The Danger of Education for Education’s Sake

Posted March 11, 2019 by Mark Perna

Education for education’s sake alone sounds noble, doesn’t it? No mercenary motivations here, just pure learning and the acquisition of knowledge. It may sound good, but unfortunately it doesn’t work so well in the real world.

Education debt is at an all-time high in the U.S. today. The New York Federal Reserve Consumer Credit Panel Debt recently reported that debt among 19 to 29-year-old Americans exceeded $1 trillion at the end of 2018. Since 2009, mortgage debt for this demographic is up 3.2%, but student loans soared 102%. Bloomberg reports that this is the highest debt exposure for the youngest adult group since late 2007.

I wonder how much of this educational debt was taken on because the student was encouraged to pursue education for education’s sake alone—without an end goal or destination in sight that would enable them to repay their loans. Of course this can’t be quantified, but the rapid growth of this particular type of debt should sound a warning. At what point does the crushing burden of student loans outweigh the benefits of a college degree?

Education with Purpose®

I’ve heard people say that it doesn’t actually matter what your degree is, as long as you have one. This is a telling perspective. What they’re really saying is that what you’re learning in college doesn’t matter to your career; you just need to be able to prove that you went. Your major is irrelevant; it’s just the prestige of college completion that you’re after. But that prestige can come with a high price tag.

Education should be training for the future. It should have purpose. And upon completion, it should equip the learner with expanded options and opportunities. Education for education’s sake alone doesn’t do this.

I don’t want to minimize or dismiss academic achievement and scholastic talent. What I want is to help students direct those abilities in a positive, viable direction that will serve them the rest of their lives. And that’s why I created the Education with Purpose philosophy.

In a nutshell, Education with Purpose states that the sooner young people are exposed to meaningful career exploration, the better their chances of making wise and purposeful decisions for their further education. This career exploration should start as young as middle school and increase as the student moves into high school. By graduation, he or she should have a career destination in mind and a solid plan to get there.

Maybe college is the right choice for that student’s career aspirations. Maybe not—it could be that an apprenticeship, industry certification, or other specialized postsecondary training would be a better route. It all depends on the student’s passion and ultimate career goal.

Employment with Passion

The danger of education for education’s sake alone is that it ignores the future. That future is coming fast for every student who will someday have to face the debt that this approach can create. Students who meander through a purpose-lacking education are at risk for un- and under-employment for the rest of their lives. Employment with passion—the logical result of Education with Purpose—may seem an unattainable dream for such individuals. But this can be changed.

Postsecondary education of every kind should be a stepping stone, not an end in itself. Even entry-level jobs can lead to so many different things down the road. Imagine the opportunities if we take off the blinders and look beyond just the college pathway. Apprenticeships, industry training, and other educational pathways can function as the on-ramp to a great career. Many times these options can sustain themselves or lead to something much bigger.

Young people can take so many different roads to merge on to the super highway of their chosen career field. Education with Purpose or education for education’s sake alone—I think the choice is clear.

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Educational Leadership

About The Author
Mark Perna
Mark C. Perna is a best-selling author and the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client's passion for making a difference.
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