Thursday, July 19, 2012

Nontraditional Students Welcomed at Colleges and Universities

Major shifts in the job market and increasing costs at public and private universities have combined to create a new phenomenon: Increasing numbers of adult students are deciding to attend college, either to improve their job skills or prepare for a career change; and the colleges are welcoming them with open arms.

The days of joining a company's workforce after completion of high school or college and staying until retirement are gone, probably for good. Outsourcing, downsizing, and changes in business structure create a work environment that is much more unpredictable, and unstable, than ever. Workers with a variety of up-to-date job skills, who can adapt and grow with change, are much more likely to survive than workers who can't or won't adapt.

New Programs for Continuing Education Students

Colleges, universities, and trade schools, impacted by rising costs and looking at capital reserves depleted by stock market downturns, are welcoming these workers, creating or expanding continuing education programs and even creating online courses. Computer courses range from instruction in the latest office and management software to basic and advanced website design courses; computer graphic design programs offer students even more skills needed in the new computer-dominated work environment. Other popular course offerings include business and management classes, psychology courses (sometimes including work psychology), and personnel management classes.

Many continuing education programs offer associates', bachelors', and even masters' degrees; some provide career counseling ordinarily offered only to full-time students. In addition, benefits offered to traditional students are often extended to continuing ed students as well; this may include student discounts, free or reduced entrance to events at the college, and even use of the college pool and / or gym - a great perk for workers otherwise unable to afford a gym membership. Some continuing education students even find themselves involved in extracurricular activities, such as the college radio or TV station.

Company Involvement

Many companies encourage their workers to involve themselves in further education, and some will pay for the courses or reimburse for them after completion; some companies, but not all, insist that courses be work-related. One prominent insurance company not only reimburses for courses, but pays the student a $200 bonus upon completion.

Many industries have training programs of their own which they offer to employees; the banking industry, for instance, is affiliated with the American Bankers Association, an organization which offers industry-related courses to the employees of its member banks; these courses are generally free to the employees. This benefit results in unique opportunities for advancement and makes banking a very attractive career path, particularly for women without the means to attend business school.

Even when companies provide free training to workers, many supplement their industry-specific education with college courses; some will even pay for a degree program. Considering the need for higher education among workers, and the uncertainty in the workplace, this education reimbursement arrangement may be the most valuable benefit a worker can receive.

Aldene Fredenburg is a freelance writer living in southwestern New Hampshire. She has written numerous articles for local and regional newspapers and for a number of Internet websites, including Tips and Topics. She expresses her opinions periodically on her blog, She may be reached at


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