Educational Debt. Is It Necessary?

In a history not far off, in a land right under your feet, people had skills without formal education.

Youth were matched with elders who had a deep understanding of what it took to make a product or provide a service.  This educational path was usually a private agreement.

Eventually, communities started embracing the idea of publicly formalizing education. In contrast to past educational methods, a curriculum based upon facts, data, and vetted research outcomes became the norm.

Dietetics, Nutrition and Food Service

Specific to the field of Dietetics, Nutrition and Foodservice we can still find honoured elders who can vouch for the amount of education required to get a reasonable salary (and working hours) in a female dominated industry prior to the mid-1990’s.

Commentary about what it would take to level out the professional respect, salary, and working conditions, in comparison to other fields, has been an on-going dialogue among Food and Nutrition professionals.

In the Dietetics realm in particular either a 2 or 4-year degree, plus an internship, was good enough to get a career going.

A similar trend can be observed in other long-standing, male dominated fields such as engineering. Point is, both fields have a disparate gender balance. But in recent decades, both fields have required increasing amounts of formal education, experience and certifications just to find a job.

For new grads in today’s world in particular, that added education tends to translate into more loan expense.

Flashback to the 1970’s: this was the era in the United States when young people lost the opportunity to work at some sort of entry-level job and were still able to keep college expenses paid for. End result was that they got out of school debt free after earning a two or four-year degree.

Thinking the trend might hold true for others living in many ‘First World’ countries.

For those in Dietetics and Food Science in particular the cost of educational requirements has escalated since roughly the mid-1990’s. Is this necessary?

I would pose the fence sitting response of flatly no, and mostly yes.

In the ‘Flatly No’ corner:

Where money is the only consideration: If up and coming new grads can’t afford the cost of their current education, how can they be expected to afford the expense of their upcoming career? Yes, negotiation points of employer reimbursement for continuing education, and maybe a $5,000 recruitment bonus, might be there.

But really, how much is that $5,000 really gonna pay off? And yes, key words here. “Pay. Off.” Negotiate for an immediate monetary solution. Don’t be accepting of a stalling tactic where salary discussions are concerned. (Sorry ladies, this is where we all have to pull up our ‘big girl’ pants!)

Recruitment bonuses tend to equal ‘band aid for starting salary that’s too low’ in many regions. Promoting the idea that a requested salary amount needs to consider both on-going living, and personal education, expenses.

Quit thinking of your career as supplemental income, or just something to get by on.

And, in the opposing ‘Mostly Yes’ corner:

For many fields, decisions need to be made based upon objective critical thinking and standardized technical skills.

This is where the need for an adult education curriculum taking place after completing a degreed education is a must.

These educational tracts tend to require advanced levels of higher education in order to get a decent job. Wondering if people are voting with their departing educational feet because they don’t feel as though an external entity should be setting them up for financial hardship.

Thing is, satisfying professionally mandated expenses to pay for CEU’s / PDU’s when school loans aren’t paid off feels like a set up for a tough financial life.

Concerns further grow when a certification provides a fantastic opportunity for learning a highly transferable skill-set. Yet, the new skill set might not be applicable to a professionally mandated ‘Adult Learning Plan’ (think Six Sigma vs. Renal Nutrition certification here).

Proposing the idea that expecting someone to judge what their career will look like in even the next upcoming year, let alone the next five, is too much. Especially if expensive continuing education credits get denied by a professional organization when that pre-declared ‘Adult Education Plan’ is changed.

In the end, the fundamental ROI (Return on Investment) might not be there if a person makes a sudden job change that is not in line with their pre-declared career path.

I have personally benefited from some fantastic employers who paid for the formal coursework, and PDU / CEU opportunities, for some of my past and present certifications. Thing is though, not everyone gets that chance on a level playing field.

Employers can’t be expected to always pay for on-going adult training. Thinking this issue should be a personally managed topic. Smart professionals realize that keeping one foot planted firmly in professional performance, and the other in a formally vetted, on-going adult education is a career must.

4 Reflective Questions to Consider:

Fact is, a formal education is the one and only thing another human being CAN’T STEAL from you. But you MUST keep those skills current. Especially since today’s work-world is VERY FLUID where career content and technical expectations are concerned – the internal reflective questions now arise:

  1. Does it really take a Master’s degree, vs. getting a one-year internship to provide nutritional support or services in the clinical setting?

2. Do I really need to have a Master’s or PhD in order to work in a large-scale food ingredient company?

3. How much education and debt load am I and / or my family members willing to bear? What’s my optimal balance?

4. Is the objective Return on Investment there for me? What about the time-cost of getting an education?

Author: Laura Schaufelberger

Laura has worked 15+ years gaining experience in clinical nutrition and foodservice management field. After transitioning into project and program management, she spent time working in a supply chain environment for a large equipment manufacturer.

Most recently, Laura’s career path has led her to Rembrandt Foods, an egg and egg protein product producer. There, Laura utilizes past nutrition, supply chain, and current program / project management experience gained for her current employer’s thriving future.


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