Welcome to the forum, Chauncey.
Everyone has their own path, and all but the luckiest will struggle for a while. These days I wouldn't pretend to know which way is best towards your goal, even if it was more specific. The industry has become much more of a 'make your own way' place than it used to be. Kids are coming out of college, buying rigs, and calling themselves operators. And some are succeeding at this.
That said, I personally believe the best education is still that of climbing the ladder. If you want to do scripted TV/feature work: PA, Camera PA, Loader/Utility, 2nd AC, 1st AC, Operator. You don't have to hit every rung by any means, or spend a ton of time in any particular position, but the education along the way is priceless. You'll learn set etiquette, how to organize things, how to build the camera in a myriad of ways, how to respect the equipment and your co-workers. You'll learn how different ACs, operators, and DPs like to work. You'll learn about composition and lighting, you'll get opportunities to practice, etc... All without the pressure of doing it right the first time you operate, and all on real sets, doing things the way they are done in the field, not the way they are done in a school.
Now, that used to be the way everyone did it. Such is not the case any more and you may find it takes longer than you'd like to get to operating that way. But it is the best education in my opinion. It also gets you on set as soon as you can find your first PA gig.
School though, it offers you a stress-free chance to make your own movies and F them up. A comfortable place to just learn with friends with little responsibility. Those friends turn into network contacts as you all leave the school. And as you mentioned, the school itself may have useful contacts for you as well.
As to steadicam, you should also look into the Lake Arrowhead workshop. It's closer to you and will teach you the same things. Also The Stabilizer Workshops (banner on the right side of this page). To be a good steadicam operator you need to be a good operator first. You need to have a good sense of framing and timing. You need to know what pieces of a story need to be included in a shot, and how the editor is going to use them. A steadicam is just a tool, an immensely complicated tool. Learning to use the tool before learning the craft is very, very difficult.
Photoshop is a complex and useful tool, but no matter how well you know how to use it, you're not going to produce good paintings for a long while if you've never painted before. But a painter can make an awesome photoshop painting on their first day of learning the program.