It is not hard to accept that higher education is correlated to higher wages. Many studies have analysed this relationship. That means that if you pursue higher education you are going to have your returns.
Just try to evaluate them: take into account what you’re spending today in your studies, take into account opportunity costs (what you could be earning of you diverted all the energies and time you’re spending into earning money), think of the possible future income surpluses that you can achieve, and actualise the inflow with reasonable rates. (higher than your mortgage, try to be realistic!)
Even if that leads to a positive figure, the causality question remains. Are you going to have that extra value because of what you’re learning, or is the value actually inside you and you are only making it visible?
Let’s ask it in another way: is a MBA (a PhD, second career, a personal blog, whatever means of learning) a cause to be more productive or simply a mark that can only be achieved by the most productive people? That’s not so simple to answer.
If it was a mark, then certain ways to achieving an MBA would signal the most productive people: for example those that go for an executive MBA thus assuming a considerable extra effort in their lives and thus minimising the opportunity cost of studying.
Is it true that higher productive individuals choose higher education to identify themselves from the rest? Maybe it’s not only that they choose it, but that being them more productive, then the whole cost of studying would be lower for them, enabling them to obtain results easier. The higher the individual productivity, the lower the marginal cost of every meme (as a whole item of additional information) is.
The opposite of signalling is enhancing. Maybe the differences were not preordained but they were simply created by the learning processes.
There’s controversy between both approaches. Some studies point to the first cause, others disagree. Whatever your view there’s (rather ambiguous) data to support it.
If I had to choose I’d go for the hybrid approach. From a pragmatic point of view the hybrid approaches always work better when the demonstrations of the pros and the cons are simply too feeble, especially in a world that’s no longer black and white. But that’s not my reason to choose this approach.
I believe in the difference between having potential and realising that potential. For example I believe that, as a race, the humans have a huge potential that we’ve just only begun to grasp. There’s more to humans than what we see today. But one of our assets is learning: that marks us as privileged individuals between all species. But having the potential to learn is not enough if we don’t make the effort.
So, if you have actually decided to embark in your personal learning project (whatever that is) it means that you have already been marked as a higher productivity individual. But now you must tackle the challenge of realising your potential. Making it a reality is what makes the difference.