Back to School

BusinessThe biggest investment you can make.

By Stephanie Yates

Perhaps I’m just a bit different—yet not necessarily smarter—than the “average bear.” In August, when a lot of people are thinking about school supplies, yellow buses, and backpacks, I’m thinking about education on a slightly different level. At this time of year, I think about education as the investment that has the potential for providing you with a higher return than any other alternative.

Over the last few days, I have been living in a dormitory room, helping to chaperone and direct 100+ primarily inner city middle school students and 20 counselors. These 11–13 year-olds have amazed me with their personalities, curiosity, and spirit. We have been teaching them early lessons very similar to what I discuss in this column. In fact, our lessons focused on my five key areas of importance—at any age—with respect to financial education:






Then, in order to make the learning both fun and practical, the students engaged in a “Real World” exercise where those lessons came to life. They chose jobs and determined their net monthly pay based on median salaries and standard payroll deductions. They created budgets based on the net pay that they calculated. On “pay day,” they deposited some of their pay in their savings accounts before depositing the balance in their checking accounts. They purchased homes and autos on credit. They purchased home and auto insurance for their new homes and autos. After covering our five key areas, they could spend their remaining pay on “luxury” items such as gym memberships, cable television, and beauty/barber services. Their objective was to make spending choices that fit within their budget constraints.

What an experience! The campers, counselors, and I laughed and cried more than once this week as we all learned a thing or three about money and each other. My favorite memory was when a young man told his counselor, “Mr. Brandon, I want to be a lawyer!” When asked what led to this revelation, the young man explained that now he could see the reward for working hard and staying in school. What a joyous occasion to witness that light bulb turning on for a student!

The counselors, instructors, and I have worked hard this week. We have taught the campers five lessons about money and countless lessons about life. We have taught them to invest in themselves because they are an asset with unlimited potential. We have taught them that money isn’t everything, but managing it wisely is key to a bright future.

Therefore, as I think about August, I think about my 100+ campers and I think about my 20 counselors. I hope that they will all take these lessons to heart. I hope that our investment in them will generate triple-digit returns that accrue not only to those campers and counselors, but also to our society as a whole. I can’t wait to visit our campers’ respective schools this fall and see them continue to flourish!

I think that what we don’t realize are the various ways the returns on education manifest themselves. For example, the more education you have, the higher your earning potential. I think our future lawyer learned that this week in a startling and unexpected way! In fact, the Economic Policy Institute reports that in states where more than 40 percent of the population has a bachelor’s degree or more education, median wages are nearly a third higher than in less-educated states. More simply though, the amount of education one has is directly correlated to the likelihood that he or she will be able to secure employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2014, unemployment rates range from 9 percent for persons over 25 with less than a high school diploma to 2.1 percent for persons with a doctoral degree.

One thing we also tried to teach our campers this week was that not only is investing in yourself a very good thing, you must think strategically with regard to future planning. In other words, think like Steven Covey and “Begin with the end in mind.” Focus on careers with low unemployment rates and high potential for advancement and solid earnings. Right now, we are seeing the most potential in healthcare and computers. According to U.S. News and World Report, the top five jobs for 2015 are as follows:


Nurse Practitioner

Software Developer


Dental Hygienist

I’m looking forward to school supplies, yellow buses, and backpacks, but I’m also looking forward to seeing these young people mature into our next generation of doctors and lawyers. I’m proud to be an educator and have a hand in helping these young people reach their potential.

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