As one parent to another


The law of “demand and supply” explains how a free market system assigns monetary value to goods and services. Your children are growing up in a free market system and you work in one. Like democracy, it isn’t perfect, but it sure beats what’s in second place.

In time—and by osmosis because we still don’t teach this in school—they’ll find out that (a) a thing, like an employee, is worth only what someone is prepared to pay for it; (b) anything that can be bought and sold is a commodity subject to the whims of the markets in which it’s traded, including the markets for education and people; (c) if you have a nagging feeling that the postsecondary education industry is trying to influence your decision to buy what they’re selling, it’s because they are. Which is as it should be. After all, education is a business, too.

But one size does not fit all. The better your understanding of your children’s needs and your combined tolerance for risk, the better the fit. That includes what the labour market wants now and what it will likely want by the time your children graduate. It’s the definition of and raison d’être for Personal Due Diligence.

Another definition includes being aware of how we’re seduced into buying many of the things we buy and how to respond. Enter Terry O’Reilly. When you find yourself at his Under The Influence website, listen to his podcasts. Terry is about business and consumer behaviour, not paranoia. His programme airs on CBC Radio One. He understands better than most how we come to believe in and do the things we do because he was and is an influencer.

As it happens, not all influencers are professional advertising or marketing people. Some are friends and relations, particularly when it comes to perpetuating the myth that any old university degree or diploma will open any door and that we’ll all live happily ever after. If it happened to be the right degree or diploma in front of the right door in the right place at the right time, it might. But that would be trusting to chance. Is that what you want for your children? Accepting the wrong position for reasons of status and then losing it carries no weight at a food bank.

Bruce Stewart’s January 8th post “It’s at least a Master’s degree today … but why?” makes a powerful argument for having at least two university degrees, but it’s the relevance and applicability of the degree rather than the number of degrees that will increase the odds of “happily ever-aftering”.

Education isn’t a rite of passage: it’s a way of thinking about surviving in a technologically advanced society. It may be a commodity, but it’s an expensive commodity and it shouldn’t be an impulse buy. The house we live in may be our single biggest purchase; the education we buy for our children is our single most important purchase. If your children are young enough, expect to find yourself contemplating putting your money down for a trade school, community college or university education for them, if you aren’t already. Or guiding them in how to pay for their own.

The dialogue that comes with that contemplation can’t begin too soon. I’ve dealt with elementary, secondary and postsecondary students and have two adult children of my own. At what is arguably the most strategically important and sensitive period in their life, your progeny will be convinced that they know it all. What they don’t know and won’t until it happens to them (and the odds are that it will) is that work is stressful and that unemployment is disruptive and potentially destructive. Losing a job can often be traced to a series of avoidable mistakes or, if you prefer, bad decisions. The consequences of those mistakes were written in the anguish on the faces and in the voices of each of the almost 2000 people I’ve met one-on-one immediately following their terminations over the last 11 years. And that doesn’t include the groups.

This is not a critique of postsecondary education, university or otherwise. Its job is to provide its customer—you—with choice. Personal Due Diligence is here to help you navigate through the process of making the best possible choice. Education of any kind is an investment in building a life and a lifestyle. It’s no longer a discretionary buy. And like every investment, it carries with it an element of risk.

The law of demand and supply applies to employment, diplomas, undergraduate degrees, postgraduate degrees and the gasoline in your tank. All are commodities. The difference is, if you don’t do your personal due diligence, you’re virtually guaranteed full value for the money you spent on the gasoline, but only the gasoline.

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