The Value Of An Education At Any Age

Mar 15, 2013
  |  by Jennifer Cook

The age demographics of people going to college, either for the first time or going back for more education, has transformed over the last decade or so. For a while, people were going back mid-career, either for a career change or to position themselves for promotion. Now people are going back even earlier, in their 20’s and 30’s.

What’s Driving Adults Back to School?

Just a few years ago, students age 24 to 29 made up 17% of all undergrads in the US. And people over 30 were 23% of the student body at US colleges! Together, that’s 40% of everyone in college. And I suspect that the faltering economy has forced even more people in higher age brackets flooding online universities and colleges for more education in the last two or three years.

Of course, financial concerns are a huge driver for people who head back to school. A lot of graduates going back for more education found that their first degree didn’t set them up for the earning potential they wanted. And probably more people simply did the math, which is clear when you look at earnings statistics for college graduates.

Case in point: I have a friend who just turned 30. He originally earned an English degree, but he’s back in school. His current career just doesn’t have the growth prospects in earnings that he had hoped. He picked up a Java programming book and was inspired to do a complete career change. Now he’s headed back for a second online bachelor’s degree in computer science.

Retirement Careers a Growing Trend

But even if the volume of people headed back for additional schooling or training has increased, it’s not a new phenomenon by any means. Higher education has long been an avenue for people to start over, enhance their existing skills or take their professional and intellectual lives in a completely new direction.

I’m thinking primarily about people going into retirement, or already there, who are taking advantage of continuing education courses and retirement career courses. Maybe their retirement savings isn’t enough to support their expenses, or they’re looking for part-time and freelance careers that can give them extra cash to travel.

With people living longer, and tremendous pressure on the government to reduce retirement benefits like Social Security and Medicare, people are looking to shore up their retirement financials.

Retirement Learning and Philanthropy

Contrary to what TV and movies would have us believe, not everyone wants to spend their retirement on the golf course or by the pool; people have plans for their retirement, and they’re using higher education to dive into careers that let them give something back.

There are numerous nonprofit organizations that suffer because they can’t find (or can’t afford) the people with the skills they need to run their operations. Retirees are heading back to school to gain skills to work for organizations that they’re passionate about.

It’s a trend that excites me from social standpoint. Just think, the Baby Boomer generation, one of the largest population surges in US history is currently starting to retire. That’s a huge, skilled labor force that’s about to retire. What impact could they have on graduation rates, homelessness, public health and other social problems if they decide to put that skill and knowledge to bear?

Have you thought about heading back to school? What degree would you pursue?


Author bio: Jennifer Cook writes on student life, going back to school and online learning technology for When she isn't writing, you can track her down in the library, trying to check out more books than her card allows.



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