Journal of Human Security | 2015 | Volume 11 | Issue 1 | Pages 34–44
DOI: 10.12924/johs2015.11010034
Journal of
Human Security
Research Article
Educational Pathways to Remote Employment in Isolated
David Denkenberger
, Julia Way
and Joshua M. Pearce
Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) Lab, Michigan Technological University, MI, USA
Civil and Architectural Engineering, Tennessee State University, Nashville, TN, USA
Career Development Education, Michigan Tech Career Services, Michigan Technological University, MI, USA
Department of Materials Science & Engineering, Michigan Technological University, MI, USA
Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Michigan Technological University, MI, USA
* Corresponding author: E-Mail:; Tel.: +1 906-487-1466
Submitted: 4 May 2015 | In revised form: 4 August 2015 | Accepted: 25 August 2015 |
Published: 29 September 2015
Abstract: Those who live in isolated communities often lack reliable, skilled employment opportunities,
which fundamentally undermines their human security. For individuals who wish to remain in their isolated
communities for family, religious, philosophical or other reasons, their attachment to their communities
creates a disincentive for higher education. This promotes low educational achievement, which in turn
results in low socioeconomic status, lack of social mobility, and a generational cycle of poverty. The hu-
man misery that results from such a feedback loop is observed in isolated communities throughout North
America, including aboriginal communities in Canada. Fortunately, maturation of information and commu-
nication technologies now offers individuals the potential to gain high-skilled employment while living in
an isolated community, using both (i) virtual work/remote work and (ii) remote training and education. To
examine that potential, this study: 1) categorizes high-skill careers that demand a higher education and
are widely viable for remote work, 2) examines options for obtaining the required education remotely, and
3) performs an economic analysis of investing in remote education, quantifying the results in return on
investment. The results show that the Internet has now opened up the possibility of both remote education
and remote work. Though the investment in college education is significant, there are loans available and
the return on investment is generally far higher than the interest rate on the loans. The results identified
several particularly promising majors and dozens of high-income careers. The ability to both obtain an ed-
ucation and employment remotely offers the potential to lift many people living in isolated communities out
of poverty, reduce inequality overall, and provide those living in isolated communities with viable means
of employment security, which not only allows personal sustainability, but also the potential for personal
Keywords: distance education; distributed work; employment; ICT; isolated communities; jobs; job secu-
rity; remote work; telework
2015 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
1. Introduction
A reliable form of employment is currently one of the cen-
tral tenets of human security [1–5]. Lack of employment
opportunities leads to extreme poverty of indigenous peo-
ple living in isolated communities throughout the world in-
cluding the Pacific [6], former British colonies [7], and the
Americas, Australasia, South East Asia, Europe, and Rus-
sia [8]. In addition, a poverty of opportunities exists in iso-
lated communities even within well-developed nations for
common citizens like those in the United States. For ex-
ample, in the upper peninsula of Michigan, during the last
recession, unemployment rates topped 25% [9], and the
undercounting of unemployment in the U.S. is well estab-
lished [10,11]. Education is important for ending a poverty
of opportunity, as it is critical for self-empowerment and
increasing the prospects of employment, higher wages,
and social mobility [12–15]. For individuals who wish to
remain in their isolated communities for family, religious,
philosophical, or other reasons, often there are simply not
enough jobs with living wages available. For example, in
Canada, all Aboriginal identity groups have substantially
lower incomes than the general population [16], and their
attachment to their communities creates poor incentive for
higher education, thus promoting low educational achieve-
ment, which, in turn, results in low socioeconomic status
[17]. For the young people committed to staying in their
isolated communities for personal reasons, if there are few
(or no) jobs that require higher education, there is no in-
centive for them to obtain this education and the cycle of
poverty continues generationally.
