Soaring costs might make the benefits of college unclear. But for many adult learners, a degree is still one’s best ticket to security and stability.
by Meilee D. Bridges
College is expensive, and tuition and fees are only rising. We’ve also heard the stories of tech giants, Hollywood icons, and billionaire entrepreneurs who achieved success despite never graduating from college. And balancing school, work, and life is daunting. So for many working adults, the idea of returning to school to earn a bachelor’s degree may seem not worth the price tag.
But the reality is that a four-year degree is still your most direct gateway to expanded career opportunities and better pay. And money isn’t the only ROI, or return on investment, that adult learners enjoy from continuing their education. ReUp students, for example, have shared that by returning to college, they’ve experienced personal growth and discovered a sense of accomplishment. They’ve also learned new skills while networking with professors and professionals, connecting with new friends, and finding opportunities to change their lives for the better.
Let’s take a look in more detail at some of the benefits of a college degree at any age.
Make more money
Salary isn’t everything to everybody when it comes to jobs. But no matter your age, a college degree increases how much you can earn over your lifetime in certain fields. According to 2022 research conducted by a Kansas State University economics professor, a bachelor’s degree earns an individual $4,294 more right after graduation. That person will go on to earn $1,121 more per year than someone with a high school diploma.
The financial benefits of a college degree were also cited in a 2021 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Researchers there found that graduates with a bachelor’s earn an average of $2.8 million during their lifetimes. That’s $1.2 million more than the average for employees with a high school diploma. Adults with bachelor’s degrees also earn a median $70,000 per year. Meanwhile, those with some college but no degree earn a median $47,500 annually.
The authors of the Georgetown study caution that lifetime earnings greatly depending on field of study and industry. Architects and engineers, for example, make a lot more than social workers and teachers. Salary gaps also exist based on gender, race and ethnicity, and geography. Still, a college degree is more likely than a high school diploma to earn graduates a higher income and employer benefits, such as retirement and health coverage.
Open up career opportunities
Working adults complete their degrees or return to school for many reasons. Some are eyeing a promotion to manager or a position in leadership. Others decide to change roles or departments, transition between remote and in-person opportunities, or seek more satisfying employment. Still others change careers because of a life-altering injury or a downturn in the economy that results in layoffs or a rough job market.
Whatever your reason, a four-year degree opens the doors to more job opportunities and career advancement. It prepares you to pivot as you take on the challenges of a fast-changing world. Earning your bachelor’s also empowers you to weather any disruption, from pandemics and recessions to technological innovation and the emergence of entirely new career fields. That’s because you can build the in-demand technical knowledge and skills required in your chosen field. You’ll also hone the transferable “soft skills” that make you more employable across industries, from critical thinking and analysis to communication, teamwork, and time management.
Grow as a whole person
For many adult learners, personal growth is a major motivator for finishing college. That growth stems in part from reading interesting course materials and having stimulating discussions with professors and classmates. Meeting people from various backgrounds can broaden your perspective and help you build new friendships or relationships. Students of all ages discover new passions and creative outlets through not just classes but also campus organizations and events.
Those readings, conversations, and outside-the-classroom activities often shape how you see the world and how you want to contribute to it.
And ultimately, earning a degree as a working adult juggling competing priorities molds persistence and resilience. Crossing the stage at commencement becomes a significant source of personal pride. And that renewed sense of confidence stays with you long after graduation!
Contribute to your community
Contrary to popular (and cynical) belief, learning how to solve algebra problems, write a literature review for sociology, or interpret poetry isn’t just about killing time or earning a grade. College assignments and projects help you hone your critical thinking and analytical skills. They can even enrich how you perceive the world.
By developing these habits of thought, you’ll become savvier when it comes to civic and everyday life. You’ll be better able to evaluate the accuracy of the information you encounter across media platforms, for example. You’ll also be better able to solve real-world problems, make more informed decisions, and communicate persuasively. These skills are all hallmarks of contributing to society as a citizen.
Make a difference for your family
Many of our adult learners share that they finished their degrees so that they could better support their families financially. Earning a degree generally translates to greater job stability and financial security, which become all the more important when you have loved ones depending on you.
Completing college can also mean setting a good example for your children. And according to multiple studies, the children of parents who earn their bachelor’s are more likely to attend and graduate from college themselves. Those children then go on to reap all the benefits mentioned above.
Deciding whether completing your bachelor’s is worthwhile can be a long process. For some, the benefits of a college degree, such as stability, security, and lifelong learning, outweigh the inevitable costs. Others choose a different route to success, such as a certificate program, a bootcamp, volunteering, or some other alternative. Fortunately, the path to continuing your education never closes, and there’s no age limit on achieving your goals. So take the time you need to determine what works best for you!
Get decision-making support
Our ReUp Success Coaches are here to help you decide whether finishing your college education is the right path for your situation and goals. Want to get tailored guidance on your next steps?