EDUCATION AND THE 'OVER 40' JOB SEEKER
Upgrading Your Education is an Important Aspect of Your Job Search and Professional Development – What Are Your Options and What You Should Consider
By Robert Giusti, M.A.
I - WHY YOU SHOULD CONSIDER UPDATING YOUR EDUCATION
As a job seeker, it's never too late to start thinking about updating your skill set. Demonstrating that you are staying current in your profession can only improve your chances of being hired. If you are looking to make a career change, pursuing a bachelor's (if you don't yet have one) or a master’s degree, will give you that much more credibility in the eyes of a potential employer, showing that you are serious about changing careers.
There are several reasons to update your education.
a. If your education is 15 or more years old, it is considered to be out of date. Taking seminars, classes, or specified curricula will show your prospective employer that you are serious about being current in your field, or in changing to new one.
b. Meeting employers'-desired skill set. In 22 years of attending professional and corporate college fairs, I talked to many company officials. When asked what skills they want from their employees, their answers always included five skills they considered most important: Writing; Math (Algebra or higher level); Analytical thinking; Communication (Interpersonal); and Public Speaking.
c. Update your current professional skill-set, if you are looking to find a job in your current industry. You want to show potential employers that you are motivated, contemporary, and engaged in your field.
d. Acquire a new professional skill set if you are looking to change careers, it shows that you are serious about moving into their industry.
Regardless of the reason for pursuing it, your education shows your dedication to improving yourself and that you are serious about contributing to a new employer’s success.
II - EDUCATIONAL OPTIONS FOR THE 'OVER 40' JOB SEEKER
As a job seeker you may have determined that adding to your professional skill set or taking a course in an area of interest could make you more interesting to a potential employer. What are your options?
Before looking at options, ask yourself these questions: Do I need/want to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in my current or a new field? Do I need/want to acquire a body of knowledge in a specific area? Do I need/want to complete some career-related courses? How much time can I devote daily, weekly, or monthly to obtaining my educational goals? How much would it cost and how can I finance it?
Once you have answered these questions, you are now ready to look at your educational options. (Determining time and financial resources will be looked at later in this article). What are your academic options? They are: earn a bachelor's or master's degree, get a certificate, advance your education through individual courses, or learn a specific trade. Let's look at these options.
A Bachelor's degree in almost any field will be a prerequisite for most jobs today and a Master's degree may be required for mid-level management or higher level positions. An ever-growing number of four-year colleges offer specially formatted degree programs for adults.
A certificate program is a concentrated study (typically in a professional area) in a specific field (i.e. health administration, a computer programing language, etc.) and is not intended to provide a breadth of knowledge in that particular field. Certificate programs are offered through community colleges and Extended Education programs from UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz. Also, Online independent study certificate programs are available through various respected colleges (more about this later).
Also, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) receives federal grants to offer training programs in specified areas (i.e. QuickBooks, Green Industry Marketing, etc.)
Individual courses: Some Private and most California State Universities, as well as California Community Colleges allow students to enroll in individual courses, although an Admissions Application may still be required.
For students interested in learning a trade, I recommend community colleges over private trade schools.
The key to pursuing your educational options is decide what you need to learn (and why) and how through what means are you going attain (a degree, a certificate, individual skill courses, etc.).
III - DETERMINING YOUR POTENTIAL TIME COMMITMENT
You are an 'Over Forty' job seeker who has responsibilities in addition to your job search and the thought of upgrading your education or skill set by devoting the necessary time commitment can be a stumbling block. How can you determine the appropriate time commitment and how can you determine whether or not you'll have the time to devote. The answer could determine your choice of which educational option to pursue.
There are 168 hours in a week and the general rule of thumb is that for every course credit hour (unit) in which you are enrolled, you'll be in class one hour a week and should be devoting three hours outside of class. If you are enrolled in a course worth three units/credit hours, you will be in class three hours a week and you should be devoting nine hours outside of class: for a total of 12 hours a week).
Create a list of the things you do daily (i.e. job search, sleeping, hobbies, volunteer work, raising children, caring for pets, showering, cooking, brushing teeth, watching TV, spending time at your computer, etc.) and determine the amount of time devoted to each activity.
Be aware of those things you may do monthly (i.e. family gatherings) or periodically (i.e. rehearsals for community theater). Now add up all your hours. Subtract the total from 168 and you now have a figure that represents the amount of time you have to commit to your education on a weekly basis.