Fortunately, maturation of information and communi-
cation technologies now offers the potential to gain high-
skilled employment through remote work (also called tele-
work, virtual work, or distributed work) [18–37]. This allows
individuals to have rewarding and high compensation em-
ployment while living in an isolated community. In addition,
online and distance education enable the ability to acquire
a vast array of types of training and education remotely
[38–50]. By coupling these two Internet-enabled opportu-
nities, a complete solution of employment in an isolated
region is possible. There have been many studies of on-
line education (e.g. [38–51]) and remote work (e.g. [18–
37,52]), as well as studies about the general advantages
of extending Internet into remote areas (e.g. [53]). How-
ever, this study is unique in that it explores the interaction
of online education and remote work as a complete pack-
age for people in isolated communities who do not wish to
To examine the potential of distance learning and re-
mote work to enable secure employment for individuals in
isolated communities, this study: 1) categorizes high-skill
careers that demand a higher education, which are widely
viable for remote work and 2) examines options for ob-
taining the required education remotely. The results are
discussed and conclusions are drawn to help guide policy
makers and educators in providing isolated communities
with viable means of employment security.
2. Methods
A list of careers was generated and categorized that rep-
resented high-skill careers that require a higher educa-
tion. Only permanent jobs were considered, as opposed
to the typically temporary unskilled jobs that are frequently
found on digital freelance websites (e.g. Freelancer, Fiverr,
FlexJobs, Elance, Guru and oDesk). This list was then
reduced by eliminating all career paths that could not be
accomplished remotely because of physical/hands-on cur-
riculum requirements. The list was further refined to jobs
for which the education needed to complete them could be
found remotely with existing universities requiring a four-
year degree. Finally, the list was further refined by elimi-
nating all jobs with a sinking market due to technology (e.g.
journalists, translators, legal assistants, and travel agents)
and jobs that were highly competitive (e.g. authors and
artists), as a career could not be reasonably guaranteed
having completed a degree. Then the list was matched
with the top affordable online universities in the U.S. by de-
gree type [54]. Next, the total degree cost was calculated
assuming 120 credit hours and 4 years (accreditation poli-
cies) [55–58], though not taking into account university as-
sociated fees. Each career was matched with tuition cost,
wage, and accreditation, and is shown in Table 1. All mon-
etary values are given in USD. The data from Tables 1 and
2 are used to determine the economic benefits of obtain-
ing a university degree remotely that would enable one to
work remotely. The estimates are conservative, as they as-
sume that the student is only attending to their education
full- time and avoiding all high-school diploma level work
while earning their degree. The opportunity cost (foregone
wages during college) is assumed to be at the mean wage
for high school wages for ages 18 to 24: about $23,000
in the U.S. [59], which again is a conservative assumption,
as most entry level workers do not receive this wage. Over
the 4 years of college, this results in $92,000 of opportunity
cost. This is larger than any of the tuition costs considered
as seen in Table 1. In most cases, the very simple anal-
ysis of return on investment equaling the reciprocal of the
payback time yields a reasonable approximation. However,
a rigorous, full cash flow analysis is more accurate. This
is performed assuming a 2% per year raise due to expe-
rience, and a 2% per year raise due to economic growth
(adjusted for inflation). This is applied to the high school
wage as well, which currently has a median of $33,000 per
year for all working ages [60] and the mean is 1.2 times
larger [59].
Table 1. Careers from Table 2 with tuition, wage, and accreditation (USD).
