Thursday Feb 23, 2017
Dee’s personal and academic story, which spanned three universities and the birth of her five children, is not too unlike the more than 100,000 Northwest Indiana residents who, at one point in their lives, enrolled in college, but, for various reasons, quit before earning their degrees. It is those Hoosiers, who have college credit but not a degree, who have been identified as a state priority by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.
Like Dee, many of the college students in Northwest Indiana are often one car breakdown, one illness, or one unexpected mishap from dropping out of college and not returning for a while, if ever. The region’s students’ biggest barriers are not always tuition and fees, but everything in adult life, from job to rent, to food, to childcare and gas.
Dee is familiar with this reality, as her IU Northwest academic journey almost stopped before it started, when, in 2012, her husband lost his job, leaving the family questioning how next semester’s tuition would be covered.
In decades past, those who could not afford college or could not balance the competing demands of college, work and family responsibilities, often, did not enroll in a university. And they did not need to. A decent-paying job and career could often be built with a high school diploma.
But, as the economy changes, so, too, do the educational expectations for workers. Technology, productivity and innovation have replaced many of the semi-skilled and laboring jobs that once dominated Northwest Indiana. Today, stable, long-term jobs, even with modest paychecks, often require at least a college certificate or degree.
In fact, of the 11.6 million jobs created nationally in the post-recession economy, 99 percent went to employees who had at least some college education, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Individuals with only a high school diploma or less accounted for only 80,000 jobs nationally.
A college degree is a major investment, but it is worthwhile, since the long-term gains and benefits of greater job stability, professional growth and lifetime net worth are incontrovertible.
In 2015, workers with a college degree experienced an unemployment rate approximately half that of workers with only a high school diploma. And, over the course of a lifetime, completing a bachelor’s degree can increase median earnings by, on average, approximately $1 million, compared with only a high school diploma.
Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching
For adult learners in Northwest Indiana, earning a college degree is their path, their opportunity, to further connect with their communities, unleash their potential, build their confidence, and truly transform their lives. Colleges and universities in the region are ready to help them balance the competing demands of college, work, family, and volunteering.
That desire and will to lead a more fulfilled, enriched and purposeful life is what motivated Dee to enroll in IU Northwest. She quickly understood she was not alone in her journey, but had the support of a campus (including her fellow students) that respected her everyday challenges, and valued her life experiences and previous academic credit.
With many degree programs, and classes offered in the evenings, weekends and online, students, just like Dee, are able to experience flexible, supportive and career-focused environments that provide them the opportunity to work toward the job they want, while working at the job they have.
And, with the help of existing or transfer college credit from another college or university, students often find they are closer to completing their education than they originally thought.
Paying for college can be a concern for prospective adult learners, but regional campuses in Northwest Indiana continue to be very affordable, while offering a range of financial assistance and scholarships. A large proportion of Northwest Indiana students receive financial aid, including scholarships awarded annually to deserving students, just like Dee.
Earning a communication degree, Dee has now joined the nearly 30,000 IU Northwest alumni who have fulfilled their dream. There is an important message in Dee’s resilient spirit and “It’s never too late” outlook for other adult learners and the future of our state and region.
There is no greater investment in one’s future than a college education. As Dee Dotson would put it, the question may not be whether you can afford to finish your education, but, rather, whether you can afford not to attend college.