To Go or Not to Go? Weighing the Cost of Continuing Education


Adults are going back to school for a variety of reasons these days. Whether it be that they have personal accomplishment goals, a purely financial motivation, or have become unemployed for some reason, continuing education is becoming an ever-popular option.

In fact, many colleges and universities report that re-entry or adult students are the new majority on campus; adults ages 25 to 69 are increasingly enrolling in courses around the country.

But going back to school is a serious undertaking, and not a decision to be taken lightly. Not only is it an investment of time, but also an investment of money.

For those thinking about going back to school, it may be helpful to consider these questions first:

1. Is now the right time? Those going back to school because they think it might provide better job prospects or yield higher salaries could be mistaken.

Many employers are cutting continuing-education grants and scaling back on hires with advanced degrees. That's because companies are feeling the heat of the recession as well.

Advanced degrees generally mean having to pay an employee a higher salary, something many companies are not in a position to do right now. Therefore, an advanced degree might actually prove a hindrance in today's job market and not become the financial windfall some students expect.

If this is the case, delaying an advanced degree for a few years may be a more financially sound idea.

2. What are your goals? Individuals need to examine their long- and short-term goals regarding education.

Goals should include whether time is available to complete the degree. Some degrees can take months or years to finish, depending on how many credits a person already has. Is the goal to receive a completely different degree and begin a new career?

If so, adults should put it down on paper so they have a definite goal in sight.

3. Are the finances available? Attending school is no small undertaking.

Whether at a public, private or online school, tuition can cost several thousand dollars per year. The tests needed to be accepted to school can also cost money, and books will be needed for coursework if you get in.

If money is tight right now, continuing school may not be the best option, especially if high-interest loans are the only viable means to fund that education.

However, if the finances are there and school won't detract from other bills, then school might be the right choice.

4. What is the right school? Those who have a full-time job can look into a school that offers evening or weekend classes.

Many schools now offer online courses that allow individuals to take classes remotely. There is a growing interest in schools that specifically specialize in online degrees. Such schools enable students to take classes on their own time and complete assignments in a manner that's less time-specific.

Continuing education students who may not have a spouse or children can move around to the school of choice. Once again, finances figure to play a major role when deciding on a school.

5. Is a college degree really necessary? For many, continuing education doesn't mean heading to a college campus. It can involve taking certificate programs and vocational training.


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