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Going Back to School: Increase Your Value, Multiply Your Options

They’re doing it in Toronto. According to JTA, a combination of Canadian presidents, chairpersons and business officials are going back to school. The goal? To gain additional insights into such meaningful career skills as finance, management, human resources, and conflict resolution. There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this venture and others just like it–going back to school to earn your degree can be essential in creating new opportunities and increasing your salary potential. If you’re in a career “rut” and would embrace a chance to do something more, there may be no better way than by earning that college degree.

College is Where the Learning Is
If you’re asking yourself why you should go back to school, chances are you probably already know the answer. Simply stated, an increasingly complex job market requires professionals with specialized skills. College degrees are all about specialization. It’s the opportunity to combine formal classroom training with your personal talents and abilities to prepare for bigger and better things. Often, the urge to return to college to complete your degree arrives on the tail of what MSN Encarta calls a “trigger event.” Such events include:

The Promo Passover. You didn’t get that big promotion that you thought was in the bag and the decision came down to qualifications
Employment Uncertainty. This can include pending mergers or the threat of a layoff that places generic workers in jeopardy
Industry Innovation. New processes and technologies are changing your professional landscape–and you have to keep up
A New Boss in Town. A new manager often attempts to make an immediate impact in your department, which may begin with adding better-qualified employees

Much More Than Just a Piece of Sheepskin
College graduates that do so simply for the prestige are missing the big picture. Formal classroom training can develop you in ways that life experiences and hands-on learning often exclude. According to Reuters, the simple fact is that businesses across industries are thirsting for academically-trained applicants–a resource that is becoming increasingly harder to find. A college curriculum reinforces perseverance, independent study skills and communications abilities, just to name a few. Add these abilities to your own current repertoire of talents to increase your value to any employer.

If numbers are motivation for you (READ: money talks), you should know that a college degree and earning potential go hand-in-hand. US News and World Reports notes that a study in the 1990s of laid-off workers who went back to community college earned about 9 percent more in salary over a lifetime than those who didn’t. Also, The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s report on Usual Weekly Earnings of Wage and Salary Workers: Third Quarter 2008 lists some eye-opening salary trends for full-time employees over age 25.

Workers without a high school diploma had median weekly earnings of $471.
High school graduates with no college credentials had median weekly earnings of $618.
Those holding at least a bachelor’s degree had median weekly earnings of $1,131.

Thinking about a Career Change? Earn Your Degree First.
Switching a career or position within an industry can be an especially tumultuous time, particularly for middle-aged professionals. If you’ve spent several years working towards one goal, it’s tough to break into a new occupation without meaningful training in a new skill. However, going back to get that degree can make it possible. In fact, the combination of this new information with what you already know can better prepare you for the transition.

The International Association of Administrative Professionals makes these timely suggestions as you consider your options:

Employer Tuition Reimbursement. Some employers offer to reimburse your tuition expenses up to 100 percent provided you earn a degree related to your industry and meet various performance requirements
Online Education Options. If you’re not in a position to drop personal and professional commitments to return to school, distance learning should always be an option

BLS, Salary Report: Third Quarter 2008
IAAP, Should You Go Back to School?
JTA, Toronto leaders go back to school to hone skills
MSN Encarta, Top 7 Reasons to Go Back to School
Reuters, Start-ups go back to school to get to work
US News & World Report, Go Back to School for New Skills


Publish date: January 1, 2009