Career Total tuition cost Wage ($ yr
) Accreditation
Architect $69,840 [61] $78,640 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Psychologist $47,760 [63] $75,790 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Radiologic Technologists $51,600 [64] $57,510 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Accountant $11,560 [65] $69,790 [62] Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
Financial Analysts $54,480 [66] $92,250 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Advertising Sales Agents $54,480 [66] $60,910 [62] Higher Learning Commission
PR representative $54,480 [66] $64,050 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Market researcher $54,480 [66] $68,700 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Brokerage Clerk $54,480 [66] $50,780 [67] Higher Learning Commission
Personal Financial Advisors $54,480 [66] $108,090 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Inventory controller $54,480 [66] $93,180 [68] Higher Learning Commission
Business Operations Specialists,
$54,480 [66] $73,000 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Sales Managers $54,480 [66] $126,040 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Real Estate Sales Agents $54,480 [66] $55,530 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Securities, Commodities, and
Financial Services Sales Agents
$54,480 [66] $103,260 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Insurance Sales Agents $54,480 [66] $63,730 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Managers, All Other $54,480 [66] $110,210 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Event planner $54,480 [66] $50,910 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Tax preparer $54,480 [66] $43,870 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Meteorologist $51,600 [64] $88,090 [69] Higher Learning Commission
Drafters $44,040 [70] $54,850 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Software Developers and
$44,040 [70] $95,280 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Civil Engineers $44,040 [70] $87,130 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Designers, All Other $44,040 [70] $55,360 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Fashion Designers $40,560 [71] $73,690 [62] Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Editor $40,560 [71] $64,140 [62] Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Technical writer $40,560 [71] $71,950 [62] Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Graphic designer $40,560 [71] $50,670 [62] Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Film and Video Editors $40,560 [71] $75,090 [62] Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Publicist $40,560 [71] $68,700 [62] Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Statistician $44,040 [70] $84,010 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Budget Analysts $44,040 [70] $73,940 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Actuary $44,040 [70] $110,090 [62] Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges
and Schools
Computer scientist $22,380 [72] $113,190 [73] Higher Learning Commission
Information Security Analysts $22,380 [72] $91,600 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Game developer $22,380 [72] $69,410 [74] Higher Learning Commission
Software Developers, Applications $22,380 [72] $99,530 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Software Developers, Systems
$22,380 [72] $106,050 [62] Higher Learning Commission
Table 2. Major, career, and example online college.
Type Career Example Source of Remote Education
Architecture Major Architect University of Virginia
Biological Sciences Major Psychologist Ohio Christian University
Biological Sciences Major Radiologic Technologists University of Phoenix
Business Major Accountant Western Governors University
Business Major Financial Analysts Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Advertising Sales Agents Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major PR representative Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Market researcher Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Brokerage Clerk Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Personal Financial Advisors Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Inventory controller, Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Business Operations Specialists, All Other Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Sales Managers Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Real Estate Sales Agents Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Insurance Sales Agents Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Managers, All Other Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Event planner Eastern New Mexico University
Business Major Tax preparer Eastern New Mexico University
Earth Sciences Major Meteorologist University of Phoenix
Engineering Major Drafters University of Southern Mississippi
Engineering Major Software Developers and Programmers University of Southern Mississippi
Engineering Major Civil Engineers University of Southern Mississippi
Engineering Major Designers, All Other University of Southern Mississippi
Liberal Arts Major Fashion Designers Wilmington University
Liberal Arts Major Editor Wilmington University
Liberal Arts Major Technical writer Wilmington University
Liberal Arts Major Graphic designer Wilmington University
Liberal Arts Major Film and Video Editors Wilmington University
Liberal Arts Major Publicist Wilmington University
Mathematics Major Statistician University of Southern Mississippi
Mathematics Major Budget Analysts University of Southern Mississippi
Mathematics Major Actuary University of Southern Mississippi
Technology Major Computer scientist Fort Hays State University
Technology Major Information Security Analysts Fort Hays State University
Technology Major Game developer Fort Hays State University
Technology Major Software Developers, Applications Fort Hays State University
Technology Major Software Developers, Systems Software Fort Hays State University
The payback time, in combination with how long the
increased income stream lasts in time, T (years), can be
converted to a return on investment with a return, R [75]:
(1 e
where P is the principal investment, S is the savings per
year, and
is the working time to payback the investment.
For instance, with a career length of 40 years and a pay-
back time of 15 years, the ROI would be about 6%. Assum-
ing that the increased income is actually adjusted for infla-
tion, meaning that the income without the higher education
rises with inflation, and the income with the higher edu-
cation rises with inflation, this ROI is actually adjusted for
inflation. If this investment is compared in nominal terms
(e.g. not adjusted for inflation) it would be closer to an 8%
return on investment, which is normally considered excel-
3. Results
The payback analysis is summarized in Table 3. For the
short payback times, the rigorous method yields lower re-
turns on investment because the fact that there is a delay
between the invested money and getting a return becomes
more important. However, for long payback times, the rig-
orous analysis gives a higher return. This is because eco-
nomic growth becomes significant over these longer times.
