Dear Family – Education has changed. Are you getting your children ready?

Typically I don’t share private letters to my family. But, this one was about education and I am not sure that parents are aware of the trends impacting their children’s education. We are seeing the trends in the adult learning world, but have they trickled to the ears of parents herding their K-12 kids through the system?

I have a couple dozen nieces and nephews that I care about and so ….a letter went out!

Remember, this was just an informal communication. Tons more info on this out there!


Dear Family,

My friend’s son watched his sister accumulate over $150,000 in undergraduate debt at Emory-Riddle and …she still end up working at Panera. He was preparing for college as he watched this unfold in her life. So, he’s decided to complete his first two years of college at a local community college – virtually free – while he accumulates credits (not debt), takes a wide variety of courses, and keeps working. He was a 4.0 student in high school, involved in drama, singing and a few other activities (no sports – asma).

education (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

He is not alone. Over the past couple of years the Money and Kiplinger financial magazines have had stray articles about the high cost of most colleges and how the better bang for the buck comes from attending a community college first and then transferring and graduating from a bigger name university.

Just this past week on the local radio station, WTOP, they reported how a recent study (not sure if it was local or national) showed that students graduating from the community or technical institutes were walking out with salaries that were equal OR GREATER TO those that had bachelor’s degrees! Again, a lot lower debt load.

Change is a comin!

My job requires me to keep up with the latest technologies, methodologies, and trends in education. My background nowadays is primarily in adult learning, but you can’t look at that without also coming across K-12 information. We are noting that a big shift is taking place in learning. We noted it a couple of years ago, but in the last few months it is suddenly increasing month to month instead of year to year.

Here are some trends to follow:

Degrees, in general, are not paying off…or will not

You must be in a math or sciences fields to benefit and even then – beware. The BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) nations have figured this out and the US is way behind. Here’s data – Doctors and lawyers are losing ground to the tech super stars. In other words, being a nerd will be good if you continue to learn and grow. This doesn’t mean we all stop seeking degrees since it can be ONE way to focus your learning. It does mean, that over the next few years …many of your children will be gaining job experience first and formal education along the way vs. getting an education with a little job experience along the way.

Become an expert at something

Sure, it is great to get a background in history, art, music, english literature, and business. It gives context to the world around you and is part of your cultural identity. Great marketers don’t just know about marketing techniques, they’ve got to understand culture to make you NEED what they are selling. But, nowadays you can get a lot of this type of general content online or in small seminars. Take the time to augment all of those areas of knowledge with deep expertise in a certain area. I’m even finding that 1-3 areas is good to have as long as they are related. It takes too much time (to become expert) to take on more.

Continuous Learning is Required

Education isn’t a set period of time, or at least not a one time period of learning. In my world, I’m outdated if I don’t constantly pulse what is going on out there every week. There is too much out there to worry about everything and so I follow-up on the overall trends and then delve deep into just a few. Note – Dad figured this out when he started attending all the Internet conferences and found that he needed to stay on top of all the changes or he’d become irrelevant in his job.

FREE is key (at University)

Universities are hurting right now. Every single day there are  newspaper articles about the rapidly growing MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that are freely available to the public. They are college level online courses where professors put their video lectures & activities online for 100,000 students vs. the model where 30 students march into their classroom for 50 minutes at a time. Most of them are the equivalent to auditing courses from a regular college, but in the January 2013 timeframe some of them have started saying they will give college credit if students want to complete all the assignments and take the tests. At that point, I think there is a small fee.

Penn campus
Penn campus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Popular MOOCs include:

Note – take a look at who is teaching on the MOOCS – big name professors from big name (Yale, Stanford, Wharton, Duke, etc.) universities. They get more recognition and you get to say you got your learning from all of them. They are hoping this will translate into more people for their university. We all know they are worried about losing students.

Other MOOC resources




What does this have to do with YOU (parents)?

You have a lot of children! You may be stressed about saving for their college or what their future holds. Luckily, money may not be as big of an issue going forward, but what you are doing now to support their learning and skills to help them fit into the new economy is a big issue.

Those of us 20+ years old must still play by some old rules while assimilating the new.

Some thoughts for your children:

Are your children prepared for the future of education?
Are your children prepared for the future of education?
  •  Use the K-10 time period to help them explore as many different interests as possible. Alas, why focus on “doing stuff to put on the college application” if there may be a different type of educational path? Excuse me, there WILL be a different educational path.
  • Build on their strengths – leverage outside workshops, lessons, etc. if they show strengths in particular areas.
  • Build the right weaknesses into strengths – it may not matter if you aren’t great at geometry, but if you are horrible at writing or send explosive emails to people….might be a good time to invest in a writing class and an emotional intelligence course. The trend in business right now – don’t need super smart people most of the time, but rather team players. Life is hard enough to have to work with bullies or jerks. They lower team morale and ultimately lower the organizations success. However, entrepreneurs need to be both smart and skilled at interpersonal relationships.
  • Select meaningful learning activities and experiences (Internships, summer school, etc.) – do it! In some way, shape or form. It isn’t about keeping kids busy all summer, but it is about keeping them anxiously engaged in at least one type of learning activity each summer. This is also a time that they discover a new interest or skill without the pressure of the day-to-day school day weighing down upon them. I know that we had swimming, orchestra and book club at the library during the summer. What if we had attended a class on creating graphics, building a website, surveying skills, a class on public speaking, etc.? Good stuff.

Some thoughts for the adults:

adults sitting at a table in business attire
Adult Learning – it never ends

You need to keep learning too!

  • Think twice about investing in further educational degrees – this doesn’t say to stop learning, but rather to be careful where you pursue your advanced education. Will your company help pay for part of it? Can you choose somewhere less prestigious to get the skills you need? Can you take one class at a time? Take it all online?
  • Don’t think twice about taking an online training, on or offline seminar, or attending a meaningful conference – there are so many cheaper and relevant learning opportunities out there. Invest in them! I remember Mom enrolling in an ice skating course and an organ class at some point in her late 30s? There are so many courses out there available to anyone willing to learn about anything. Here are a few that are really small that are online – Udemy and Khan Academy. These include training for both children and adults.
  • Figure out your educational goals – do you just need to be informed? do you need to show certification? do you need to network? John is always clipping great articles for me and I highly suggest this reading in a recent Wall Street Journal article titled “A SMART Investor would skip an MBA” – . Hopefully it is still available when you read this, but the jist of it is this – you get the MBA for content and networking. Don’t  go somewhere and pay big bucks. Content is now free and there are a lot of ways to network for less. Will some still want an MBA for personal reasons? YES. But, do it on the cheap from an accredited college instead.
  • Network – join Facebook groups and contribute, join LinkedIn groups and contribute, being a Twitter person and connect, find out about local networking events, try out Meetup where you can find groups with specific interests of your own. No, Meetup is not for dating. (-: Remember to be on your best behavior everywhere…especially online.

Summary – are you thinking “finally, the end of the email”

This is an awesome time to live! We have access to so much and there are creative ways to get an education now without breaking the bank!

This email was just to spark a discussion. I’m positive that you will all have other thoughts, but I’m hoping that you take this as a chance to creatively think what you can do to help prepare your children and yourselves for the future.

The good thing is – it isn’t as much about accumulating money for college loans as it is about figuring out how to find and use our time, talents and energies for something beyond ourselves that also makes us happy!

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