Adult Education Traps

Higher education trends from 2008 and 2009 showed a shockingly high proportion of adults returning to school. Many adults ages 35 and up thought it would be wise to re-invest in their educations during the recession, in hopes of improving their marketability as job candidates, or for promotions within their careers. Since then, this trend has passed. Fewer and fewer adults are electing to continue their educations as the years pass.

From the graph above, we can see a sharp increase in the number of older Americans enrolling in college. After peaking in 2010, at almost 4 million enrolled students, we see a decline in enrollment among the same group by a staggering 1 million people, one quarter of the total number of enrolled adults. Of these adults who continued their educations, many chose to attend online universities like Phoenix and Excelsior where it is relatively inexpensive to enroll and easy to transfer credits from previous enrollments.  

It stands to reason that the institutional choices of many of these adults are part of the problem. Often adults lack the qualifications for admission to more competitive institutions However, earning a non-technical degree from less credible universities does very little to advance a person’s career, as the prestige of the university from which your degree was earned carries a heavy weight in today’s job market. Consequently, these adults are spending money on an education through which they believe they can earn a promotion (and the raise that comes with it). Unfortunately, the degrees they earn often do not have enough value to compete with those of other, younger labor force participants. They are often left only with the cost of their degree and without the promotion and raise to make the costs worth it. Furthermore, many of these mid-career adults are being eclipsed by younger candidates who have the freedom to relocate for positions.

Microeconomic theory tells us that workers should not bother investing in higher education unless the benefit of doing so exceeds the cost. In the case of these adults, the cost was sunk with little hope of a return on investment unless they can reverse the aging process.  

Anna Graff

No comments :

Post a Comment