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When Higher Education Is Neither: Why Should I Earn a Degree?


Jan 9 2012
Thoughts for adults considering returning to college in 2012.

I recently found myself at a dining table full of accomplished acquaintances, and the conversation wandered to the subject of alma maters.

"Where did you go to college, Michelle?"

I hesitated before answering: "I didn't finish college." Among the highly educated crowd round the table, there were a couple of seconds where I felt like I'd showed up at prom wearing sweats and a bandanna.

The conversation drifted to other topics, but a woman sitting next to me noted my momentary discomfort. "Why don't you go back to school and finish your degree?"

It is a question to which many adults respond in the affirmative each year. Forty-seven percent of new and returning students are 25 or older, according to The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education. Most adults have packed-full lives, and returning to the classroom means reprioritizing family, work, and church or community commitments. In addition, returning students need to figure out how to pay for school. The cost of higher education has risen in recent years at more than twice the average rate of inflation. Though many are questioning whether the price tag of a college education is worth the economic benefit, according to a recent Pew study 86 percent of college graduates surveyed felt that their education was a good investment.

Many adults head back to school including job training, preparation for a new career, or personal enrichment. I have been dancing with the question of returning to college for most of my adult life.

I left a state university at the end of my sophomore year, unsure how to proceed after I was told there was not a space for me in the major area into which I'd hoped to transfer. I came home in search of Plan B. That plan included an unexpected romance, followed by a wedding at age 20. Shortly after I got married, I landed a staff position at a community college, and then eventually another staff job at a private four-year college.

My husband and many coworkers encouraged me to consider finishing college during those years. I could have attended classes at a discounted cost. Instead, I chose to focus on freelance writing, which led to a lot of freelance (and mostly free) learning from the writing books and magazines on the shelves of my local library. These how-to guides supplemented the protein-rich diet of theology, Christian living, and Bible study materials that filled out my regular reading list.

We chose to homeschool our three children, which gave our household a decidedly academic personality. Classics read aloud formed the backbone of our children's education and enriched me as well; I'd never read Dickens, Hugo, Defoe, or Shakespeare during my own K-12 years.

Related Topics:Education; Higher Education

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