Example: Robin creates a spreadsheet of her daily and weekly activities, and determines the hours she spends on each: Sleeping (42.5); Watching television (25); Job Search (21.5); Cooking/eating meals(13); Socializing in person (9.5); Driving (9); Exercising (6); Spending time on the Internet 6); Volunteer work (5); Email (3.5); Caring for pets (3.5); Grocery Shopping (3); Getting dressed (2.8); Showering (2.1); Personal Hygiene (1.8); and weekly worship (1.5). Adding up her hours shows she spends 153.5 weekly on her various activities. Subtracting that from 168 shows she has 14.5 hours weekly to devote to classes and study. By tweaking her schedule, subtracting time from one or more activities will give more hours for her education.
I love to read! When I started my master's program, studying became my "pleasure" reading (except for Statistics). As I got further into my program, I cancelled my cable television subscription as a way of preventing me from watching too much television. My point is that you can adjust your weekly activities to increase the amount of time available for your studies.
Once you have given serious thought to the amount of time you can spend each week on your studies, you can then consider educational options that fit your schedule.
IV - RESEARCHING YOUR PROGRAM AND SCHOOL OPTIONS
Now that you have determined the amount of time to devote to your studies, it's time to research programs and the schools that offer them. To find programs that you are potentially interested in, I suggest using Google, Bing, or any other search engine (use more than one to get a larger variety of responses). As you search, you likely will get information on careers where your program of interest is used.
When you search for programs, you are likely to get responses containing information on schools that offer the program. Make a list of the schools that seem interesting to you. Some schools will offer classes and programs only "on campus," while other schools may offer programs at regional campuses or online. How do you choose? This is where "due diligence" becomes extremely important! Your decision could lead you to you achieving your academic and career goals, but could also cost you time and thousands of dollars.
Taking classes on a school’s campus means that the school offers traditionally based schedules and may or may not be accommodating of the adults' nonacademic schedule. Taking classes at a regional campus typically means that the programs are specifically designed for adult professionals. The down side is that you don’t have immediate access to all the services available on the "main" campus.
Also, some out-of-state schools now offer programs in the Bay Area. Reputable schools like Wharton School of Business and Carnegie Mellon University typically offer master's degree programs only. San Francisco's oldest university offers bachelor's degrees that have an Experiential or Prior Learning component.
Another option is to complete an online or independent study program, which will be discussed later in this article.
I am very pro-community college so if you don't need/want a bachelor's or master's degree, look to them first!
When researching colleges, there are two very important factors that must be considered before making your decision: is the school regionally accredited (more about accreditation later in this article) and is it a for-profit or a not-for-profit school. Programs or degrees from the University of California, the California State Universities System, or California Community colleges are accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), and as government schools, are not-for-profit. (Be aware that some certificate programs or individual classes offered through UC Extension or at community colleges may not be accredited for transfer or admission into a bachelor's degree program.)
When researching private colleges in California, I suggest going to the web site: http://www.aiccu.edu/.
This is the site of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities (AICCU), which is a membership organization of California private, not-for-profit, WASC accredited colleges and universities. There you will find links to all 75 member schools. If a school you are interested in is not on this list, even if it is WASC accredited, that means that the school is a for-profit institution and you should be very cautious (more on for-profit schools later).
Also, there’s a tip I give my advisees that applies not just to schools but ANYTHING you are considering purchasing: type in the subject of your search (i.e. "ABC College" and follow that with the words "praise" or "complaints." It’s amazing what may turn up.
V - ACCREDITATION
In the last year or so, much has been written about accreditation and the impact of its potential withdrawal can have on the educational institution. What is accreditation and why is it so important? Accreditation is the formal process of review, evaluation, and certification by an academic commission, certifying that the school meets a level of quality in such areas as academic, administration, financial, and student services and that they are in accordance with an accepted set of criteria or standards. Accreditation is meant to protect STUDENTS, not the school or other parties.
Without regional accreditation, a college or university's degrees, programs and units/credit hours are not recognized as valid by other regional accreditation agencies and their member institutions. This means that students won't be able to transfer those units/credit hours into an accredited college towards a bachelor's degree and that degrees from those schools will not be considered valid (important if you want to pursue a masters degree). Also, government financial aid and grant programs arenot available to students attending schools that are not regionally accredited (although student loan programs are for some reason). (Please see "Revenue Mission" below for important information regarding veterans' GI Bill benefits and For-Profit Schools).
