Benefits of Formal Education

Gerwig 2014-10-29

Recently I had the pleasure of attending “homecoming” at Clemson University. Clemson is a top-rated public university located in the “upstate” of South Carolina (USA). The campus is beautiful. It’s truly the quintessential university setting, a lake, maple and oaks trees, crepe myrtles, azaleas, walking/biking paths, brick dorms and lecture halls, big-time college athletics, bright students, accomplished faculty, and a quaint, student-friendly town.

And while there on a college visit, the family decided to attend a football game. Yes, there was a plan. Once my daughter decided to go on a tour of Clemson, the rest was history. We chose a game in the Fall when the football team had a game at home on the schedule. Homecoming was a logical choice. We knew the weather would likely be good, the Fall colors would be near their peak and the football team would play a team it “should” beat. As it turned out, the weather was spectacular, the leaves were beautiful, we met up with some old friends, and Clemson won. Success on all fronts!

Throughout the weekend, memories kept flooding my brain and stirred my emotions. I had a great time at college. I worked hard. I played hard. I acquired technical skills. And I met my wife. It was a great period of my life and set a great foundation for decades of positive outcomes.

Before the official college tour, we drove/walked around and relived some old memories, pointing out where I’d lived, where my wife and sister roomed together one summer, where I attended church, where the engineering building was, and so on. It was fun to relive and share a few of those memories.

What struck me the most was how much I’d gotten out of the overall college experience. Today, many look down upon attending college. They say it’s too expensive. There’s little ROI. The payback is too long. And we’ve all heard the stories about how Michael Dell and Bill Gates didn’t graduate from the universities they attended as young men. True, but there are always exceptions. For the vast majority, a formal college education is a blessing. Besides, it’s more than the just attending classes, learning book knowledge, and graduation.

For some, such as engineers, doctors, nurses, and lawyers, a formal degree is a requirement to practice as a licensed professional. For all students, attending a university provides the opportunity to build a network, learn “how to learn,” develop people skills, hone time management skills, and increase levels of maturity. There’s much more to college than what you learn in the lecture hall or lab.

Yes, college is not for everyone. But if you can afford it (via parents, work, scholarship, or a combination), why would you forgo the opportunity? You don’t necessarily have to attend a college that costs $75,000 a year, especially if you can’t afford it. If you don’t get into London School of Business or Stanford, you can always attend a smaller public university. If you have to work while in school, you can always attend night or weekend classes or go part time. Yes, there are many options. If you want it, there’s a way.

I was fortunate to attend Clemson for my undergraduate studies and my parents sacrificed to pay the cost. I helped out by working and receiving a few scholarships. But for my next three degrees, I went to school at nights and on the weekends as a part-time student while working a full-time job as an engineer. And my company paid for the tuition. My point is this, find a way. Most companies have some type of tuition assistance program. Find out about it. If you’re a veteran, you have many options for tuition assistance as well. Take advantage of them. Others of you may just have to work hard, control your spending and go part-time. But don’t give up. And remember to enjoy the overall learning experience.

During the weekend, we walked by the homecoming “floats.” These are created by student organizations during the week of homecoming out of chicken wire, 2x4s, and colored tissue paper. I particularly liked the “tiger” as it’s Clemson’s mascot. So my wife and I climbed the wooden steps behind the “class ring” and had our picture taken in front of the tiger. Ok, so it’s a bit cheesy, like an overdressed tourist. But who cares, it was fun!

So what about you? Do you value formal education? Do you understand the benefits that reach well beyond the classroom? Are you willing to sacrifice financially for others in your family so that they can attend a good college or university? There are many ways we spend our money, from a $6 cup of coffee at Starbucks to a vacation we can’t afford. But money spent on formal education is an investment that pays dividends for the rest of your life. And who knows, you might just meet your future spouse.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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