Table 3. Career, payback time, and simple and rigorous return on investment.
Career Payback time (yr) Simple Return on Investment Rigorous Return on Investment
Architect 4.2 24% 19%
Psychologist 3.9 26% 20%
Radiologic Technologists 8.1 12% 13%
Accountant 3.5 29% 22%
Financial Analysts 2.8 36% 24%
Advertising Sales Agents 6.9 14% 14%
PR representative 6 17% 15%
Market researcher 5.1 20% 17%
Brokerage Clerk 13.4 7% 10%
Personal Financial Advisors 2.1 47% 29%
Inventory controller 2.7 36% 25%
Business Operations Specialists, Other 4.4 23% 18%
Sales Managers 1.7 59% 33%
Real Estate Sales Agents 9.3 11% 12%
Securities, Commodities, and Financial Services Sales Agents 2.3 43% 27%
Insurance Sales Agents 6.1 16% 15%
Managers, All Other 2.1 48% 29%
Event planner 13.2 8% 10%
Tax preparer 36.1 0% 6%
Meteorologist 3 34% 23%
Drafters 9 11% 12%
Software Developers and Programmers 2.5 41% 26%
Civil Engineers 2.9 35% 24%
Designers, All Other 8.7 11% 12%
Fashion Designers 3.9 26% 20%
Editor 5.4 18% 16%
Technical writer 4.1 24% 19%
Graphic designer 12.2 8% 10%
Film and Video Editors 3.8 27% 20%
Publicist 4.6 22% 18%
Statistician 3.1 32% 23%
Budget Analysts 4 25% 20%
Actuary 1.9 52% 31%
Computer scientist 1.6 64% 35%
Information Security Analysts 2.2 45% 28%
Game developer 3.9 26% 20%
Software Developers, Applications 1.9 52% 31%
Software Developers, Systems Software 1.7 58% 33%
4. Discussion
4.1. Economics of Remote Education and Employment
The concept of the payback time is widely used to evalu-
ate investments: this is the time required to pay back the
initial investment. In this case, the initial investment is the
tuition and the income foregone during the time of getting
the degree (opportunity cost). Since it is assumed that the
student stays at home, there would not be an additional
room and board cost relative to having a job that does not
require higher education. The payback framework gener-
ally assumes that there is initial investment at one point
in time and then a money savings beginning immediately
thereafter. In the case of a college education, it typically
takes four years and that is the degree evaluated here.
This makes the payback time longer than the time actu-
ally spent working to pay back the education costs. How-
ever, even adjusted for inflation, wages tend to increase
(this is economic growth). This is especially true for jobs
that require a college education. Since a payback frame-
work assumes that education garners an increase in salary
that is constant over time, the real case tends to shorten
the equivalent payback time. These factors roughly cancel
out. Therefore, the simple approximation of the payback
time equaling the time required working to pay back the
cost of education is used. P is the principal investment,
S is the savings per year, and P/S is the working time to
payback the investment. When put in these terms, many
people require a very short payback of only a few years
[75]. However, there are some circumstances when ed-
ucation can take longer to pay back. Therefore, a more
helpful metric to evaluate the investment is the return on
investment (ROI). Most people are familiar with this met-
ric because it is equivalent to an interest rate on a savings
account or a loan. As can be seen by the results shown
in Table 3, all but three jobs (tax preparer, event planner,
and brokerage clerk), not only had positive ROIs, but were
deep into the double digits of return. For example, soft-
ware developers can expect to earn over a 30% ROI every
year over their entire careers while working at home and
having been trained remotely. This again is a conservative
estimate and will be discussed in the risk section below as
part of the unquestionable benefit for the graduate to have
made the investment in education. To make this clearer, a
case study will be presented that illustrates the pathway.
