Author Topic: Should I pursue a degree I don't plan on using because it's (basically) free?  (Read 5717 times)

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133
My employer has just increased our tuition reimbursement program from $600 a year to $3,000 a year which is obviously a huge net gain for the employees.

My dilemma is I already like my job, and plan on doing this until I retire, and gaining an advanced degree won't earn me a single extra penny. (union payscale, it's pretty set in stone).

But, I have found a 100% online degree completion program that will cost in it's entirety $10,800, and they allow up to 5 years to complete it.  so it should be no problem to have this 100% paid for by my employer. (I already checked my employer's requirements and this program qualifies).

The reason I said it's "basically" free is because even though 100% of tuition, books and fees will be paid by my employer...I will have a few minor "fringe" costs such as requesting transcripts, and computer maintenance/software type stuff.

And there is "opportunity cost" to consider.  This degree program would probably not cause me to work any more or less hours than I currently do (I already work 40 hours a week). But I am a serious amateur poker player, and my average hourly earnings are $23 per hour (averaged over 7 years and thousands of hours of play).  For every hour I spend playing poker, I also spend about a half an hour studying, analyzing or critiquing my play.  So that brings the average hourly earnings down to about $15 per hour when you consider all hours devoted to poker.  And net poker winnings are taxed at a full 40% unless you have a professional gambler status (which I do not).

On the up side...you never know what the future might bring and it is quite possible that this advanced degree could help me attain a different job, or earn more in a different job if I ever wanted to change career paths, or if I was forced to due to an injury.  Or even if I just burned out in my current job.  Currently I have no plans to leave this job until I retire, but you never know...

Thoughts....?

ysette9

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4392
  • Location: Bay Area, CA
    • Insert Snappy Title Here (Journal)
A few random ramblings....

1) What degree and through what institution? I would be very wary of any for-profit college. Be sure to do research on what the actual job prospects are for people coming out with that degree.

2) How likely do you think it is that you would choose or otherwise be forced to find a job that uses the new degree? How many more years would you have until FIRE if you stuck on your current path?

3) How well would the degree "age"? Meaning, if you got it, sat on it for 5 years, and then later found yourself needing to find a new job, would your education be stale because you didn't put the degree to use after graduating?

4) Have you any interest in getting a degree? I got my master's degree part-time while working full-time. It was fun at first but about half-way through I was DONE. Working and going to school at the same time is TOUGH and you really have to have commitment to stick through a multi-year degree in that scenario. Personally I also found that I had to have a lot of discipline to stay up with online courses. I always ended each quarter a week behind on watching the lectures because it is so easy to put them off. As a result, I took on-campuses classes whenever I could because it worked better for me.

5) What is your employer's policy on tuition reimbursement? Most now have a policy in place that you would have to reimburse the last x years tuition if you left for any reason other than layoff. Make sure you have that cash laying around just in case things go south.

forummm

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 7357
  • Senior Mustachian
If you won't use the degree for employment purposes, why do it? Is it something you'll find fun to do? More fun than the poker playing and poker income? Is it something that will enrich your life if not your wallet?

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133
A few random ramblings....

1) What degree and through what institution? I would be very wary of any for-profit college. Be sure to do research on what the actual job prospects are for people coming out with that degree.

2) How likely do you think it is that you would choose or otherwise be forced to find a job that uses the new degree? How many more years would you have until FIRE if you stuck on your current path?

3) How well would the degree "age"? Meaning, if you got it, sat on it for 5 years, and then later found yourself needing to find a new job, would your education be stale because you didn't put the degree to use after graduating?

4) Have you any interest in getting a degree? I got my master's degree part-time while working full-time. It was fun at first but about half-way through I was DONE. Working and going to school at the same time is TOUGH and you really have to have commitment to stick through a multi-year degree in that scenario. Personally I also found that I had to have a lot of discipline to stay up with online courses. I always ended each quarter a week behind on watching the lectures because it is so easy to put them off. As a result, I took on-campuses classes whenever I could because it worked better for me.

5) What is your employer's policy on tuition reimbursement? Most now have a policy in place that you would have to reimburse the last x years tuition if you left for any reason other than layoff. Make sure you have that cash laying around just in case things go south.

1) It's a bachelor's in Dental Hygiene through Oregon institute of technology (a state school, not for profit)

2) It is unlikely that I will be forced out of my current position (I already have an associate's of dental hygiene).  Carpal tunnel is extremely likely....but it is pretty easily fixed with surgery.  90% of hygienists can eventually return to work after carpal tunnel surgergy.  Burnout is more likely, I'm not experiencing it now....but it is common.  If I stay on my current path I am 17 years from FIRE.

3) the degree would age just fine.  I mean, keeping up my license is the only part that is critical and that is the same process regardless of which degree I have.  Mostly  This would open the door for me to go into teaching,  research,  sales, marketing or management if I got burned out on clinical patient care.  Again, I'm not expecting that....but who knows?

