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

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 ...

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