For many of the prospective students I meet, they have good jobs. They are valued employees. But they have reached a point professionally or personally where that's not enough. They want a degree.
In today's still-shaky economy, work experience isn't worth what it used to be. The job market is evolving thanks to technology and globalization. And leveraging these changes to your advantage means, first, earning that elusive degree. In short, higher education matters more than ever. Here are three reasons to go back to school now.
Increase your bottom line.
It's a fact that college graduates make more money. They have more professional opportunities and advance in their careers more quickly. The data has shown this consistently over the years, and the trend is not slowing down. In fact, the pay gap is increasing, according to a recent article in The New York Times. In 2013, Americans with four-year degrees made 98 percent more per hour than their peers without degrees. (Compare this to the 1980s, when that gap was only 64 percent.) For many, making more money may not be the only or most important reason to earn a college degree -- but increased financial stability in an ever-changing economy is certainly a benefit.
Expand your skill set.
Going back to school while working full time, raising a family or taking care of elderly parents takes a great deal of determination and ambition. These qualities are not lost on employers. It takes initiative and perseverance to do the consistent, quality work necessary to finish a degree. And no matter what major or program you end up choosing, the skills you develop -- critical thinking, an understanding of ethics in the workplace and broader world, the ability to write and speak well -- will set you apart. Showcasing these skills (class projects, community service, research papers on complicated social issues) in interviews and on your résumé can help you land a promotion or even provide entry into an entirely new field.
Going back to college is a self-validating experience. When many of my students return to the classroom, they feel like imposters. That nagging little voice in their heads tells them, "I can't possibly succeed at this. What am I doing here?" But after a few classes with peers who are struggling with the same doubts, they realize they are not alone. They also benefit from professors who want to help them be successful. With a network of classmates and teachers who both support and challenge them, students start to believe that they can do it -- in fact, they already are. That self-empowerment in the classroom spills over into other areas of their lives, too: Success begets success.
In my eight years of teaching and advising adult learners, I've yet to meet a student who told me, "I wish I hadn't gotten my degree." It's not a decision you'll regret. And it just might change your life for the better.
Lori Eggleston Thorp is director of New College Support Services at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas.