Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Degree completion for adult students: Navigating the work-life balance

The path to degree completion is not always a smooth one -- for college students of any age. For working adults who balance family, job, and school, that path is oftentimes interrupted by the birth of a baby, a new work schedule or increased workload, the loss of a family member, or other everyday-life stress.

Yet, there are significant economic and social gains for all of us in helping more adults attain degrees in higher education. These concepts are framed well in a 2008 report from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL). The report notes that:

“There is a strong and growing argument for higher educational attainment in the United States. The benefits of an educated citizenry include higher wages and greater productivity as well as increased economic opportunities, social mobility, quality of life and civic engagement. Higher levels of education are associated with decreased reliance on government financial assistance. Also, growth in personal income -- influenced by higher levels of educational attainment -- yields greater returns to a state in the form of tax revenues.”

The benefits are significant enough that resources and assistance for adults looking to complete their degrees have been developed at the grassroots level, by those in the public and private sectors, and by non-profits -- oftentimes in concert with each other. Some great examples here in the Philadelphia region are Mayor Nutter’s PhillyGoes2College initiative and Graduate! Philadelphia, a joint venture of the Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board and the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

The logic is simple: Greater degree attainment equals increased job opportunities and earning potential for individuals, attracts new and better employers to a region, and solidifies the tax base of a city or municipality.

Perhaps the most significant benefit is the influence a college degree has on an individual’s income. Graduate! Philadelphia notes on their Web site that: 
“ ... on average, college graduates make about $1 million more over their lifetimes than those who do not have a degree.”
For these reasons, it’s essential for colleges and universities to help students navigate the unforeseen circumstances that create road blocks between the first semester they register for classes, and the day they complete the final credits needed to graduate.

The good news for students who have put their education on hold is that a number of schools have made the readmission process a painless one. In many cases, while returning to college may seem like a far-off possibility, it’s pretty straightforward to put a student back on track toward meeting their academic goals.

While every working adult student faces their own set of challenges, there are some common themes among all of them. Affordability and tuition resources are always a major hurdle and often the most common one for students. It's essential for students looking to get back to school to explore all the options, including state and Federal aid, tuition reimbursement offered by an employer, scholarships offered by their school or outside organizations, and structuring their class and credit load to fit their budget. Students that proactively plan out their educational budget stand a better chance of completing their degree without interruption.

Graduate! Philadelphia also offers great insight on tuition expenses and aid, including tips on approaching your employer about tuition reimbursement, events and workshops to help you identify the best way to pay for college, and resources for securing financial aid and scholarships.

Working adults are also concerned about fitting academics into a lifestyle that’s already busy with family and/or work. For this reason it’s important to make good use of the staff that specializes in planning course schedules with a balance of online and on-campus classes that fit into your life. This balance ensures that adult learners have a workable course load that also gives them the education that will unlock new earning and job opportunities.

There are other challenges, but again, they can be overcome with the right planning. Depending on the college or university, students should explore the resources available to them to help complete their degree. This includes the staff in admissions and career services, as well as faculty and program chairs.

For our part, Peirce College hosts dedicated events to assist students who have taken time away from their studies and want to get back on the path toward degree completion and advancing their career. For those interested, we invite you to join us for our next Readmit Night on Wednesday, March 24. The event will run from 5:30 to 7 p.m. in Room 51 of College Hall, and address the challenges and obstacles outlined above -- and more.

Anyone who is interested is welcome to attend, but please be sure to RSVP by Friday, March 19. You can do so by visiting www.peirce.edu/readmit, or calling 888.GO.PEIRCE, ext. 9026. If you have any questions, you can also email Alyson Rodgers in the Readmit Department, who will be happy to share some insight about how Peirce can work with you to map your path back to degree completion.