Just like Tom Hanks’ character in the new movie, Larry Crowne, thousands of middle-age Americans each year reinvent themselves by going back to college. They do it for multiple reasons: they lost their job, got looked over for a promotion, or just want to start over.
But whatever the reason, getting the best possible education has never been more important than it is right now. That’s because in today’s world, a good job requires a good education.
In a single generation, the United States has fallen from first place to 12th in global graduation rates for young adults, and the country needs to produce 8 million more college graduates over the next decade in order to compete globally and keep up with other countries that are developing high-tech, high-skill jobs.
The unemployment rate for people who have never gone to college is more than double (10 percent) what it is for those who have gone to college (4.5 percent). And, during the next 10 years, nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training or a higher education.
These statistics make it clear that completing some form of higher education is the best tool to meet the challenges of a 21st century economy.
Every day, I see people – people like Larry Crowne – work hard to overcome obstacles to get the education they need to succeed. Many of them work full time, have aging parents in need of care and attention, or are parents themselves. Often, they are facing difficult financial realities. But, they are eager to learn and they persevere because they understand that getting an education will change their lives for the better. They are reinventing themselves, improving their job prospects, and enriching their understanding of the world around them.
At Bellevue University, many working adults tell us that one of the biggest problems keeping them from getting degrees is time and work commitments. Many people struggle because they are working to support themselves, they have families or other life commitments that make it difficult to attend regularly scheduled classes. Our online classes remove that obstacle by allowing working adults anywhere in the country – or the world for that matter – to take classes whenever their schedules allow.
We believe in second chances because we understand that the adults applying to college today have grown up and are more prepared for the challenges ahead. That’s why we look beyond high school GPAs and take each person’s work and life experiences into account. Our goal is to give each individual the best possible opportunity to earn a degree.
For those people who have the mindset that college is just not worth the time and money, consider this: The recession has led to steep job losses across the U.S. work force, but less-educated people have been hit harder than most. Last year, the pay gap between college graduates and non-graduates reached a record high – four-year-college graduates made 54 percent more, on average, than people who attended college, but did not graduate.
I’ve been lucky enough to witness firsthand the power of education to change lives. Every year, I meet working adults who have doubts, who are unsure of their destinies, unaware of the abilities they possess. And, every year, I see those same adults get their college diplomas knowing that they can cast those doubts aside, and do what it is they want to do in life. Education is the key to unlocking the potential in each of us . . . including Larry Crowne.
Dr. Mary Hawkins has been involved in higher education for more than 30 years and has established herself as a leader and national voice in the educational arena since joining Bellevue University in 1995. Before becoming University President in 2009, Hawkins served as Vice President of Enrollment and Outreach until 2000, when she took over as Provost. Under her leadership, Bellevue University has experienced one of the highest growth rates in the country for non-profit, postsecondary institutions both in enrollment and degrees conferred. Today, Bellevue University is the largest private university in Nebraska and one of the fastest-growing non-profit universities in the country. The University is a recognized national leader in providing post-secondary education opportunities for working adults and organizations. For more information, visit www.bellevue.edu