Economy is sending adults back to school

Jeremy Nobile

25-and-up crowd enrolling in college

The recent economic recession, coupled with the bleak outlook of the job market, is encouraging many adults to further their education.

“Especially in this society . without higher education, you don’t have any kind of fighting chance to have any kind of career,” said Rob Shenberger, a 35-year-old owner of After Dark Productions, a karaoke and DJ service in Ashland.

Shenberger is not alone in his concerns.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, enrollment of college students as a whole is on the rise. Universities throughout the nation are welcoming more adult students, those who are older than 25. In 2007, 15 percent of all college students were 35 or older. Kent State, according to statistics from the office of Research, Planning and Institutional Effectiveness, has also seen a spike in adult students between 2007 and 2008.

Thomas Edwards, adult education director at the Maplewood Career Center in Ravenna, said although overall enrollment has remained constant at the facility, he has seen an increase in the number of students enrolling who were high school dropouts or were recently laid off.

“We are getting more people than before who are searching for training to get a new job,” Edwards said. “We have people who are not in the workforce who don’t have four years worth of tuition money. So we are a lower-cost alternative to supplement the skill they already have with some other classes.”

Rachel Anderson, director of the Adult Student Center at Kent State, believes the recession and the new GI Bill are playing a major role in the increase of the adult student population among colleges and universities.

The economy and the returning surge of veterans are increasing the number of adults coming to school, said Anderson, who has also witnessed an increase in graduate student enrollment.

Like Shenberger, Gary Miller, a 38-year-old assistant manager at Damon’s Grill in Twinsburg, expressed concerns about job security in an economy that he feels isn’t showing great signs of improvement.

“There’s so much unemployment and everyone’s competing for jobs . you need that education,” Miller said. “It’s all about competition for jobs . people have got to do something to separate themselves.”

Miller formerly attended Kent State, but said he dropped out because of financial constraints. He then attended the Ohio Center for Broadcasting, but got a job doing home inspections after graduating because he couldn’t find a job in his field. Then business dropped off, forcing him to find employment elsewhere.

Tiring of the restaurant business, Miller is now in the process of trying to re-enroll at a university to pursue a career in pharmaceutical sales. Yet, as is the case with many college hopefuls, particularly those adults working full-time jobs with less than ideal credit, securing the financial resources to attend school is proving to be most difficult.

Miller said he is now in a conundrum where he needs more money to afford higher education, but he needs a degree to make more money. He ran into Shenberger at a class reunion, and they talked about returning to school.

Shenberger, who has graduated from the Ohio Center for Broadcasting and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, was laid off in May; however, he considers it a “blessing in disguise.”

During his time off, Shenberger, a husband and father of two, secured his financial aid through the Workforce Investment Act. The WIA, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Office of Workforce Development Web site, “is a federally funded program to provide employment and training services,” and its goal “is to increase employment, job retention, earnings of participants, and occupational skill attainment by participants.” In fewer words, the WIA is a program that helps dislocated workers pay for school.

Shenberger’s dark cloud now has a silver lining. He is enrolled at North Central State College in Mansfield and is training to be a physical therapist’s assistant. For the optimistic Shenberger, the future is beginning to look a little brighter.

“Essentially, things are at the bottom and starting to climb back up,” he said about the state of the economy. “It’s at the hardest part, but it’s about to get better.”

Contact public affairs reporter Jeremy Nobile at [email protected]