As the calendar flips to January, many people take the opportunity to make New Year’s resolutions to improve themselves and their outlook. According to Statistica, some of the top resolutions for 2022 were living healthier (23%), losing weight (20%), career and job goals (16%), and financial goals (13%). No doubt, many of those resolutions hold true for 2023 as well.
The surest path to improving one’s career and long-term financial status is to upskill or earn relevant post-secondary credentials that lead to good-paying jobs. Over their lifetime, a college graduate will make an average of $1.2 million more than someone with just a high school diploma. However, by one estimate, 19.8% of North Carolinians age 25 and older (over one million residents) have some college credit but no degree.
Among the most commonly cited reasons for dropping out of school are cost, lack of academic preparedness, lack of discipline, unhappiness with the college experience, and life circumstances. Many things are out of our control, like family circumstances and health, but what if the other issues could be addressed to facilitate returning to school?
Following are seven steps for adults to jumpstart their education in 2023.
- Contact your previous schools to obtain copies of your transcripts. This will provide you with a baseline of how many credit hours you have, but keep in mind that not all credits may transfer to another school.
- Set a budget and determine how much you can reasonably spend on tuition. If you need to take out a student loan, borrow the minimum amount you need instead of the maximum you qualify for.
- Explore community colleges or nonprofit colleges. North Carolina’s 58 community colleges provide low-cost certificate programs and associate degrees in many in-demand fields. In most cases, community college credit hours will also transfer to institutions granting bachelor’s degrees. On the other hand, private for-profit colleges often charge higher tuition and can result in a lower ROI for your degree. Confirm that the college is accredited by an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Research asynchronous (available at any time) online course offerings. Working adults with families don’t often have the time to attend an in-person class or even an online class that only streams at a set time. Asynchronous courses let you log in and study whenever you want, whether it’s at 10 p.m. or on your lunch break.
- Ask colleges what support they provide to working adults. You might be surprised to learn that some institutions have staff dedicated to older students. For example, some provide special orientation sessions, advising and counseling services, and tutoring, specifically geared toward adult learners.
- Explore financial aid options. You might think that filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is only for younger students, but adults can also access federal aid. See if your workplace offers tuition reimbursement as an employee benefit. Also, explore local, national, and school-specific scholarships. For example, Western Governors University offers a Year of You Scholarship for those resolving to enroll in 2023.
- Seek support networks. After you enroll, surround yourself with people who believe in your educational journey, including family members, coworkers, friends, mentors, and even your new fellow students.
MyFutureNC reports that North Carolina needs 450,000 more adults with high-quality credentials or postsecondary degrees by 2030 to meet our state’s growing workforce needs. By committing to jumpstart your education this year, you could be positioning yourself for career and financial success that will reap rewards for decades to come.
Ben Coulter, Ed.D., is Chancellor of WGU North Carolina, the state affiliate of accredited online nonprofit Western Governors University, with more than 6,800 graduates in the state.