4.2. Case Study: Nunavut Couple
Consider a hypothetical case of a young Inuit couple liv-
ing in Nunavut in a close knit, isolated community that they
do not want to leave. Unfortunately, the community is de-
pressed and has few local job prospects. The ongoing
economic challenge of dependence on expensive diesel
fuel for electricity and the slow uptake of renewable en-
ergy [76,77] has limited the ability of the people in Nunavut
to address other issues, including housing shortages, in-
adequate health services, and perhaps most importantly,
under-funded education [78–82]. Fortunately, QINIQ, a
Canadian company, has begun to use a combination of
satellite and wireless communications technology to pro-
vide broadband Internet service to 25 remote communi-
ties in the Canadian territory of Nunavut [83]. Using this
access, the couple began to dabble in coding, using free
online resources that teach computer programming. They
started at the grade school level with Scratch, a tool devel-
oped by Lifelong Kindergarten group at MIT Media Lab [84]
and then moved on to progressively more complicated cod-
ing at, which is a non-profit dedicated to expand-
ing participation in computer science by making it available
in more schools and expanding participation by women
and underrepresented students of color [85]. The husband
became interested in pure computer science and decided
to pursue his degree from Fort Hays State University, while
the wife was more interested in software programming and
targeted an online degree from University of Southern Mis-
sissippi. They would need to invest about $22,000 and
$44,000 for their respective degrees, but upon completion,
he could expect to make over $113,000 per year and she
would make over $54,000 per year, bringing their family
income to over $168,000, if they both chose to work full-
time. This is roughly three times the median income for
families living in Nunuvut and much greater than those liv-
ing in isolated communities, in general [86]. It should be
noted that the cost of living in northern communities, such
as in this example, is significantly higher than those living
in more temperate regions. Assuming full time work, their
ROIs would be 26% for her and 35% for him on their in-
vestment in their education. He could gain employment
at a company like IBM, because even employees who live
nearby to an office rarely come to work physically, because
they use the avatar interaction software, Second Life [87].
She might work for herself as a consultant providing free-
lance coding services. This arrangement gives them both
the flexibility to continue living in their remote community,
enough work-life balance to start and support a family, and
a high enough income to live well and propagate higher
education and higher wages for their children. In addi-
tion, as they can work from home, they can reduce their
work-related expenses to computers and broadband ac-
cess, completely eliminate commute time, as well as nu-
merous and diverse other work related expenses, and gar-
ner time, monetary, and environmental benefits, as well.
Furthermore, much of their money would be spent locally,
providing additional local employment.
4.3. Community Preparation for Distributed Education
and Employment
Based on the benefits to the individuals and the community
as a whole (discussed in section 4.5), communities may
want to proactively invest to assist individuals in obtaining
a higher education and the remote employment that de-
mands it; specifically, by providing high speed internet ser-
vices. However, many jobs could possibly be done without
high-speed Internet, because real-time conversations can
be accomplished over the phone, while emails and videos
can download over time. The exception would be if screen
sharing or videoconferencing is required. In addition, many
educational offerings still do not rely on video. In summa-
tion, although it may be possible that distance education be
achieved without high-speed Internet, it would be a bene-
fit, and for particular types of educational resources and
jobs, a necessity. An example of a community already do-
ing this is Manning, Iowa. It has a population of 1500, but
it installed high-speed Internet and has attracted alumni to
come back to telecommute [88].
Thus, several policies can be implemented in isolated
communities to foster distributed education and employ-
ment. First, free public libraries providing both a phys-
ical location and an educational foundation to support a
learning community should be supported. These libraries
can act as hubs for individuals who do not have access to
the computers or the Internet connections needed to gain
an education (which will itself enable the individual to af-
ford these in the future for employment). Second, offering
personal, free high-speed Internet access for all citizens
should be a goal for all communities, but is particularly im-
portant for isolated communities with a smaller fraction of
their population with any personal Internet access. Many
people do not have the financial means of computer ac-
cess and this barrier can be addressed through one or
more of the following: 1) community-supported information
technology (IT) access, 2) donations and charity, 3) com-
munity and individual loans, and 4) reliance on free and
open source hardware and software. This latter approach
can radically reduce the IT infrastructure costs. For ex-
ample, an open source, credit-card-sized computer such
as the Raspberry Pi costs under $40 and can be made
into a fully functional computer with discarded components
(e.g. keyboard, mouse, and display). Similarly, outdated,
Windows based computers can be salvaged from scrap
yards and revitalized with Linux-based operating systems
for free, significantly improving their performance and mak-
ing them useful for Internet-based education.
