Between 2014 and 20191, nearly a million adults returned to college to complete their degrees. Perhaps you’re considering joining their ranks; maybe you’ve heard worries about a recession, about rising housing costs, and other economic concerns.
Returning to school during a recession can feel like a gamble, especially if your job is not secure. However, an education is a sound investment with a huge potential return, no matter who you are or what’s happening in the economy. According to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college-educated workers have median weekly earnings of about $525 more than those with just a high school diploma. That’s plenty of money to stash in an emergency fund, pay down debt, or quickly repay any funds you took out to cover the costs of college.
If you’re scared about a potential recession and determined to give your family the most financial security possible, college is a safe bet. Here’s why.
Reasons to Consider Going Back to School During a Recession
An education is powerful insurance against a recession. Even as we look toward the next recession, research shows that the least educated workers are struggling to recover from the last recession. Meanwhile, highly educated workers benefit from an increasingly tight labor market where employers must compete with better pay and better benefits.
As you weigh the possibility of going back to school, consider things from the employer’s perspective. Employers want workers who bring valuable assets to the workforce. They want skilled workers they can trust — people who are efficient, effective and highly skilled. An education helps supercharge your career skills, as well as soft skills like communication. Also, a degree helps you build a resume that will attract attention and higher salary offers in any economic climate.
But what if you want to stay in your current job? Here, too, education is a great choice because it can help secure your position. It shows commitment to your role and immediately makes you more valuable. When layoff time comes, employers don’t want to fire the most valuable workers. Becoming more educated is a great way to become indispensable. It can also help you break through career ceilings so you can get promoted faster.
The benefits of returning to school extend beyond career stability, though. Some other reasons to put school on your to-do list include:
- You’ll be better equipped to build an emergency fund. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, it’s hard to save for a rainy day. Education often means higher earnings — and that means more flexibility and less panic should you ever lose your job.
- You’ll spend your time on something useful if you’ve lost your job. We spend much of our lives at work, so many people struggle with their sense of identity and purpose when they lose their jobs. Layoffs are a risk factor for depression and worsening mental health. Spending your time on your education can help restore a sense of hope and self-efficacy.
- You can shift to a more stable career if necessary. Economic downturns sometimes make the writing on the wall visible, showing that a particular career path just isn’t as viable as it used to be. Rather than staying entrenched, become more flexible with a great education.
Risks of a Return to School
If returning to school were easy, everyone would do it. That said, the challenge of an education is actually one of its greatest benefits. A rigorous curriculum encourages you to think critically, making you smarter and more creative. The challenges of returning to school may also inspire a more flexible approach to work-life balance and encourage ingenious solutions.
Nevertheless, this path can be long and winding, especially for people with young children. Some of the challenges include:
- No investment is guaranteed. While a higher salary is likely, it doesn’t always happen right away. Your odds will be better if you choose a great school and get exceptional grades.
- You’ll have to spend time away from your family, which can be especially difficult when young children are growing and changing each day. This can also pose some serious financial and logistical burdens. At a school that caters to adult learners, though, learning from home may make things a bit easier.
- You may have to take time off of work. This could affect short-term opportunities, earnings, and relationships with your colleagues.
- Going back to school takes time. If your life already feels full, college may feel overwhelming. If you need help deciding, our article “Do You Have the Time to Go Back to College?” can help.
- You may need to take out loans, especially if you need help covering living expenses as you return to school. This means you’ll have debt when you graduate. One survey found2 that up to 60% of adults have contemplated a return to school, but financial considerations are a major deterrent. However, a comprehensive financial aid package may help make college more affordable.
How to Make the Decision
You are a unique individual walking your own path. No other person shares your exact story, challenges, and triumphs — so no single approach can help you decide whether it’s time to go back to school. Consider these questions in light of your values, future goals, and lifestyle:
- Do I have a plan for paying for school? What sort of financial aid am I eligible for?
- Do I believe any myths about adult education — such as that it’s too late to go back — that might be undermining my ability to make a fully informed decision? Read more about the benefits of returning to college at any age.
- Will I have to take time off of work, and is that possible in my current role?
- Does my employer offer any help with tuition and/or benefits for people who get additional education?
- Have I chosen a degree path that is likely to increase my earnings and open career doors?
- Do I have the support I need, such as childcare, a partner who can pick up the slack at home, and a plan for incorporating homework into my schedule?
How to Choose the Right School
Life as an adult learner can be complicated, so it’s important to choose a school that treats you as a whole person, with a busy schedule that matters. SNU’s adult education programs offer flexibility and rigor, so you can reduce stress now while improving your future prospects.
Some features to look for include:
- Expedited degree paths that allow you to graduate sooner by getting credit for prior learning and shortening the length of each course.
- Flexibility to take classes at home or on-campus during the hours you’re not working.
- The chance to build your professional network by joining a cohort and taking classes from respected professors.
- A fully regionally accredited program so that your transfer credits will travel with you should you transfer to another institution.
- Support for students with a wide range of backgrounds, including veterans, parents, and those with disabilities.
Ready to get started? Learn more about what you can expect as a student in SNU’s Professional and Graduate Studies program.