Today CNN published a snapshot of Obama’s economy that tells us pretty much what we all know: the economic outlook four years ago was terrifying, and now it’s unsettling. It’s a significant improvement, but neither we nor our money are anywhere near where we’d like to be. One effect of this slow recovery may be that significant private investors are putting their money into slower growth, longer-term investments (such as an education franchise) rather than traditional vehicles.
This strategy won’t do much to generate the kind of rosy economic numbers that pollsters, strategists, or central bankers like to see. But it is a strategy that makes a lot of sense, especially given the attitudes and perspectives of the Millennial Generation, which is making up an increasing percentage of the workforce.
New data (also reported today by CNN) suggests that younger Americans are taking the materialistic side of the American dream a little more slowly than previous generations. They’re saving more; they’re spending less; and they are less willing to go into debt. They also tend to be ambitious, progress-oriented, and willing to invest time, energy, and money in their future.
The Millennial Generation is far less likely to go on a spending spree with a credit card than any previous generation, which is bad news for consumer-oriented products and services. That doesn’t bode well for the companies that provide those services, which represent a significant portion of every stock index.
But Millennials are interested in improving themselves, and they are willing to take on debt to improve their educations. As they move into the workforce, they are likely to be assertive about seeking out and taking advantage of educational opportunities that will have a concrete and practical impact on their ability to earn.
Outside of degree programs, traditional universities tend to offer educational opportunities that enrich the mind. But for-profit career colleges provide the kind of job-oriented certification programs that can open up doors to promotions and increased wages.
Investors in education franchises can’t expect to see a profit from their investments overnight. Setting up a school requires time and planning, and even after the school is set up it can take years before its enrollment reaches the point of generating a profit. Because many educational chains are private companies, the money that an investor puts into a franchise disappears from economic reports. It isn’t in the stock market; it isn’t in a public company’s earnings; and until it begins operation it doesn’t generate tax revenue.
However, once an education franchise is working, it contributes more than just economic activity. It also contributes to the skill level of the workforce, which is a key driver of economic activity. So the fact that many investors are looking for longer-range opportunities shouldn’t cause too many jitters. Those long-range investments may just build something of intrinsic social and economic value.