4) I am kind of a natural nerdy type.  I've always liked school.  the work doesn't bother me (I mean....I read poker strategy books for fun.  And belong to retirement savings forums!).  The money/debt part and the fact that I don't NEED a degree have been the reasons I've stayed away from school this long.

5) This is a no strings attached program....I will not have to pay back any part of the tuition if I sever my employment.

Mrs.LC

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 226
    • Loose Change Living
I would take advantage of the free tuition and books. That is a great perk to have. You never know when you might not be able to continue your current job. Having a BS in Dental Hygiene would likely allow you to teach at community colleges. If you are a school "nerd" teaching might be something to consider down the road. It makes a perfect side hustle as well.

vagon

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Sydney
Nothing more to add, other than to ask some questions you might not have thought about:
  • Does the employer pay up front or on subject completion?
  • Are the other associated costs tax deductable?
  • Is there a different course (e.g. biostatistics or something) that might help you with your hobby as well as your job?

I'm a red panda

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 7957
  • Location: United States
$3,000 a year doesn't sound like much to me.  Does that actually cover the number of classes you'd take each year? (Will you end up paying for 80% of a class, or else need more than 5 years- for instance?)

If it really is next to no out of pocket, I'd do it.  But I love school.

And you never know, maybe you'll have to move- and this will open doors in the new place.

Neustache

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1165
I'd do it..in fact I'm encouraging my husband to get his master's as his company will pay for it and he may want to teach in the future (he doesn't think he will, but he's becoming an expert in his field and I think he'd probably enjoy teaching sometime). 

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133
Nothing more to add, other than to ask some questions you might not have thought about:
  • Does the employer pay up front or on subject completion?
  • Are the other associated costs tax deductable?
  • Is there a different course (e.g. biostatistics or something) that might help you with your hobby as well as your job?

They don't pay upfront, they pay on completion.  But I have the cash reserves to cover it....so I guess that is another small cost is I lose out on the interest I would be making until my employer reimburses me.

None of  the other costs are probably tax deductible because it's just fringe stuff like laptop upkeep and  Possibly internet usage fees.  I have unlimited internet at home, but I might end up needing to pay for internet when I'm out and about and need to get schoolwork done.  I don't need a laptop right now...but mine is fairly old and there might be a time I might need a new one over the next 4-5 years especially if my program is 100% online.

That's a good question about a different course that carries over into poker.  I'm sure there is.  I guess the reason I'm interested in this particular course is because I'm already so close to all the credits I need for the degree.  I've already done 5 years of dental hygiene coursework, but I ended up with and associate's degree because it was all at a community college.  This program just gives me the handful of courses I was missing had I been at a university.  of the 200 credits required for the bachelor's degree, I only need to take 42 of them. (14 individual classes). 

As such, the total tuition is $10,800 which comes well under $3,000 a year for 5 years.  They also estimate $1,200-$1,500 for books and materials.  And that is also covered by my employer as long as it stays within the $3,000 per year.

If I wanted to pursue a totally different path, I would need to take approximately 90-120 of the 200 credits required. (some of my general education credits carry over to any degree).  So It would take twice as long, and cost twice as much (part of which might end up out of pocket for me).

Trifele

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 2122
  • Location: US
If you have the chance to upgrade an associate's to a bachelor's free of charge and you have the time, hell yes I would do it.  There are many jobs that require a bachelor's degree as a threshold, and you never know what you will want to do in the future.  Go for it.   

MoneyRx

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 95
  • Location: USA
I would definitely do it, there isn't much downside when everything is being paid for. As much as we like to plan the future, you can never be 100% certain especially when it comes to employment.

As an aside, I am very surprised to hear you are paying taxes on poker earnings. Are your poker earnings live or online? I'm certainly not trying to advocate tax avoidance but I think it is very uncommon for anyone to pay taxes for this as it is likely not being tracked unless you are playing live tournaments. You can also itemize and offset winnings with losing sessions/entry fees as well as any other type of gambling you may do.

pbkmaine

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8257
  • Age: 62
  • Location: The Villages, Florida
Do it! Bachelors is now considered an absolute minimum for many jobs.

Bob W

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 2947
  • Age: 60
  • Location: Missouri
  • Live on minimum wage, earn on maximum
Dental hygienist --- I think not.  Can't you do something different?   I'd be surprised that you don't have to lots of clinical time with that field?   I'm down with the free vs. the $10 playing poker though. 

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133

As an aside, I am very surprised to hear you are paying taxes on poker earnings. Are your poker earnings live or online? I'm certainly not trying to advocate tax avoidance but I think it is very uncommon for anyone to pay taxes for this as it is likely not being tracked unless you are playing live tournaments. You can also itemize and offset winnings with losing sessions/entry fees as well as any other type of gambling you may do.

I'm aware of all the ways to reduce my taxes on poker winnings.  I am a very good player, so I do have to fill out 1099G forms at the casino fairly often.  There is no hiding that.  I play both live and online, but there is really no "hiding" your winnings in either place.  Plus, I'm just honest.  I'm not trying to pay more taxes than I have to....so I take every possible deducation against my poker winnings....but what is leftover I owe 40% taxes on.  that's the law, and so that's what I do.  my $23 an hour is NET after all entry fees and all losses.  sometimes I make $600 an hour...sometimes I lose $40 an hour.

