Is it worth it? Calculating education’s ROI

If you are contemplating going back to school, whether for a degree program or a certification exam, the main question you have to answer is: Is it worth your time and your (or your company’s) money?

“It’s a real dilemma for a person to try to figure out, ‘Is my investment going to pay off?'” said Joanne Ward, a senior systems analyst in the office of information technology for the city of Oakland, Calif., and president of the board of directors of the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals.

Jim Brown, a recruiter in the Chicago office of Pencom Systems, said IT professionals should begin this decision-making process by assessing their goals to make sure the training will help them achieve those goals.

“Would they like to move into a management role? If so, they need to work on enhancing their management skills,” Brown said. “If they would rather remain on a technical track, they need to concentrate on enhancing their technical skills.”

Once you know what type of training would benefit your career, you need to decide if the benefit justifies the time and expense.

“No school guarantees increased salaries,” said Charles Hickman, director of member relations for AACSB, the international association for management education in St. Louis. “This is one of the tough questions.”

Predicting whether a certain certification or degree will help increase your salary can be difficult, because the link between education and salary is seldom direct.

“My salary will go up if I’m doing better work,” said Steve Helfand, a lead systems analyst at Arthur Andersen in New York. “Certification will help if it leads to better work.”

In some cases, a certification or advanced degree will help you move to a higher-level position or get a job at a new company, increasing your salary in the process.

IT professionals who ask for time off or tuition reimbursement for training may find themselves having to justify the benefit to the company, as well.

Hickman said companies are beginning to scrutinize their investments in education. “In the past, (education) may have been viewed as kind of a perk,” Hickman said, “but that’s usually not good enough anymore.”