If a school is not accredited by: WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges); NEASC (North Eastern Association of Schools and Colleges); NWCCU (Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities); MSA (Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools); SACS (Southern Association of Schools and Colleges); or NCA (North Central Association of Schools and Colleges), then it is NOT regionally accredited! Also, some schools may be accredited as "Junior Colleges" and may not offer four year degree programs. Knowing if a school located outside of California is regionally accredited is going to be important to you if you are considering online education.
REGIONAL ACCREDITATION AGENCIES IN THE UNITED STATES
Please note: If a school advertises itself as being "nationally accredited" but isn't regionally accredited, its credits won't transfer towards a bachelor's degree; degrees earned at that school can't be used in application to a masters' degree program at an accredited university; and may not be recognized by potential employers!
VI - REVENUE MISSION
"Revenue Mission" is a term I use to define the revenue focus of a school. I want to specifically address private, for-profit schools. It's important to remember that for-profit schools' top priority is generating revenue and making a large profit. Students and academic programs come in second! Even if a for-profit school has regional accreditation, be cautious! There have been many stories in the news over the past several years about government investigations into shoddy academics or unethical/ illegal financial practices of many for-profits (some with regional accreditation) and government investigations have shown lower graduation and higher loan-default rates associated with for profit, private schools.
Note: Interest rates students pay for their student loans are based in part on the loan default rates of the schools they are attending. The higher the default rate, the higher the interest rate. The lower the default rate, the lower the interest rate. The difference can literally mean thousands of dollars to student borrowers!
According to the Oakland Tribune (Sept. 7, 2013), "The Bay Area's for-profit colleges soak up millions of dollars in taxpayer-funded student grants and loans and charge students high tuition, yet many have low graduation rates or high rates of student loan defaults, an analysis of U.S. Department of Education data reveals.
High loan defaults are a growing concern -- not only because they ruin the borrower's credit, but because they are seen as an indication that the schools do not set students on a course toward jobs with high enough pay to handle their levels of debt."
Last year, the Associated Press wrote about President Obama signing a broad order that partially addresses fraudulent marketing and recruitment practices aimed at veterans and military families eligible for federal education assistance under the GI Bill. Quoting from the story: "The new protections would make it harder for postsecondary and technical schools to misrepresent themselves to military students. The main target of the White House's action is for-profit colleges and universities that market heavily to military families because of the easy availability of federal aid under the GI Bill."
Here’s what some former employees of for-profit schools have to say:
"I wasted four years in the financial aid department for this company and they have always taken advantage of students and treated their employees poorly! This was the most (u)nethical company…"
"Once worked as an administrator at ... (the) College's market was/is primarily students who can't get in, or think they can't get in, anywhere else, or the first in their families to go to college and have succumbed to the college's hard sell. College pushed the "get degree in 18 months" VERY hard. Students didn't realize they could have a better/transferable community college degree in just six more months for a small fraction of the exorbitant tuition this "non-profit" college charged. It was all about the money, never about the students."
"Higher education for profit has serious ethical problems. Its management is inherently ineffective for lacking quality academic training; . . . (t)hey get 80% of their operating budget from the public treasury, but, require little accountability for their actions."
If I seem overly harsh towards for-profit schools, it's because I had the unpleasant task of telling graduates of these schools that their credits weren't transferable (with the realization they had wasted thousands of dollars and/or couldn't be used in application for a graduate degree.
If you think a particular school's accelerated courses are for you, do your research! Don’t forget to type the word "complaints" after the school’s name to see results that can help you in your decision-making.
Warning – if you receive phone calls from companies asking if you want to further your education, know that they are third party venders receiving commissions for each "successful" call that is used by for-profit schools to generate recruiting prospects. Reputable schools don’t make "cold calls." My advice: JUST SAY NO!
VII - DISTANCE LEARNING
Anyone who uses the internet for any reason is exposed to a plethora of banner advertisements for online (distance learning) education programs and degrees (mostly from for-profit schools). Online education certainly has advantages, particularly for "Over 40" job seekers and worker who have family and other obligations. It allows you to take courses from colleges and university not geographically located near you. I once advised a student living in the Bay Area who was taking graduate-level courses through San Diego State University.
Also, many online programs are accelerated, which means you can finish the program sooner than you would in a 'brick-and-mortar' classroom.
