The survey, commissioned by the Career Colleges Association (CCA), reports that as a result of the recession, more than two of every three Americans are either currently taking steps or thinking of taking steps to revamp their professional lives. Many view their unemployment as an opportunity to make themselves more competitive or to pursue a long-standing passion by going back to school. Many were interested in improving their credentials, and 38 percent of the survey participants expressed an interest in higher education.
Patrick Wehner, director of MBA and bachelor’s in business and accounting programs at Everest University in Tampa, Florida, explains that for many students, going back to school is crucial to career advancement, and the prolonged recession presents a perfect opportunity.
Everest University – a career-training college offering programs in business, allied health and criminal justice – offers a full range of degree options, from associate’s to bachelor’s and MBAs.
"Many students come to us saying that they found that in tough job markets, their current credentials aren’t passing the test. They come to us to get the education they need for careers with real potential for advancement," says Wehner. "They understand that, while it may require a commitment of time and money, their decision to go back to school pays off in the end."
The CCA survey also reports that 32 percent of those interested in higher education said that they were not trying to make themselves more competitive, but were doing so to pursue a particular passion or intellectual interest. Forty-three percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are considering higher education for this reason, and three out of ten adults age 55 to 64 are also interested in changing careers or pursuing a long-held passion through higher education.
Does a Degree Really Matter?
"A degree is the most important investment you can make in yourself," advises Sheryl Decker, director of career services at Brown Mackie College in South Bend, Indiana. America is not a manufacturing society anymore, and education is key to obtaining employment in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace."
Martha Schottelkotte, director of career services at Brown Mackie College in Cincinnati concurs. "At every orientation session, we challenge students to look at education as an investment in future earnings and income potential. Their success depends on how they decide to invest in themselves.
"The earning potential over a lifetime is vastly different with each level of education achieved," states Schottelkotte. "It translates to a potential of an extra $300 to $400 a week, which goes well beyond keeping a cell phone turned on. Students begin to think in terms of paying off loans, taking a vacation, or saving for a down payment on a house. It speaks to a difference in lifestyle that a degree offers."
A bigger paycheck is not the only reason for getting a degree. Both Schottelkotte and Decker note the many additional benefits a degree offers. "A degree enriches their lives," Schottelkotte remarks, "and self-esteem grows from the sense of accomplishment."
The college experience opens doors to more than book learning. "Our students get hands-on laboratory experience in our many different programs," says Decker. "Challenges are built into the coursework. Students are exposed to experts in their field of study, and given excellent networking opportunities."
Student enrollment across the country reflects the diversity in the workplace itself. "We’re seeing kids out of high school in class with some who have worked at a factory for 30 years," Decker notes. "With so many plants closing, people find themselves starting over with a new career path."
"Our students are real people with real-life commitments looking for the means to take their lives to the next level, adds Schottelkotte. "An associate’s degree can be affordable, in both financial investment and time commitment. They come to college to increase their marketability, raise their chance for promotion, and of course, to earn more money."
Use ‘Down’ Time to Upgrade Your Options
Like most postsecondary schools, Everest College has seen a rise in applications during the economic downturn. "I always tell prospective students that if you aren’t happy with your professional life, you are not stuck," says Jae Lee, regional vice president of admissions for ten Everest College campus locations throughout Washington and Oregon. "You can do something about it. In fact, if you have been laid off or are worried about job security, this economic recession might be the perfect time to make the decision to get the career you really want."
At the same time, a career change is nothing to rush into, warns Catherine Mallozzi, career services director at Everest University in Melbourne, FL. "My first advice to those looking for a career change is to do their research and make sure they know what their transition will entail," says Mallozzi. She advises that when choosing a job, there are a lot of factors you should take into consideration, including the compensation package, work schedule, the type of training you will need, job stability, potential for advancement, and how interesting you find the work."This is a great time to go back to school to pursue that interest," she adds, "but make sure you are getting the credentials you need for future job stability and advancement as well."
Ryan Centeno, a medical assisting instructor at Everest University in Orange Park, FL, explains how today’s programs are designed to address real-world needs. "We are finding that both our students and employers want focused career-oriented programs that prepare graduates for the workforce. Especially in these hard economic times, our students don’t have the time or the money to waste, and we know that employers simply don’t have the resources to invest in employees that aren’t well trained. That’s why our programs are tailored to fast-track students into jobs that are in high demand, particularly those in healthcare."