Don't Let Excuses Stop You From Finishing Your Degree in 2014

Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. For many of the 37 million Americans who have some college education but no degree, life simply got in the way of their college pursuit.

This is a common story for our students at WGU, including one of our recent graduates, Shakera Baxter. After she graduated from high school, Shakera was awarded a scholarship and was on her way to college when an unexpected pregnancy put her college plans on hold. Years later, she enrolled at WGU and was able to finish her bachelor's degree in health informatics -- all while working full time and raising three children.

Shakera spoke at commencement recently, and as I listened to her speech, I was in awe of her perseverance. Despite many challenges, she was committed to her goal of being the first in her family to earn a bachelor's degree. She spoke of how she hoped her example would inspire her children, "so they will never give themselves an excuse to not follow a dream."

With New Year's resolution season now upon us, it's an ideal time to go back to school. Don't let the same old excuses get in the way of your goals this year:

I can't afford to go back to school. You can't afford not to finish a degree that will help you advance your career. If you do your homework and research your options, you'll find that there are affordable options. Many students are eligible for federal financial aid, and there are also other scholarship opportunities. When you do your research, keep in mind that higher cost does not necessarily mean higher quality. Factor in tuition, books, and fees before you make your decision. Another factor should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree -- the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost. Research competency-based programs, which allow students to progress based on their mastery of knowledge, not how long they've put in "seat time."

I can't get to class -- I work full-time, and I have family responsibilities. Take a look at the options for nontraditional students before you use this excuse. While you may not be able to get to a campus for courses, many online universities allow you to study on your schedule. The majority of our students work full-time and have family responsibilities. They study at night, in the morning, on weekends -- whenever they can fit it into their lives. Advancing your career and being a positive example for your family are powerful motivations for going to back to school; don't let them be excuses not to go back.

I don't have time to go back to school -- there aren't enough hours in the day. Innovations in higher education, particularly online and competency-based education, have made college study more flexible and adaptable to the life of a busy adult. You just need to find the right program for you. You can fit your education into your schedule -- not the other way around. Before enrolling, explore what kind of support is available to help you maximize your time. Are there faculty members, mentors, advisors, learning communities, etc., to help and increase the likelihood of your success? Can you make the most of what you've already learned on the job with competency-based programs? Can you complete coursework and tests remotely or online?

A degree won't be worth the time or the money. If you choose the right degree from an accredited, respected university, it will be well worth it. The unemployment rate of college graduates is half that of those with a high school diploma. When researching schools, make sure your degree program will be valued by employers. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys, and graduate rankings on national test scores. Having a college degree can also boost your salary. And, if you choose an affordable option, your degree will pay for itself faster. For example, a recent study completed for us by Harris Interactive showed that WGU graduates pay for their degrees through increased earnings within two to three years of graduation. That makes going back to college a great investment.

Things rarely get better by chance; they get better by change, so don't let excuses hold you back in the New Year. Make 2014 a year of positive change by furthering your education.