The extended unemployment boom that now seems to be stalled at 9.6% nationwide has had disastrous consequences for millions of middle class Americans. It’s not so much that businesses are closing their doors; they are also boxing up the jobs and shipping them overseas. That’s not just manufacturing jobs; it’s IT jobs, accounting jobs, product development jobs in short, the skilled positions that many of us moved toward initially with a bachelor’s degree and a stack of resumes.
College is worth the cost for a high school graduate particularly if you prioritize paying it off fairly early on. There are also statistics that show a graduate degree to have a higher earnings value, on average, than a baccalaureate. All of those facts apply in what used to be the average job market, where there was a manufacturing base, where skilled workers included the journeyman ranks among the building trades, and where the IT sector was a booming, seemingly limitless economy all its own.
Yesterday’s average job market is gone. It has been replaced by a self-defeating economic structure where consumers are afraid to expand, businesses are afraid to expand, and banks are afraid to lend. All of that adds up to a situation that makes jobs hard to find for millions of us, career professionals and college graduates alike. That’s why there’s a boom in college education driven by people who are returning to school to re-calibrate their professional skills and credentials. For those of us who have been caught in the unemployment web, returning to school often means a new career in a new profession or a shot at a management role that might require a business management degree for qualification.
How to evaluate this option? There are several factors in the equation. The first is to learn as much as possible about the job opportunities your additional degree might open up. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook is as good an asset as you’ll find for determining the projected growth of the job you’re seeking as well as statistics on the fastest growing jobs. That will give you a general fix on what the market might be in your field; a search of some of the larger job databases will establish what opportunities are available for someone with your combination of experience and (projected) education.
If you can rough out an achievable career goal and a salary range without taking on too many student loans, the next step is looking at the prospects for upgrading your collegiate credential. Every year there are more options for obtaining a masters degree through an accredited online colleges – and most of the new programs are coming from traditional universities who have introduced degree programs for mid-career professionals. These programs are generally designed for people who need to keep working and who have family obligations. If your state university has gotten into distance learning, the tuition will be about half what a private university charges. Some of the on-line professional schools match the lower tuition rates, but you need to check their status for accreditation.
And then there’s the intangible factor, which is very difficult to assign a value. Sometimes returning to school to hold onto a job or obtain a new one isn’t just a matter of getting back on track financially, it’s holding on to assets, lifestyle, family – all of which has value that doesn’t show up on a balance sheet.
While going to college can be very important, planning for it can be just as important. Save in a 529 plan or Roth IRA (college savings can be saved here, too!) and you’ll be a step ahead!