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133
Dental hygienist --- I think not.  Can't you do something different?   I'd be surprised that you don't have to lots of clinical time with that field?   I'm down with the free vs. the $10 playing poker though.
I don't get what you're trying to say.  I do have lots of clinical time.  I work 40 hours a week for the last 11 years.  I'm not having any shortage of available work.  Which is why I don't NEED the degree.   Hence the dilemma.

I'm also not particularly interested in doing anything different.  This would be purely a "just in case" degree which I would never consider pursuing if it wasn't free.

RunHappy

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 561
Just because it is "free" doesn't mean it won't cost you.  Think about it in terms of time and effort.  Studying, logging into class, reading course material will take time.  If you're not interested in it and it is not a career path you want then no do not take the classes.

Cassie

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5248
I would definitely do it!  You never know when it may come to be valuable & needed. I love school-I have 4 college degrees.

vagon

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Sydney
...of the 200 credits required for the bachelor's degree, I only need to take 42 of them. (14 individual classes).

...If I wanted to pursue a totally different path, I would need to take approximately 90-120 of the 200 credits required. (some of my general education credits carry over to any degree).  So It would take twice as long, and cost twice as much (part of which might end up out of pocket for me).

How long do you estimate the dental hygiene one will take to complete?

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133

How long do you estimate the dental hygiene one will take to complete?

If I take 1 class per term it will take me 4 years.. And I can take 2 of the 4 summers off.  Or 3.5 years if I go straight thru 1 class at a time with no breaks.

vagon

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 238
  • Location: Sydney
Hmm thats a fairly long time to stay motivated. That said, my view is maybe try it out and see, there's very little opportunity cost.

sser

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 30

4) Have you any interest in getting a degree? I got my master's degree part-time while working full-time. It was fun at first but about half-way through I was DONE. Working and going to school at the same time is TOUGH and you really have to have commitment to stick through a multi-year degree in that scenario. Personally I also found that I had to have a lot of discipline to stay up with online courses. I always ended each quarter a week behind on watching the lectures because it is so easy to put them off. As a result, I took on-campuses classes whenever I could because it worked better for me.


This was also my experience (minus on-campus courses). Just finished a masters program over 4.5 years and did it largely because work would pay for a course a semester if it was related to work. I did enjoy many of the classes and they have been somewhat useful, but constantly having the thought of classwork at the back of my mind got stressful. I'm sure it's not the same for everyone - for me there is definitely a difference between having to study to fulfill obligations and doing it in your spare time for fun (discovered MMM just before graduating and have loved spending my new free time looking into finances, as well as discovering other interests). On the plus side, this degree would be very useful if I decided to look for another job, which was a motivating factor to continue after classes started to get old. I'm not completely convinced yet that it was all worth it... maybe after I've mostly forgotten the frustrating parts and see more benefits in the future?

Given all that, I would agree with some of the others. Give it a try! Nothing to lose, and it sounds like you don't have to continue the program if you decide that's not what you want to do with your time?

letired

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 823
  • Location: Texas
    • Needs More Glitter
I'd do it! If you like school and learning stuff, it seems like a good fit and I'm not seeing any downside. I guess you could decide halfway through that you don't want to finish it, but that's not a big deal if your work reimburses you every time you finish a class. I'm also biased because I come from a family where there is no such thing as too much education!

How much do you need the poker money? That is the only thing I'm seeing as a potential pitfall to spending that time on school instead.

missj

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 133

How much do you need the poker money? That is the only thing I'm seeing as a potential pitfall to spending that time on school instead.
I don't need the poker money at all.  But I'm fairly positive I would enjoy the time I spend playing poker more....and as a bonus I make money (on average).  And what poker allows me is to take shots at big, life changing money essentially for free. 

Example: 1 month ago I had a nice result at a WSOP bracelet event and won $29,710.  That was nice and everything...but what was REALLY exciting was that I had a real shot at 1.2 million dollars.  I went out in 45th place out of 7,192 players. Everybody in the top 10 got over $100,000 with first place getting $1,287,000.00.  So I was actually quite close to FU money...and I had a blast....and a still had a healthy profit....  that's what I mean by opportunity cost.  The odds of me hitting a big score are slim...but very real.
« Last Edit: July 20, 2015, 10:00:41 PM by missj »

arebelspy

  • Administrator
  • Senior Mustachian
  • *****
  • Posts: 27538
  • Age: -999
  • Location: Traveling the World
Congrats on finishing in the money!

It's a pretty simple answer to me: Would you enjoy it?  (Take into account opportunity cost.)

Think of the pros/cons, basically, and put weight on making yourself happy.
We are two former teachers who accumulated a bunch of real estate, retired at 29, and now travel the world full time with two kids.
If you want to know more about me, or how we did that, or see lots of pictures, this Business Insider profile tells our story pretty well.
We (rarely) blog at AdventuringAlong.com. Check out our Now page to see what we're up to currently.