4.4. Risks and Benefits
There are several risks when discussing this approach,
due to the fundamental limitation of this paper, which is an
implicit reliance on the ceteris paribus fallacy (i.e. the as-
sumption that external variables will remain constant, while
factors that include the global environment and the global
economy are in flux). First, will the person be able to get
the intended job? A 2014 study found that only 27% of
college graduates are in a job that matches their major
and that only 62% of college grads are in a job that re-
quires a college degree [89]. As reported by the Wash-
ington Post [90], this implies that obtaining a college level
education is of questionable merit. However, this implica-
tion has two major flaws. First, university degrees offer
graduates a wide selection of jobs that may not focus di-
rectly on their major. For example, a physics major may
get a job as a computer programmer or even a game de-
signer, and a rudimentary analysis would infer s/he was
not employed in her/his field. A deeper analysis would
uncover that many modern video/computer games, for ex-
ample, have complex physics engines to ensure realistic
game play [91]. More importantly, it is clear from U.S. Bu-
reau of Labor Statistics data that college graduates are far
more likely to have jobs, make more money, and overall
have better self efficacy in the economy [60]. So, for exam-
ple, a job like a tax preparer does not absolutely demand
a college degree, but having one makes the potential em-
ployee far more likely to acquire the job and be able to hold
on to the job in a poor economy. The reality is that indi-
viduals are far better off with college degrees than without,
even if they are not employed in positions directly related
to their specific major.
The second major risk, from an individual’s perspective,
is the potential for competition, either domestically (what if
everyone in America started to use this approach?) or in-
ternationally. Today, on websites like Freelancer, there are
already incredibly talented artists, programmers, and writ-
ers, for example, that are willing to work for what would be
considered exceptionally low wages in the U.S. Thomas
Friedman notes in “The World is Flat” that native English
speakers will still have an advantage in the near-term.
However, in the medium term, there is likely to be a tal-
ented, polite, professional, English-speaking middle-class
coming out of countries like India who will be incredibly
competitive in the online job market [92]. Having a diploma
will help U.S. citizens compete, and there will still be the
opportunity to gain an even more valuable bachelor’s or
graduate degree as prestigious institutions offer more on-
line training. It should be pointed out here that the op-
portunities provided by an online education are particularly
helpful to people outside of well-developed North Ameri-
can economies. The model provided here is applicable to
anyone living in an isolated community anywhere on Earth
who has the drive to complete the academic requirements,
the capital to invest in an appropriate online education (or
ability to acquire a loan), and the technical means to ac-
cess it. In many ways, the results presented here are the
worst-case scenario, as the analysis is based on the U.S.
educational system, which has exorbitant fees because of
a combination of weak government support, administrative
bloat, and excessive administrative compensation pack-
ages [93].
This last point leads to a third risk of unintended conse-
quences. Corporate-based administrative thinking favors
online education because of the scalability, cost savings,
and the continued erosion of faculty autonomy [93]. En-
couraging this trend, then, has the moral hazard of de-
evolving university education to simple job training (as is
common with for-profit online only educational institutes).
This would further weaken the educational foundation and
critical thinking skills needed in the populace for effective
citizenship in a democracy, and undermine the academic
freedom of university professors to challenge authorities
and the paradigms that propagate inequality and human
Even with continued changes to both the global econ-
omy and the global environment, human security is en-
hanced with education. First, the global economy is shift-
ing, as more low-skill jobs are automated. In the last few
decades, automation and off-shoring in developed coun-
tries has focused mainly on middle skill jobs, i.e. the middle
class. It is forecasted that future automation will continue
to eliminate some middle skill jobs (and even some higher
skill jobs), but the majority of the loss will be of low skilled
jobs [94]. For example, Baxter, a $22,000 robot that can
be trained by grabbing its arms and showing it what to do,
can easily replace much unskilled human labor [95]. In
their seminal paper on the potential for the future automa-
tion of jobs, Frey and Osborne found that, although 47% of
U.S. employment is at risk from near-term automation, ed-
ucational attainment exhibits a strong relationship with the
unlikeliness of computerization. This means that getting a
college education in remote areas will become even more
important in the future than it is now. It is true that higher
degrees of automation and distributed manufacturing with
3-D printing has the potential to create jobs, but as Pistono
has pointed out, often jobs created by technology employ
a small fraction of the people previously employed [96].
