Education is a recurring theme in discussions of public policy, economic growth, and personal development. Unfortunately, there seems to be a pervasive belief that schooling and education are one and the same. It is mot certainly true that education and school frequently overlap to a significant degree, but it is problematic to limit your view of education to the content that is presented in a classroom. The truth is that there are many things successful people will need to learn over the course of their lives, and not all of them are taught in a structured curriculum. Thus, as your base of knowledge increases it will become true that self-education eventually meets and surpasses structured education in its impact on your life.
This is particularly important for people in entrepreneurial endeavors, since the traditional regimen of structured education through school does not cover many of the key skills that are needed to realize success. This is not due to any sort of malicious plan on the part of educators, it is simply reflective of the reality that the current education system is designed to train future employees. It is not a coincidence that tiers of education are articulated in degrees and certificates such as a high school diploma, associates degree, baccalaureate degree, masters degree, and doctorate.
These degrees and certificates are highly important to employers, because they send a signal of educational achievement. Thus, it has become true that employers are increasingly insistent on education credentials for the people it hires. Over time, this has led to a system of credential-ism for major employers where people who possess superior skills are filtered-out of the interview process because they do not possess the desired credentials. This has created a unique situation for employers, employees, and entrepreneurs in regards to education.
The Impact of Credential-ism
The proliferation of employers who insist on credentials for their employees has led to a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ for education institutions where the skills and abilities sought by employers are increasingly emphasized. The extended impact of this emphasis on skills for employers has been a reduction in the building of skills that will enable people to become entrepreneurs. Thus, the value of education over time has tilted more toward the credentials that you receive and less toward the content that you learn.
This impact has become even more stark over the past few decades as the content taught at varying educational institutions has become increasingly similar. This means that the actual education you receive will be very similar from one university to the next. However, the ‘prestige’ of certain universities, along with the social-economic caliber of the alumni association and student body allows them to charge significantly higher fees than other institutions where the actual education is very similar.
Over time, the compounding impact of this effect has made education more about earning credentials to achieve a prestigious, well-paying job than the specific content that is learned. This sentiment is echoed by many parents in their exhortation for children to get a college degree so that they can get a good job. The causal connection in this sentiment is hard to argue with, but it glances past one very important question. What if you don’t want to spend your entire adult life working for an employer? What if you want to become an entrepreneur at some time in the near or distant future?
The Value of Self-Education
This is where self-education becomes very important. Self-education is the process where you personally seek out the information and insights that you need to achieve your goals and ambitions. It is critical for entrepreneurs, because the skills that most entrepreneurs need are not typically included in the curriculum that contributes to traditional education credentials.
So where do you find self-education? That is the million-dollar question. The truth is that the pursuit of self-education is a journey that is personal to every person individually. The part of self-education that will prove to be the most difficult is separating the legitimate opportunities for learning and development from scams and get-rich-quick schemes that frequently enrich the originator at the expense of the participants.
In the end, each of us are ultimately responsible for our own education and development. Credentials will always be a part of employment, but the upper reaches of personal and professional success will continue to be the province of those who pursue a path of self-education and continual development.