience. Outside of anecdotal evidence, there are hard facts to support college attendance and completion as well.

  • Women are more likely to go to college because a degree is necessary to overcome corporate sexism according to a new Pew Research Center survey. (via GOOD)
  • 89 percent of young graduates between the ages of 25 and 39 say their degrees are worth the investment, study says.
  • A recent report following a group of full-time students who started college in 2002 but didn’t graduate within six years would lose nearly $3.8 billion in potential earnings. Over a lifetime, the cumulative losses for students who don’t complete college could amount to $158 billion.
  • Individuals with a college degree earn an average of $22,000 more per year than those with only a high school diploma. (via College Board)
  • Young adults with a college degree are much less likely to be obese than those with only a high school diploma. (via College Board)

While I’d agree that there are many ways to learn and grow as a person that occur outside of a classroom and cost next to nothing, I don’t think we should hate on someone for choosing the Ivory Tower route. I’d love it if society still accepted “intellectual” as a viable career choice. I’d travel the world learning languages, digesting philosophy and art, earning certifications in everything from practicing law to performing automobile inspections – all without shade from my friends. I crave learning and I feel prepared for almost anything with the knowledge I’ve stashed away, illustrating one lesson that will always ring true – no matter what, they’ll never be able to take away your education.

Last 5 posts by Nakia D. Hansen