Thursday, October 18, 2012

How to Help Working Adults Get Their College Degree

Job seekers wait in line to meet with recruiters during the Catalyst Career Group job fair on August 4, 2011 in South San Francisco, California (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)
by Marianne Rittner-Holmes

After having been in the workplace for a while, most nontraditional students have been underpaid, passed over for promotion, or laid off due to lack of education, skills or workplace options.

This lack of versatility is even more noticeable now with unemployment continually hovering at the ten percent mark.

Most folks in this position realize they need to go back to school. But how can they when they have a family and both spouses are working two or three jobs (if they're lucky!) just to pay the bills?

The best way to get nontraditional students to attend college is to show them how they can afford it in cost and in time.

Nontraditional students are normally defined as adults over the age of 24 who didn't continue their education right after high school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment percentages get lower as the educational degree level goes higher.

For instance, per the BLS in 2011, unemployment among non-high school graduates was 14.1%. For an Associate degree holder, it was 6.8%, while Bachelor's graduates were at 4.9% (again, these current times are tough with high unemployment, but do you really see these ratios changing when things pick up again?).

Another BLS chart from 2011 shows lifetime earnings by degree level reflecting a larger return on better-educated workers. The median weekly earnings for a non-high school graduate was $451, while an Associate degree holder was $768, and a Bachelor's graduate was at $1,053.

Taken together, these two BLS charts indicate that educated people are less likely to be unemployed and they're more likely to make more money weekly. Educating a nontraditional student on the notion that a two-year degree will reduce their chances of being unemployed by more than 50% while making almost twice as much as a non-high school grad are powerfully significant facts.

However, if non-traditional students have no experience in a college setting, they generally don't understand how to pay for school, what support programs are available, or even what type of college programs are out there to choose from.

You must educate them about federal aid programs (Pell Grants, SEOG, Perkins Loans) as well as state monies (income-qualified grants, Lottery Scholarships) for attending college, not to mention institution-specific scholarships, foundations, private loans-all the types of financial aid available based on the individual's life and area of study. There may even be state or federal programs that will pay for their retraining.

Are they a veteran with educational benefits? The Veteran's Administration offers a broad spectrum of educational support, including educational counselors and monthly stipends. Your discussion could also include child care programs, disability accommodations, carpooling, tutoring and Federal Work Study jobs, depending on the person.

What about the time factor? Again, you must educate adult students on the vast offerings in education today. There are distance learning outlets in which the student can take classes from home according to his or her schedule. There are evening classes, weekend classes, daytime classes. There are accelerated programs that go year-round to speed up the graduation date.

There are schools that will evaluate their work history to provide credit for experience which cuts down on the time they have to spend in school. They can take CLEP tests which also grant credit for knowledge and/or have their military schooling evaluated for credit hours.

Nontraditional students see the value of returning to college to get their degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms it. What they're unclear about is how to do it when they find themselves in the dilemma of survival versus getting out of the downward spiral they're in.

The best way to help them is by teaching them how they can pay for school and how the right college will fit into their busy schedule so they can improve their outlook for the future.

Marianne Rittner-Holmes is retired from the corporate world of private, for-profit education. She has 25 years of experience working in business and with employees and students. You may find out more about her at

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