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Laura Janis ThompsonReturn on Investment (ROI) for Your College Degree

by Laura Janis Thompson

So you are thinking about going back to college. That’s great news! I love school! In fact, given my propensity to enroll in almost any kind of class just to learn something new, I'm probably not the ideal person to be handing out advice but before you jump too quickly or fill out any applications, proceed with caution!

I am a major proponent of learning and self-improvement so it is not my intention here to dissuade you nor is this article yet another story about the student loan debt crisis. However, given my years of experience both as a student and as an education professional allow me to ask you a question . . . or several.

Let’s talk about what type of program you have in mind. Is it a degree, a certificate or an adult education class at the local community college? Adult education is typically held on evenings or weekends. Class offerings cover a number of subjects ranging from T’ai Chi to French and usually last about six weeks. If any of these classes are what you have in mind, you are good to go. Go forth; pay your seventy-five dollars, learn well and have a blast. In terms of value, the exchange of a very small sum of money for what is generally a wealth of information can’t be beat so let’s move on to degree or certificate programs.

Several years ago, I happened to be watching a finance show on television in the wee hours of the morning. You know the kind. Viewers call in asking for financial advice, a financial analyst tells them what to do; blah, blah, blah. At some point, I began to drift in and out of sleep until I was jolted awake by a caller inquiring about returning to college. The caller, a woman, explained that she was in her mid-forties, working as an executive assistant and making decent money but thought a bachelor’s degree in business administration might make her more marketable either in her current situation or elsewhere. Obviously, she was looking for advice from the financial expert regarding this very important investment.

I sat up, already anticipating the counsel I was sure would be provided. Imagine my shock when I heard instead and very emphatically, I might add, “Don’t do it.” What followed was a lengthy discourse on the “dark side” of this decision including a breakdown of why taking on student loans might not be a wise decision at that point in the caller’s life, whether the length of time required to achieve a bachelor’s degree as a part-time student was even feasible and how it might be possible, in her particular case, to achieve greater remuneration through self-help resources such as adult education classes, updating computer skills or even learning a new language.

Well, I was outraged! How dare this show host person discourage a potential student! After all, was there anything more worthwhile than the pursuit of higher education? If truth be told, I was probably a bit too passionate back in those days. I myself had been a returning student; I believe the “PC” term for students my age was “non-traditional”. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree at the age of forty-six, started working at a university and jumped immediately into a graduate degree which I completed when I was forty-nine. I was also working in the field of education and was devoted to helping students enroll in college. Nothing could be more beneficial, as far as I was concerned, both in terms of career goals and self-esteem than the pursuit of higher education.

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