New year, new you Featured

4:45am EDT November 29, 2005
The new year is fast approaching, which means it’s time for us to start our annual resolution ritual. From losing weight to quitting smoking, it is estimated that more than half of all Americans will ring in 2006 by pledging to give up a bad behavior.

Studies have shown that nearly one-third of people who make resolutions are back to their old habits by February, and only 20 percent stay on track for six months. Perhaps this year, instead of giving something up, it might be more effective to take on something new.

For many industries, a bachelor’s degree, while a necessary first step, does not get you as far up the corporate ladder as it used to. There is little doubt that master’s degrees, especially an MBA, set business professionals apart from their co-workers.

Need more motivation? U.S. Census data shows that employees with graduate degrees earned nearly $1,000 a month more than those with a bachelor’s degree. Professionals with doctoral degrees earned approximately $2,000 more per month. Most businesses would have record-setting years if they encountered such a substantial ROI.

Of course, there are several excuses that enable people to indefinitely postpone their return to the classroom. Here’s just a look at some of many reasons people share.

I’m too busy
While it’s hard work to earn a degree, many institutions make it more convenient for adults who lead active lives. Some offer night and weekend courses — a must for working professionals balancing personal and work lives. And, because they take just one course at a time, students at these schools find it easier to focus their efforts and concentrate on a particular subject.

It costs too much money
Tuition hikes have recently been in the headlines, and the impression is that going back to school is an expensive proposition. Many people think it would be too costly and that belief discourages them from taking that next important step in their lives.

However, they may be able to take advantage of tuition benefits where they work, and most do not know that adults going back to school do qualify for financial aid. In fact, there are several federal loans, grants and private scholarships offered to adults.

Students often find that it’s easier than they think to obtain financial assistance, especially if they are willing to do a bit of research. Plus, the opportunity for a higher salary in the future easily can outweigh the costs. You can check with an enrollment counselor at your school of choice for further details.

Classroom learning doesn’t translate to the real world
Now, more than ever, real and practical issues in the business world are being addressed in college classrooms. Experienced instructors use real-life scenarios as teaching tools and students use dynamic electronic simulations designed to facilitate the development of their strategic thinking and problem solving skills.

This fundamental change in leaning goals means students are able to attend classes at night and use what they’ve learned the next day in a meaningful way.

At many schools, this is called problem-based learning. Students learn not only how to solve problems, but how to identify them in the first place. Students then share their opinions and experience in a group setting. The result: a class that’s never boring and always full of lively debate.

I’m not motivated enough
Today’s working-adult-focused universities offer personal academic advisers to help navigate the challenges and added rigor of attending college. In addition, students often work in learning teams, so they have their peers to support and challenge them as well.

Of course, the ultimate decision to go back to school depends on the individual. You must draw upon your inner will and desire to do better in business and in life. Take a deep breath and envision the benefits that higher education will bring to you personally and professionally. You will find that if you return to school, you’ll be glad you took on a new challenge in the new year.

Eric Ziehlke is campus director for the University of Phoenix - Columbus campus. University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with more than 280,000 students at more than 172 campuses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Find out more at www.phoenix.edu.