After Layoffs or Lack of a Job, A College Degree Still Earns


During tough times, people go back to school.  By many estimates, the depression America is experiencing right now hasn’t been this bad since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s time in office.    His ingenuity in the Works Progress Act and many other programs which put people to work when jobs were scarce is the hallmark of his presidency.  Obama, who clearly understands that the number one thing we can do to improve our economy is educate young people in America, also needs to look at how people over twenty-five can increase their earning power, save for retirement and, hopefully, find ways to give back to society in both money and time.

In 2009, the unemployment rate for those holding a bachelor’s degree was 5.2% compared with those who only had a high school diploma at 9.7%. Men and women who earned a college degree also made nearly two times as much as high school graduates.  America needs many more high school graduates and we need many more college graduates to succeed in a flat world where educated people in third world countries are ready and willing to contribute to the global economy.

These are hard economic times and the surge in enrollments is proof that displaced workers and non-traditional students realize they will be better off with a degree than without one.. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, three-fourths of today’s students don’t fit the description of what most consider a “traditional student,” someone under the age of 25 who went to college directly out of high school. In the same study, researchers found 49% of today’s students are enrolled part-time, 38% have full-time work, and 27% have dependents.   At community colleges where enrollments of this population is the highest, students are taught by sixty-five percent adjunct faculty.

Returning students may be the new norm, but that doesn’t change the fact that many of them have been out of school for years and will probably be facing information loss, new technology, and different teaching techniques. If you’re a returning student, find resources on your campus that can help you or support from your family and friends in the following areas:

1. Study space and time. Carve out a quiet place at home or in the library at school which can by your refuge for learning, grounding and reflection.  You’ll need to make  a significant commitment to studying so you’ll have to find ways to cut time from your current schedule whether that is time on the phone, time on FaceBook or time watching TV.

2. Basic math, reading, and writing skills. Many students spend their first two years being remediated in these areas.   These areas are foundational to the rest of the courses students take in college.  Ideally, these skills would have been mastered in high school, or well before.  As a nation, we need high school graduates to achieve these basic skills while they are still in high school.

3. Technology in the classroom. Students are required to navigate the internet and work with word-processors, PowerPoint, and mixed media.  This is world of hybrid learning.   You will be expected to learn just as much through on-line resources, some of which come with your textbooks, as you will in class.   Be an active participant with these tools and use them to prepare questions for class and points of clarification for your teacher after class.  Your teacher will admire and respect your initiative if you come to class prepared and you spend the time to clarify what you don’t know.

4. Balancing Life and School. College will open doors for you the rest of your life.  You may need to make sacrifices in the short run—with friends, family members, your favorite TV shows, etc—to stay on task and focused until you earn your degree.  For many people, college requires a “heads down” all-out ability to concentrate and study while juggling other important life priorities like children and work.

5.  Take a student success class. Student success classes are designed to help you create a community of friends on campus, show you important campus resources, and help you understand who you are, what you want out of college and career and the habits to make that happen.   I co-author a book called KEYS TO SUCCESS:  Analytical, Creative and Practical Intelligence.  If your campus doesn’t have a course, buy this book and work through it in the weeks before school starts.  It may be the most important book you buy as it will teach you how to study effectively for all of your other classes.

College, no matter where you go, is worth the money you will pay, the time it will take and the sacrifices you will make.   A college degree tells employers that you are a finisher, that you can juggle competing priorities and that you want to make something of yourself in this economy and any other. So, if you don’t yet have a college degree, summon your courage, work through your fears, and put a stake in the ground about what you really want out of your life.  College is the best indicator that you can make your dreams reality.



“Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States, 2009″ U.S. Census Bureau.

“‘Non-traditional’ students struggle with schedules, loans” -


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