The benefits of a college degree are well-documented. Including increases in earning potential, job opportunities as well as self-esteem and networking enrichments, the benefits of degrees are irrefutable. These benefits are even more accessible for Michigan’s essential workers under Governor Whitmer’s “Futures for Frontliners” program to provide free tuition.
Much is written about how to choose the right college for freshly minted high school graduates. However, much less is written about choosing the right college for students returning to school later in life. Students who are also working adults are typically over the age of 24 with family and professional responsibilities. They reside off campus, attend school part-time, and are financially independent. These students might seek to change careers, enhance skills, or obtain an advanced degree. Choosing the right college is even more complicated for a student returning later in life because of the tensions between work, personal and educational commitments.
Where to start? What to look for? Working adults need a different type of education than the model used to matriculate “traditional” students. Below are the ingredients needed for an education experience tailored to students managing multiple competing priorities.
Personal Connections. Balancing work and family leaves little time to form relationships with classmates and faculty members. Small classes equal a more personalized experience. Whether in person or remote classes, small class sizes give students more time to connect with instructors and classmates. At Walsh, for example, 90% of faculty have professional experience, which can also create a natural mentoring relationship.
Flexibility. Busy lives necessitate flexible learning options. Offering online, on-ground and hybrid learning options will allow even the busiest student to find an option to fit their schedule. Also offering concise semesters allow students to attend classes year-round to earn their degrees faster. Year-round registration also helps students to plan their entire academic year in advance.
Dual Degrees. Working students seek efficiencies. Dual degrees are the best way to get the most bang for the educational buck. At Walsh, for example, with only five additional classes, students can earn two separate degrees from two unique fields in one concise program. Dual degrees are different from double majors where you complete only one degree with specializations in two fields under the same degree. In only two years, the strength of the internationally ranked Walsh MBA can be combined with the depth of a specialty in finance, information technology leadership, management, or marketing. Dual degrees may offer more career opportunities because of the broader knowledge gained.
Hands-on learning. Any learning environment should value the experiences of its students. Students who are also working adults have rich experiences, both professional and personal, that will breathe life into the class content and can also inspire others to persevere when times get tough. Hands-on learning not only values the student, it also creates opportunities to apply course knowledge in ways that prepare learners to hit the ground running in their chosen profession.
Supportive, high-quality faculty. Many college students today are also parents, work full-time jobs, and some even care for aging parents. Given the many responsibilities these students juggle, supportive faculty members, advisors, and student services staff are critically important to their success. Supportive faculty translates into career readiness for the student because faculty are better able to help them navigate professional paths.
Viable career paths. Students who are also working adults need viable career paths. They don’t have the time to waste exploring majors because their livelihood and the livelihood of their family depends on the education sought. Partnering with students throughout their career lifespan with lifetime career service support for alumni is extremely important to student success. Successful alumni help with networking opportunities.
Deciding on the right college is an important choice for anyone, especially for students with competing life priorities of work and family. Working adults returning to school later in life should select an educational environment that sets them up for success in the classroom.