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Using College to Add Skills to Your Toolbox

Deciding whether or not to go back to college can be a multi-faceted decision for young students as well as working adults. The complexities that can sway your decision to attend college can range from balancing family life, work, volunteer duties, and community obligations. Personal obligations and costs are counterbalanced with the benefits of attending college and earning a degree.

In spite of the challenges with making a decision to go back to college, many are choosing to do so. In fact, adults returning to college is the single fastest growing demographic in the United States in recent years according to the NCES. While the specific reasons behind this migration to college will vary from person to person and region to region, the data supports a widespread movement.

National Center for Educational Statistics performed a longitudinal study that supports the theory there has been a seismic shift in employment needs. Demands in the workplace can be industry-specific needs driven by changes in a specific sector of the economy such as manufacturing, software, textiles, or finance.

Alternatively, changes can be geographically influenced. Examples include the industry specific jobs you may be required to possess in Bentonville if you were working at WalMart or Redmond if you were employed at Microsoft. Other likely influences in adults returning to work include factors such as technology, productivity, demographics, innovation, cultural, political, and social changes.

Does it make sense to go back to college?

Like most questions about education, the answer is quite personal. You may elect to attend college as an adult as a function of your resources, career goals, and/or personal aspirations. It is well publicized fact that a person with a college degree has a significant employment and compensation advantage over those without a college degree. A recent publication from the U.S. Census Bureau, data was aggregated revealing the net income difference between a bachelor's degree and a high school diploma. An individual with a bachelor's degree earns nearly double the income of a person with only a high school diploma.

As an added dimension to the educational quest, college graduates not only earn more than their peers that do not hold a degree but spend less time unemployed. Put another way, there is a direct correlation between education attainment, job stability, and income. The more education, the greater compensation with greater levels of employment stability on average.

Further, a broad survey published by the Pew Institute reveals the cost of not attending college, known as opportunity cost. The report illustrated in specific terms the cost of bypassing college through the lens of employment. Specifically, the unemployment rate of individuals with just a high school diploma averaged 12.2%. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for an individual with a bachelor's degree was less than four percent. Framing this statistic with income reveals that a person with a bachelor's degree will earn double the income with 3x more employment stability versus without a bachelor's degree on average.

How will I adjust socially to college life?

Attending school is an adjustment for anyone. Adults going back to college or attending college for the first time is not exception. The change starts with a shift in mindset and culture. Perceptions of a college student have historically been that of a high school graduate transitioning to college. Times have changed with young and experienced students mixing in the same classroom across higher education institutions across the country.

The Washington Post details this shift in demographics along with interesting findings. Highlights of their study include the following facts about college students:

  • Approximately half of college students are 21 years of age or older
  • Just 41% of college students live on-campus
  • Fully 28% of enrolled college students have children
  • A staggering 62% of college students work while in school
  • Sixty-three percent of college students are enrolled full-time

Adults going back to school to earn a college degree will need to adjust to shifting demographics just as high school students attending college will need to adapt to aging students in class. Both sets of student will need to successfully collaborate, integrate into academia, remain organized, and focus on the work at hand to succeed. Remember, we all have something of value to offer and plenty to learn from one another. Establish a mindset of a lifelong learner regardless of your age.

What is the best way to get started?

Getting started begins with a decision. Take action and begin you journey today. Assess your core strengths and learning opportunities with your goals. Overlay the skills you currently possess with the knowledge & skills you desire. Blend those with the employment needs in your city to help you arrive at a solution for your future. After digging deep into your priorities, begin your research of degrees and schools with MatchCollege. The data and insights will allow you to quickly gather vital information and better understand what academic opportunities exist in your domains of interest.

How do I afford college as an adult learner?

It is well documented that the majority of corporations over one hundred employees have some form of tuition assistance. Empowered with that information may encourage you to work while attending school as your employer will be further vested in your success. If you do not work for a large employer or are not currently working, you will want to research a wide array of grants, scholarships, and fellowship programs once you identify a campus-based school or online college along with their degree offerings.

You will be working closely with the college or universities financial aid team to determine what options are available to you. Take full advantage of this resource and be prepared to invest substantive time completing applications, meeting with counselors, and engaging with a variety of providers.

Additional College Resources

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