Reaching new heights Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2007

Adults with full-time jobs and full-time family lives may be hesitant to return to school to achieve a master’s or any other higher education degree, but the benefits for both them and their employers are too numerous to ignore.

Many schools specialize in helping adults make a smooth transition back to academia, says Debi Milne, enrollment counselor at the Cincinnati campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. And earning a higher degree increases the employee’s chances for advancement with a current employer or even a position with a new employer.

Smart Business spoke with Milne about the benefits employees, their community and their employers can reap from them pursuing higher education.

What are the biggest adjustments adults have to make when going back to school?

As an enrollment counselor, I see prospective students every day who are apprehensive of returning to the classroom. As a graduate student myself, returning after a long absence from the classroom, I was very nervous about completing my master’s degree at this point in my life. There was a 20-year span between graduating with my bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1986 and returning to earn my master of science in management in 2006. By the time I finished my first course, however, it felt very natural. The design of the program using a ‘cohort’ model helps to facilitate this. And, the first course in my program was designed specifically for students returning to the classroom after an absence. The adjustment is made much easier by the fact that you attend only one course at a time, albeit at an accelerated pace. I’m considered a full-time student since I complete 12 hours per semester, and I find this single-minded focus on one class at a time to be very beneficial to me.

How can one balance work with school?

As an enrollment counselor, the comment I hear most often is how much students appreciate a one-night-per-week format. This frees up a second class night per week that’s prevalent in so many other programs. It also allows the family to better adjust to the student’s absence from home in the evening. In my family, the night I have class is when my husband and son have a special dinner together, play sports, do homework, etc. Moreover, I purposely schedule time during the week to complete homework and participate in family activities. Since my husband is also attending MVNU one night per week, planning ahead has worked well for us. It’s also a tremendous benefit that class projects can be specifically tailored for projects students may have at work. It’s like double dipping: You get paid for doing homework and get a grade for work projects.

Can a school provide counseling to a new adult student regarding how to get organized and effectively manage a job with classes?

Many universities offer an introductory class to help students adapt to requirements and expectations and to gain organizational skills to help them succeed. Student advisers also provide assistance in helping students make the necessary adjustments. MVNU’s business programs include a course in personal development. Topics include: personal goal development, adult learning methodology, temperament type analysis, adult study skills, time management, library research, literature review, personal assessment and other subjects relevant to goal achievement in an academic environment.

What kind of flexibility can an adult student expect with class schedules?

Programs that are designed with working adults in mind usually feature courses in the evenings and on weekends and sometimes online. All of MVNU courses offered at the Cincinnati campus meet the same night once per week from 6 to 10 p.m. From the very first night, students are registered for all courses in their program and given a schedule documenting every week that each course meets and all holiday breaks. Students know what weeks they’re in class or on breaks for the entire length of their program, typically 20 to 22 months. This allows them to schedule vacations when it would have the least impact on their class attendance.

How do you convince adults that pursuing a higher education degree is worthwhile?

According to ‘The Value of a College Degree’ by Kathleen Porter, the long-term benefits of a college education for an individual and one’s community far outweigh the costs. For example, a bachelor’s degree holder earns about $2.1 million during one’s lifetime as compared to only $1.2 million for a high school graduate. Besides the economic benefit, there’s also a correlation between higher education and cultural and family values. In addition, the community experiences all the benefits of its members having more disposable income, increased tax revenues and greater productivity among workers. Clearly, earning a degree increases the employee’s chances for advancement with a current employer or even a position with a new employer. Higher education is a win-win situation.

DEBI MILNE is an enrollment counselor at the Cincinnati campus of Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Reach her at (877) 431-9610 x6408 or