Continued education isn’t just for recent high school graduates anymore. Six in 10 adult Americans between the ages of 23 and 55 say they have considered going back to school to complete a certificate, associate’s degree, or bachelor’s degree, a Champlain College Online survey found. The non-traditional student population now numbers 13.3 million, equivalent to six in 10 of all undergraduates, according to the American Council on Education. Many of these students are now taking courses online.
Adults go back to school for a number of reasons, ranging from financial to personal ones. Here are four reasons why lifelong learning makes sense no matter what your age.
One of the major motivations for going back to school is career advancement. Seven in 10 adults in Champlain College Online’s survey felt it was somewhat or very important to hold a bachelor’s degree in order to secure a job in the future. Bureau of Labor Statistics data bears this out, with a Georgetown analysis showing that by 2020, 30 percent of job openings will require some college training or an associate’s degree, and 35 percent will require at least a bachelor’s degree. Getting a master’s degree or PhD can open up even more opportunities. But you don’t necessarily need an advanced degree to advance your career. Over a quarter of Americans now hold non-degree credentials such as certifications and occupational licenses, enabling them to hold jobs in fields such as administrative assistance, healthcare, business management, sales, and manufacturing, Department of Education data shows. Certification programs are now available from 503 online schools, ranging from major universities such as UCLA to private colleges specializing in distance education such as Penn Foster.
Career advancement goes hand-in-hand with financial improvement, the biggest reason why adults go back to school. Nearly three in four respondents to Champlain College Online’s survey said that increasing their earning potential was their main motive for returning to school. College graduates earn 56 percent more than high school graduates, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute. Workers with a master’s degree earned an average of $12,000 more than workers with a bachelor’s degree in 2015, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows.
But you don’t need a full degree for education to help you improve your financial situation. Earning a certificate in certain fields such as healthcare or computer programming can improve your earnings potential. Or, for instance, Amway offers a free business course for entrepreneurs teaching the basics of how to start, manage, market, and grow a business. Taking sales training from a resource such as Sandler can likewise help you generate more revenue if you run your own business or have a part-time gig in addition to your regular job.
Continuing your education can help you improve yourself in non-financial ways as well. For instance, taking an aerobics class from your local YMCA or signing up for yoga lessons from CorePower Yoga can help you get in shape, lose weight, and improve your health. Resources such as Jo-Ann Fabrics and Artyfactory can help you develop your artistic side by learning hobbies such as crafts, drawing, painting, or design. If you’re looking to improve your mind, signing up for classes at a community college or tapping into online resources such as The Teaching Company’s The Great Courses program can allow you to explore subjects such as science, literature, history, or religion.
Keeping your mind active with challenging courses can have psychological benefits as well. Some research suggests that staying mentally active as you age may help prevent or reduce memory loss and cognitive impairment. A Rush University study of brain tissue samples determined that as much as 10 percent of cognitive decline in older adults may be linked to level of cognitive activity, with adults who engaged in low levels of cognitive activity experiencing 50 percent more decline, while those who engaged in high levels of activity experienced 33 percent less decline. Programs such as Learning in Retirement, sponsored by colleges around the country, can help you stay active mentally and stay mentally fit as you age.
Continuing your education can position you to advance your career and increase your earning potential. It can also help you improve your health, artistic development, and intellectual capacity and keep you mentally sharp into old age. No matter what your age, pursuing lifelong learning can be a smart strategy for improving your financial situation and improving yourself.