It is no coincidence that as the most recent recession took hold, the number of adults diving back into academia for associates degrees, second bachelors, certifications, MBA’s, etc. rose dramatically. In a time when there seemed to be no jobs, trading in your couch and a remote for a desk and a syllabus seemed like an obvious choice. People make the decision to continue their education for many reasons, be it a loss of job, crossroad at their current job, necessity for continued education in their position, or even the desire to switch occupations completely. But given the influx in education prices, is the cost going to outweigh the benefits of hitting the textbooks for a second or third time?
It is often erroneously assumed that the higher the level of education, the higher the pay. (“He has extra letters after his name, he must be a millionaire!”) However, this is not always the case; given the lofty investment of time, energy, and money it takes, the decision should be made with care. It seems like an easier decision if you are in fact unemployed or completely dissatisfied with your current job and want a new path. At that point, it may seem like you have nothing to lose. However, even then, all variables must be taken into account.
I wish there was one universal answer to the question, but it truly depends on the specific individual’s case. To succeed in making the right decision, you first must throw the notion of “more education=more pay” out the window. Then, start to thoroughly analyze the financial requirements to receive your desired education. Finally, (and this is crucial if you currently have a job and are considering continued education) you must weigh the benefit of additional education versus additional experience. What will best help you achieve your career objectives? Are additional certifications something required or recommended by your current employer? Would your current or potential employers rather see two more years of schooling or two more years of practical experience on your resume? All of these questions can only be answered by the individual given their specific circumstances. With this decision, what you really need is a careful examination of your priorities, commitments, career goals, and pocket book.
Below is an article from East Bay Express telling the continued education experience of one individual. How about you out there? Has anyone gone on for more education and have any advice on the benefits or drawbacks?
Is Going Back to School Worth the Price?
Traditionally, getting that degree makes sense for unemployed adults during a recession. But with the costs of education skyrocketing, is it still smart?
By Rachel Swan
When Melanie Crawford decided to head back to school in 2007, she was trying to be prudent and practical. After she had earned an associate’s degree in English from Chabot Community College seven years earlier, she took a long hiatus to raise her family. Crawford had always wanted to get her bachelor’s, but time and financial constraints prevented her from doing so. The stars aligned three years ago, when she got a divorce settlement for $90,000. “I looked at it as an investment in myself,” Crawford said. She enrolled in a two-year English program at California State University East Bay, hoping to better her job prospects.
Easier said than done. By the time Crawford graduated in 2009, she’d spent $70,000 on tuition, books, and living expenses. Unable to find a writing job, she was relegated to office temp work. She found that a lot of companies wouldn’t hire an older employee, for fear she’d retire after a few years. (Crawford didn’t want to reveal her age in this article.) In hindsight, the rewards of her education were mostly intangible. “I think my outlook has been enlarged as far as looking at the world,” Crawford said, adding that her favorite class at Cal State East Bay was one on critical thinking. “I question things more,” she continued. “I don’t just take things as gospel truth when I hear them.”
It’s become a point of contention whether so-called “seasoned students” like Crawford are getting a return on their educational investment. The old axiom is that it usually pays to get more schooling. The more education you get, the more competitive you are in the job market. You become more valuable as an employee, you get better connections, and you have more access to resources. Thus, it makes sense that a lot of people would seek refuge in academia during an economic downturn. And if you’re unemployed, then you don’t have a lot to lose, noted Sylvia Allegretto, a labor economist at UC Berkeley. “The opportunity costs of going to school become lower when you don’t have a job,” she explained.
Nonetheless, the rising cost of a university education can outweigh the short-term benefits. Crawford endured several tuition hikes during her time at CSU. “The last couple semesters were the worst,” she recalled. “It was up around two to three hundred dollars per semester.” To make matters worse, university parking fees nearly doubled between 2007 and 2009. That was a huge hardship for commuter students like Crawford.
UC Berkeleyalso saw a spate of huge tuition hikes between 2007 and 2010. Currently, the price of an undergraduate education runs from $21,960 to $31,046 annually, while a graduate education comes to $34,286 for California residents, and $49,526 for non-residents. For a lot of people that’s cost-prohibitive. Add in the fact that graduates are entering a formidably tough market, in which jobs are scarce and fewer people are retiring. “The labor force participation of those 55 and older has increased, because they need to keep health care and benefits, and because their retirements were hammered during the recession,” Allegretto said. “If you’re in California, it’s not looking good for anyone.”
According to Eva Rivas, UC Berkeley’s executive director of the Transfer, Reentry, and Student Parent Center, the number of transfer student applications is steadily increasing. But that’s not always traceable to economic erosion, she said. “From my anecdotal experience with new students, it’s not a lot about the economy.” Rivas explained. “We don’t hear that a lot. Usually, returning students come because they want to go in a new direction.”
“A new direction” could mean better job prospects, or it could mean the solution to an existential crisis. Perhaps it just means that older students are thinking strategically. It’s already a well-known truism that the rewards reaped from a university education depend largely on your field, and that might be truer than ever before. It’s certainly true at the Peralta colleges, where nursing and business administrations, two fields of study that tend to lead directly to jobs, have the most declared majors, followed by general curriculum and child development.
Crawford’s daughter Brianne said she took the job market into consideration before entering CSU alongside her mother. A single mom with a long résumé of retail jobs, she chose to matriculate in sociology with a social services option. After graduating in 2009, she got a job working with autistic children. “I chose social sciences because I wanted to work with people, and I needed a degree to do that,” she said. “When you’re looking for a job you have more seniority with a bachelor’s than you would with just an AA degree.”
That said, even a BA sometimes isn’t enough. Brianne still owes $19,000 in student loans, but she’s thinking of going back to pursue a master’s in the next couple years. She ascribes that choice to the recession. “With the way the economy is going, and the things I want to do,” she said, “it’s gonna take another degree.”