Furthermore, these new jobs require a high level of ed-
ucation, flexibility, intelligence, and entrepreneurship [96].
In addition, many of the new tasks created by automation
can only be handled with additional automation [95]. Of
course, there are some jobs that currently require a col-
lege degree that are likely to be automated, like legal as-
sistants and even journalists. Readers are advised to con-
sult the Appendix of Frey and Osborne on near-term deci-
sions. For example, the probability of automation for real
estate sales agents is 86%, which should be taken into ac-
count when considering the relatively high ROI calculated
in Table 3. In addition, the probability of automation of med-
ical and clinical laboratory technologists is 90%, insurance
sales agents is 92%, tax examiners, collectors, and rev-
enue agents is 93%, and accountants and auditors is 94%.
Therefore, caution purely from a financial perspective, is
recommended for people pursuing these careers. Lastly,
as continued climate destabilization occurs because of fos-
sil fuel-related pollution [97], the global economy will be
significantly affected [98] and individuals will want to miti-
gate their personal career risk. For example, education for
long-term careers associated with the coal industry are of
highly questionable utility due to both the changes occur-
ring in the industry now [99] and potential liabilities related
to climate change [100–102].
Despite these risks, it is clear from this study that with
careful selection and attainment of online training and edu-
cation, specifically with a focus on a high ROI, it is possible
to obtain remote employment in an isolated community. In
addition to the economic benefits for the individual in any
remote community in obtaining a higher education and the
concomitant income, there are also benefits to the commu-
nity. These benefits are less straight forward to quantify.
For example, the presence of a highly educated individual
(e.g. a civil engineer) in an isolated community is likely
to contribute to the community’s human security in com-
plex and synergistic ways, quite independent of the engi-
neer’s own economic welfare or “payback time”. Such an
engineer might provide quantitative reasoning that would
be useful in community decisions made by municipalities,
help avoid scams, or improve a community’s sustainabil-
ity performance. Similarly, a critical mass of highly edu-
cated individuals in a remote community who value edu-
cation for their children’s community can change the edu-
cational atmosphere in schools to improve the outcomes
in future generations. It has also been found that people
with higher levels of education are more likely to become
entrepreneurs [89], thus providing additional benefits and
jobs for people in the community who are not able to obtain
higher education themselves. Educated people will also
be able to help elevate others in their communities by for-
warding/motivating a higher education philosophy, acting
as mentors, roll models, and academic and career advi-
sors, writing letters of recommendation to universities, etc.
This is particularly important for those living in aboriginal
communities where individuals do not generally have con-
tacts external to the community. The availability, and cer-
tainly the free access to the Internet, can provide an al-
most unlimited amount of valuable information and educa-
tion outside of specific degrees of study, such as health,
economy, ecology, politics, etc. Future work is needed in
this area to provide more quantitative values of these ben-
5. Conclusions
People wishing to remain in remote communities have tra-
ditionally been disadvantaged economically, socially, and
politically. However, the Internet has now opened up the
possibility of both remote education and remote work.
Though the investment in college education is significant,
education loans are generally available, and the return on
investment is generally far higher than the interest rate on
the loans, or any other type of traditional and typical eco-
nomic investment vehicle. This study has identified several
particularly promising majors and dozens of high-income
careers. The ability to obtain both an education and em-
ployment remotely offers the potential to bring many peo-
ple living in isolated communities out of poverty, reduce in-
equality overall, and provide those communities with viable
means of employment security, now, and in the future.
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