The road from high school to college isn’t always a direct route. Some students never attend or complete higher education due to family commitments or work opportunities.
After dropping out of high school when she was younger, Ayeisha Strothers, a 29-year-old mother of two from Maplewood, New Jersey, later earned her GED and completed a bachelor’s degree from New England College.
Strothers was inspired by her daughters to pursue a degree.
“I didn’t want people to think just because you have children and because you’re older, you tell yourself, ‘I can’t do this,’” she said. “That’s my motivation – to provide the best that I could for my kids, knowing that getting an education can lead to being successful in life.”
Schools like NEC are making it easier for adults to return to school and earn an education while balancing work, family and personal goals by offering online degree programs.
Strothers earned her BA in Psychology with a concentration in Developmental Psychology online, allowing her to work from home as regional manager for Animal Riders, a company that rents motorized stuffed animals in shopping centers, complete her assignments and spend time with her daughters.
“We sat down and did our homework together, which is very motivating for me to be able to do things together that we both feel is right. I have always taught my daughter the value of getting a good education,” Strothers said.
If you are considering going back to college, you’re not alone. The number of adult learners, also referred to as non-traditional students, is the fastest growing education demographic, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. In 2014, 8.2 million students age 25 and older enrolled in college. By 2025, it’s estimated that 9.6 million students over 25 will be enrolling in college.
Although adults may find the idea of returning to school intimidating, they are more likely to graduate. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 80% of adult students who go back to college graduate as compared to 50% of students who attend college right out of high school.
Today, many colleges offer customized options including earning a degree online, offering accelerated programs, allowing generous transfer policies and providing college credits for work or life experience.
From working professionals to empty nesters, people are returning to college to pursue additional training and earn degrees for a number of reasons:
Get a Promotion
Earning a college degree may provide you with the credentials needed to qualify for a promotion. Working professionals are up against a new highly-skilled generation of employees who may have less work experience, but possess the higher education requirements needed to advance.
Joan Bauer, a mother and grandmother who has spent 26 years in law enforcement, has watched younger officers who met education requirements receive promotions.
“I would say to police officers that further education is very important,” Bauer said.
Bauer graduated with a BA in Criminal Justice from NEC in Spring 2016. Taking classes online allowed her to continue working full-time while raising four young children in Randolph, Ohio.
If you’ve reached a financial cap within your current role, earning a college degree could help you earn more money. In 2014, the median salary of young adults between 25 and 34 with a bachelor’s degree was $49,900, 66% higher than the median salary for those with a high school degree ($30,000), according to NCES.
If you are losing passion, interest or drive in your current position and are ready to change your career, returning to school may be a good idea.
In some cases, unexpected circumstances may cause you to pivot in a new direction, as it did for NEC graduate Crystal Broadnax Hunter.
Hunter, a nurse with 13 years of experience, injured two discs in her spine in 2010, resulting in several surgeries and procedures that left Hunter working light duty and desk work, and effectively ending her nursing career.
“I went through my initial grieving phase for myself, then wiped away my tears,” Hunter said. “I decided I might as well be doing something constructive. I was not just going to be on disability. I would just die. Me sitting around on disability, that would kill me.”
Hunter went back to school and earned a BS in Healthcare Administration online through NEC and graduated in 2015.
“I was always interested in the administrative area of health. I just never had the time. The injury was a double-edged sword in a way,” she said. Now Hunter can pursue a new career within healthcare.
“I have so many opportunities open. I can work in business because I have courses in business and know healthcare. I can go on and get my master’s. There are so many more options,” she said.
Working professionals like Hunter are not the only non-traditional students going back to school. Retirees and empty nesters are now coming out of retirement to pursue their “dream job.”
Retirees are going back to school and launching second careers, proving that it’s never too late to become a teacher, scientist or doctor. Going back to school can help inspire and stimulate intellectual thinking. Lifelong learning is now a possibility for those who have already retired and have the time and personal commitment to do so.
Whether you want to show your children or grandchildren the importance of earning a degree or you’re a lifelong learner who wants to become a better, more educated person, returning to school at any age can be life-changing. If you left college due to family and work obligations, you can return to finish what you started and prove you can do it.
Cameron Grant, a Rhode Island native, wife and mother of two, earned a BA in Healthcare Administration in 2015 to ensure she had the skills and degree needed to advance. Grant joined the workforce as a dental assistant and worked her way up to director of dental services at a large community health center. However, after 16 years in the field, Grant knew she needed a degree to move into a leadership position.
Returning to school allowed her to set an example for her daughter.
“It was important to me that I finish. It means a lot to have her see me walk across that stage. I feel like in part I’m doing this for her so she can see what path I absolutely expect out of her. I wanted her to see me finishing something,” Grant said.