Back To School? …At My Time Of Life?


Benjamin Franklin 1767

Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

All the school systems in the Washington DC metro area are now in their first or second week of semester two. Some began the week before Labor Day and some after, but something altogether different figures into the thoughts swirling around the idea of returning to school for the midlife professional.  Since staying up-to-date in any field is not an option, some kind of schooling is definitely in the cards for all workers, so why not talk a bit about the thinking that goes into deciding what kind of education to acquire.

First of all, let us deep six some old-fashioned ideas about adults and schooling. There is no longer an impregnable wall surrounding the “first box of life” , to borrow a term from Richard Bolles‘ “The Three Boxes Of Life and How to Get Out of Them“, that usually begins at 4-years and ends with college.  Traditional 4-year colleges and universities are seeing more “non-traditional” students–including students entering at midlife. Their response to  this trend  is to create programs that are condensed for time efficiency and held on weekends and evenings to accommodate working adult’s schedules.

Then, there are proprietary schools–education businesses–that tend to have an “ear-to-the-ground”, market-based mind set and take care to offer quality programs that prepare students in the most currently-marketable skills.

Community colleges, which used to be seen mainly as pipelines to 4-year universities, do not play any second fiddle when it comes to forming closer associsations with the  local business community in order to fill the need for a prepared workforce.  Remember  “correspondence schools” from the days before pervasive internet use and distance learning? They are still around, but have been joined by independent on-line schools with no university affiliation,  and internet campuses of traditional universities. Remember business schools and poly-technical institutes? They are no longer the “ugly step-sisters” of education where the less-than-academic go, but have developed into the belles of the ball as they differentiated into  field specific  institutions that certify professionals such as computer assisted designers, network security specialists, administration professionals and computer  program creators. In fact, one common path is to earn a bachelor’s degree then refine it in one of these professional schools.

Which one is best? That depends upon the individual need of the student.  Things to consider when making the decision to return to school include determining the most appropriate type of school, total time commitment of the program, the certification needed, financial outlay, commuting distance, the school’s accreditation, childcare arrangements and admission requirements. Should a student be found lacking, programs that ramp-up to education programs come into play to serve the needs of  diverse populations including new Americans, the education interrupted, and the great American school-system disaffected (drop-outs).

Recalling arguments for a “practical /scientific education” on the side of Benjamin Franklin or a ‘humanities-based education on the side of Thomas Jefferson“, how to best educate America has been a running discussion since the early days of a young republic. Which kind of education best suits has not yet been settled and perhaps it is for the best. Having options is always a good thing.

Considering going back to school? Let us take a few weeks to think about it

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