The Value and Sacrifice of Continued Education

The Real Value of a Graduate Degree and How One Credit Union Professional is Juggling the Responsibility of School, Work, and Family

The Credit Union Leader Master’s Scholarship is a $10,000 scholarship awarded to a Credit Union leader each year to help fund the completion of an accredited master’s degree program. The scholarship was instituted to support our leaders in their efforts to acquire the skills needed to lead our Movement into the future.

Charlie Emanuel, VP of Accounting for Premier Members Credit Union was awarded this scholarship in 2018. We spoke with Charlie in December of 2018 about the importance of education and how he believes an MBA will equip him to take the next step in his Credit Union career.

Recently, we spoke with Charlie again to get some insight about the experience of working through a graduate degree program while also managing a full-time job and family. Amongst other things, we discussed the realities of setting priorities and time management, and the growing importance of graduate level education within the Credit Union industry. This is our conversation.

Q: Thank you for talking with us again Charlie! Now that you’re more than halfway through your graduate degree program, do you still believe that this degree is important to the achievement of your professional goals?

Charlie: Absolutely. I think many of the fruits of my efforts will come later, but I am already seeing the impact of this program on my work.

Most MBA programs include a considerable amount of case study, and mine is no exception. In working through those case studies, one thing that’s been reinforced for me is the value of exposing yourself to a wide variety of situations and perspectives.

Most businesses, regardless of industry, are facing the same challenges – How do we grow? How do we develop new products? How do we market to our audience? How do we analyze our business in a useful way? But, the approach to meeting those challenges and solving the problems that stand in the way of growth can be vastly different.

In any industry, it’s easy to allow your thinking to become kind of insular. When you interact primarily with people who are within your own industry or organization, you can start to get stuck in the same way of thinking. You can look up one day and realize that all of your input is coming from other people within your same industry or organization.

I think that when we deliberately expose ourselves to different situations outside of our industry and look at how they’ve solved problems and structured growth, it unlocks creativity and strengthens problem-solving skills. Throughout this program, the emphasis on case studies is doing that for me.

Q: So far, is there a particular class that’s been directly beneficial to your work and professional ambitions?

Charlie: If you’re in a leadership position and know that you want to take your team to the next level, the leadership class that’s required with every MBA program is huge. The class has opened my world to a whole new level of leadership philosophy and included so much quality information about how to lead individuals, teams, and yourself.

One of the things I’ve appreciated the most about the class is the amount of practical information that I can implement right now. We’ve tackled challenges such as how to hold ourselves and our team accountable to the goals we say we want to achieve, how to motivate ourselves and our team, and the requirements of creating true high-performance teams. It’s been phenomenal.

Q: Along with working through an MBA program, you are also VP of Accounting, a husband, and a father to a young daughter. How are you managing to balance all of these responsibilities and do you have any advice to offer for anyone else who might be considering graduate school?

Charlie: You know, it sounds simplistic, but 90% of success in anything is about getting up every day and getting after it. Taking on a graduate program while working full time and managing a family is really, really hard. I don’t want to sugar coat the reality of how difficult it is. But I also think that most things in life that are worth doing are hard. Just because it’s difficult, isn’t a reason to not do it. In fact, often that’s the very reason why you should do it!

When you’re juggling many different demands on your time, one thing you have to learn how to do is prioritize. It’s important to have a clear understanding of what you must accomplish every day and what you can let go, delegate, or put off until later. This is also a valuable skill.

The MBA program I am enrolled in is online. While online programs require greater self-discipline, they also offer more flexibility. That level of flexibility has really helped me manage my time. For me, this means logging in to my online classes every single day. Even on days when I can’t spend much time on class work, I log in and make sure I know where I’m at and what’s going on.

In addition to devoting a considerable chunk of every weekend to class work, I try to work ahead whenever possible. Staying at least partially ahead means that I am able to manage those unexpected events and challenges that are an inevitable part of life without getting completely off track.

Having said all that, when you take on a graduate degree program, you have to just accept that for this season in your life, you’re going to have to sacrifice a large chunk of your time and energy.I think it’s also important to carefully weigh decisions about how many classes to take each semester. It’s a tradeoff – if you take more classes, you’ll get through the program faster. But, taking more classes, means less time for other priorities in your life. In general, I think it’s a good idea to take it one semester at a time.

For example, this is the first summer that I’ve opted to take two classes at once. Summer classes are condensed, so two classes at once is an enormous challenge. But when I started this program, I set goals about how long it would take me to complete it. I decided that for me, it’s worth it to sacrifice more of my time now, get finished with the program as quickly as possible, so that I can have more time later on. Of course, I had to get buy in from my wife. It’s not just about me, it’s about us. It’s about how are “we” going to do this, and together we’ve made decisions about what the short-term sacrifice would look like.

I also want to say that one of the reasons I’m able to take two classes this summer is because of the scholarship, which has given me the financial resources to double up.

Q: Do you have any thoughts about when to take on a graduate degree program? Is there ever a “right” time?

Charlie: If you’re able to do it, don’t wait. I think, for the most part, the longer you wait the longer you’re delaying the rewards. If you believe there will be a significant ROI from getting a graduate degree, don’t you want to start collecting on that ROI as soon as possible?

Taking on a graduate degree program is a huge responsibility. If you’re going to do it, take the hit now so that you can reap the benefits for as long as possible.

For me, I wanted to be done with my MBA before my daughter gets much older so that I can be more involved as she starts to have more homework of her own and is involved in sports and extracurricular activities.

Q: How important do you think it is for Credit Union professionals who want to move into executive leadership positions, to have a graduate degree?

Charlie: As small Credit Unions consolidate into larger organizations, and as the industry itself continues to grow, our movement is acquiring more professionals with a history in big banking. I think this is a positive thing for the Credit Union movement, but many of them come to us with impressive resumes that include graduate degrees. This is changing expectations for our executive leaders.

The more Credit Union staff with graduate degrees, the more it will become a normal expectation for those who want to compete and move up the proverbial ladder. In other words, the competition is not going to get any easier, so if you want to get ahead, you’ll have to bolster your resume, which may include getting a graduate degree.

I also want to emphasize the fact that there is a self-confidence that comes with doing something like this. It changes your psyche. Knowing that you’ve successfully achieved a graduate degree gives you more confidence as you walk into that interview or go after that promotion. It’s a major accomplishment and people know that it’s well earned.

If you are considering taking a graduate degree program, the Credit Union Leader Master’s Scholarship can help.The 2019 application process will open in late August. Click here to find out more.