There are two forms of online education: the virtual classroom and independent study. Enrolling in a virtual classroom program means you log on at the same time as other online students in your virtual classroom, which allows you to virtually interact with them, as well as with the teacher. Independent study means you logon to your course when it's convenient for you – anytime of the day or night, 24/7. As you might imagine, the advantage of schedule flexibility means a disadvantage of interactive unavailability – and vice versa.
As attractive as the notion is to you, taking online courses is not for everyone. To determine if online course work is for you, ask yourself the following questions:
* Do I need the course for my job search?
* Is time of the essence?
* Is studying in a physical classroom NOT important to me?
* Am I self- motivated?
* Am I self-disciplined?
* Will I diligently devote the required time necessary to complete the course or program?
If you can’t answer "yes" to ALL of the questions, on-line education is not for you.
How do you find a reputable, school that offers online courses, or programs (degree and certificate)? I found two web sites that I liked:
Guide to On-Line Schools http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/online-schools. This site allows you to refine your search (suggested: "Regionally Accredited" and "Not for Profit") on the left-hand side of the web page.
BLOG (free on-line courses)
Be sure to research the accreditation (see REGIONAL ACCREDITATION AGENCIES IN THE UNITED STATES on Page 5 of this article) and reputation of any school you are considering.
Recently I learned about the Open Courseware Consortium (http://www.ocwconsortium.org/). Courseware is a free and open digital publication of high quality educational materials for colleges and universities. Courses are offered from universities from around the world.
If you have the focus, motivation, and discipline, distance learning can be a great way to help you achieve your academic goals, while accommodating your schedule and other obligations.
VIII- FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE
When deciding to pursue a bachelor's or master's degree, financial assistance is may be available to you in the form of federal or state grant or loan programs, as well as potential scholarships from the degree-granting school.
All students interested in financial aid for college will need to electronically complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application form (http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/). Beware of ANY other web site with purporting to take you to the FAFSA application, as it's either a commercial site or a "scam". Also, the US Department of Education sponsors an information page at: http://studentaid.ed.gov/ that contains a lot of good information, including how to avoid financial aid scams.
For more information, I am listing some reputable sites that provide aid information:
CaliforniaColleges.com is a web site providing information on schools in the four segments of California Colleges: Community Colleges; California State University; University of California; and AICCU member Independent/private universities. This site contains, among other resources, information on financial aid for each segment: http://www.californiacolleges.edu/.
Be sure to speak with the financial aid office at the schools you are considering for more specific information on the types of aid that may be available to you. If you choose an online program, it may not be eligible for federal student aid, so be sure to do your due diligence before enrolling in any online program.
The "down-side" of financial aid, if you pursue a certificate program or want to take some individual courses, financial aid isn’t available from government or school sources.
The "bottom-line" of financing your education is that regardless of the source (scholarship, grant, loan, or out-of-pocket) updating your skill-set is always a good investment.
IX – VETERANS
The Veteran’s Administration has a lot of good information for veterans wanting to further their education. Visit their site at: http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/school_decision.asp. There are a lot of useful databases and tools to use in researching schools and financial aid, as well as the Post-9/11 G.I. Benefits Program.
Downloadable pamphlets can be found on the following sites:
“Factors to Consider When Choosing a School: A Guide Before Using the G.I. Bill”
Choosing a College – 8 Questions to Ask (a Federal Trade Commission Publication)
Choosing a Vocational School
One word of caution regarding vocational schools: BEWARE! Most vocational training schools are for-profit and have poor track records in actually providing the training, student services, and job-placement help they promise! Consider attending a community college where you can earn a certificate or an associate’s degree that will be far more inexpensive than a for-profit school. Also, most community colleges have dedicated offices, programs, counseling, and financial aid programs for veterans.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
"If you have at least 90 days of aggregate active duty service after Sept. 10, 2001, and are still on active duty, or if you are an honorably discharged Veteran or were discharged with a service-connected disability after 30 days, you may be eligible for this VA-administered program (from the VA Web-site)."
To visit the Post-9/11 GI Bill web-site, go to: http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/post911_gibill.asp.
Note about the author:
For 25 years, Robert Giusti advised adult professionals about traditional and nontraditional options available to them in finishing a bachelor's degree or earning a master’s degree. Doing business as CAPS Consulting, he works with adult transfer and adult students, specializing in: College Selection; Admissions; Records Evaluation; Two- Year to Four- Year College Transfer; Non-traditional College Credit; and Essay Review.
© Revised July, 2014, CAPS Consulting and Robert Giusti, M.A. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org