It's probably fair to say that nobody wants to experience the Great Depression again. Ever. The unemployment rate hit 20.1 percent in 1935. Our senior generations remember those days well. It seems you don't easily forget being hungry.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in January, 2009, the unemployment rate in the U.S. was 7.6 percent. People are responding by taking action, some of them by going back to school to learn a trade or finish a degree.
Welding or CNA Anyone?
“Interest in our Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) classes is way up,” said John Kenney, Director of Continuing Education at Arkansas State University - Mountain Home (ASUMH). “Our welding technology program has seen the largest jump.”
Kenney increased his welding faculty this semester to provide more classes. ASUMH now offers evening classes Monday through Friday and day classes Friday and Saturday, and most are filled to capacity.
“I'm seeing a definite shift this semester,” Kenney said, “from retirees who just want to learn to weld to a younger group of students who are in their late 20's, early 30's who are looking for a change in careers or who want to start a new career. As you would expect, some have been laid off from their jobs or are underemployed. They seem to be a motivated group who are eager to learn.”
Kenney reported that many are choosing to document their skills through national certification testing such as that provided by the American Welding Society.
Add a Degree to Your Trade Knowledge
At the University of Minnesota, Bob Stine, the Associate Dean of the College of Continuing Education, Degree and Credit Programs, sees increased interest in the B.A. degree they offer in Construction Management. It's designed for people who already have a two-year Associate's degree and want to advance their careers. Students come in as juniors.
“There's a heavy dose of applied business courses,” Stine said, “so students learn the business side of the background they already have in a certain trade.”
The U of M also offers a new online degree completion program for students who have at least two years of college and want to finish their degree. The innovative program starts with one face-to-face introductory class and is completed online.
“The first class is about self-reflection,” Stine said, “in which students ask themselves why they're going back to school, why it's rational, and what their desired course list looks like. They say at the end, 'Now I understand what I'm doing and why,' and off they go.”
How About an Environmental Occupation?
The Water Quality courses at the Training, Research & Education for Environmental Occupations Center (TREEO) at the University of Florida are popular and appreciated. This is what one student had to say, “My confidence level shot up, and the most valuable portions of the course to me were the math, trouble-shooting, and treatment processes.”
Even the smallest towns need water-treatment personnel. It's one of those jobs we tend to take for granted.
UF also provides courses in everything from health professions and insurance to law and real estate. Dr. Eileen I. Oliver, is Interim Dean and Professor of the Division of Continuing Education there.
Overall, Enrollment is Up
“Overall, enrollment is up this semester at ASUMH for all classes and I believe at most 2-year colleges,” Kenney said. “Money is tight and community colleges offer good value for dollars spent.”
ASUMH is beginning new CNA classes each month and they're usually at maximum enrollment. Kenney is seeing several students who have been working in housekeeping or who have been employed as aids who want to increase their skill-level for higher-paying jobs as Certified Nursing Assistants.
Charles Russell, a learner representative who answers an information line at the U of M, shared his take on the changes he sees in callers to the university.
“My instincts tell me we are getting fewer passive inquiries and more decisive action from learners,” Russell wrote. “ 'I am thinking about' is being replaced with, 'I need to.' To me, this subtle shift is the result of the economy forcing the decision as people react to their personal anxieties over the current economic uncertainties. Being proactive gives a person the feeling of control over their situation.”
The U of M is also seeing a definite “increase in the number of people seeking individual appointments with our career and lifework counselor,” according to Rachel Wright, Marketing Communications Associate.
All of this is good news for non-traditional students considering going back to school to either protect a job they love or to find a more secure position. Take the advice of these professionals. Check out what your local community colleges and universities have to offer you. Ask how they make it easy for you to take classes while you're working and raising a family. Make an appointment with a counselor. Take action. You don't ever have to go hungry.