For the Federal Worker, is College Worth It? (I Think So!)

There was a time not long ago, in the past couple of decades or so, that there was a big push for everyone to go to college. “If you don’t go to college, you don’t have a future. You MUST get a degree!” As college costs skyrocketed and student debt became a major burden for many people, however, there became whispers that maybe college was not the best bet for everyone. “Is it really worth it?” has become a heated debate as of late.

At least one economist believes the costs outweigh the benefit. Indeed, the idea of going into massive debt without career guarantees on the other end is cause to pause. However, as a federal worker, I think it is clear the benefits overwhelmingly outweigh the costs.

Education matters for your career advancement

While some people are fortunate enough to move up the federal career ladder without formal education, those cases are becoming fewer and far between. Many GS positions past the GS-09 level actually require an undergraduate or graduate degree. That means that matter how great you may be at your job, how much your supervisor might appreciate your work and want to advance you, without the education, you are automatically boxed out due to not meeting an educational requirement. There was a day when hard work was enough. That day is just about over. Education helps distinguish you in an overcrowded applicant pool. And when HR specialists place applicants on a matrix to see who will be considered most qualified, they give more points to the applicants with education. It is essentially how you get your foot in the door of the next position. For mature workers who are overwhelmed at the prospect of starting or finishing school, there is good news—as a federal worker, you have resources to help.

Utilize those resources!

The Tuition Assistance Program is a gold mine for federal workers looking to go to school. How sweet is it that you may get help paying for school? That is a major benefit that unfortunately goes under-utilized by many who do not even know the program exists or where to find the information if they do. The challenge is to do your research and reach out to people who may be able to advise you. I can attest this is not always easy since many, even in the HR field, do not seem to be very informed about the program. Still, it is worth it to research and to try to utilize this valuable resource available to you as a civil servant. Each agency has an office you can reach to find out more information. For example, those interested in learning about the Air Force program can go here.

Likewise, many schools offer discounted tuition to federal employees. This too helps reduce one of the biggest deterrents to enrolling in school for most people—the debt!  The list of participating schools is ever-expanding. You can email OPM for more information here: [email protected].

Private sector vs federal employment

Hiring officials in the private sector have much more flexibility when hiring than do those in the federal government. There are strict guidelines that are supposed to be followed and high risk for legal ramifications if they are not, for the federal employer. If a job has been classified to only accept applicants with a degree, that rule must be followed. Thus, it is easier for an outside observer to claim college may not be worth it. In the corporate world, where employers have the flexibility to make personal determinations based on unique factors, it is easier to consider other qualifications of non-degreed applicants. If you want to succeed in the federal government realm, you have to prioritize the values set forth there, which increasingly means a degree is a necessity.

Not much to lose, much more to gain

So what is the excuse? Time? Many schools now offer flexible schedules. Transportation/ traffic? Many schools offer 100 percent online programs. Affordability? The federal government oftentimes helps pay for your tuition. Not sure how to get started? OPM and individual agencies have offices specifically designed to inform and direct you to school programs that may fit your needs.

In other words, whatever the contemporary debate may be among economists and philosophers about the benefits of college, for the federal worker, given the ever-increasing educational requirements for career advancement, college is definitely worth it.

For more discussion on this, you can check out these related articles:

4 Benefits of Continuing Education

Don’t Stop Learning

Tamara Key is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Tehitia Poston

Thank you for writing this article, I had been very indecisive regarding the benefits of returning to school. I knew that I was an excellent worker and thought that surely that would override any degree, but to my heart breaking surprise, it did not. I applied for a position, I was told that I met the qualification for the job, but I wasn’t the most qualified meaning the other applicant possessed higher education. “So with much to lose, much more to gain”, I am back in school.