Approximately 90 million adults in the United States are now enrolled in some kind of training or educational program. Four out of every ten college students are over twenty-five years of age.
Another 800,000 take the General Educational Development (GED) test every year to earn high school diplomas. Adult education and re-training is a big trend!
Some of the pressure to get more education is coming from a job market that demands up-to-date skills, especially in technology. The workers with the best and most current skills are in the most demand and earn higher salaries. A college degree often opens the door for a better job or promotion. The United States Bureau of Census estimates that a college degree is worth about $1.2 million over the course of a person’s career.
Colleges have adapted to the growing market of returning adult students by changing the way they offer their courses. Many big-name universities now offer their most popular degree programs, such as the Masters of Business Administration, in classes that meet evenings and weekends. Others are providing a combination of weekend, evening and online courses to accommodate the schedules of busy professionals.
One of the biggest trends of all is the emergence of the online university. Tens of thousands of adults are now earning “online” college degrees. They can log into a chat room and discuss assignments with other students and their professionals. They can study online whenever it’s convenient. Many of these online schools do not follow formal semester schedules and thus can allow students to take classes whenever they want to start.
Adult students, sometimes called “re-entry students,” can qualify for traditional government financial aid if they are enrolled at least half-time. This usually means that they must be taking two full-credit courses at once. Their schools must have the proper accreditation to participate in Title IV programs in order for them to be eligible for aid.
If a re-entry student is taking enough credits to qualify at a Title IV school, he or she then goes through the traditional financial aid process. The first step is to fill out a FAFSA, an abbreviation that means Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You can download a FAFSA and instructions at http://studentaid.ed.gov/PORTALSWebApp/students/english/fafsa.jsp. Students need to fill this out to qualify for programs.
If a student demonstrates financial need, he or she may qualify for government grants, which do not have to be paid back. The Perkins Loan program, also for low-income students, provides loans at very low interest rates that are paid back over a period of ten years beginning nine months after graduation.
College students who are enrolled at least half-time and who can maintain a C average may apply for government loans, also at low interest rates and long payback periods. Sometimes you will owe the money directly to the government. In other cases, a student will have a loan from a private lender who acts as a middleman.
Re-entry students should always contact their financial aid officer at the college of their choice. Their counselor can help them with their FAFAs and other forms, as well as find them a bank to loan them money through a government program.
A good knowledgeable financial aid officer will help students find private scholarship money, too. Although the majority of scholarships are for undergraduates in traditional campus programs, there are over 1800 for re-entry students over twenty-five years of age. While there are private scholarship search companies, most students should be able to do this task themselves for free on the Internet or through their financial aid office.
If you are now serving or have served in the military, you should ask your college financial aid officer about military benefits for continuing education.
Sometimes employers will pay for continuing adult education. Many employers just want an employee to pick up a certain course to enhance job performance in one area. Other employers will pay for the completion of college degrees and even advanced degrees.
Some universities try to pressure students into enrolling before the students know how much financial aid they will receive per semester. To avoid this problem, you can go online and plug in your FAFSA numbers to get a rough estimate of your financial aid package. Your financial aid officer can help you get this estimate before you sign up for tuition payments.
It is also important to understand your school’s refund policy. Some students enroll and find out that they cannot carry a half-load of college work plus their professional and family responsibilities. Then they find out their schools will not refund their tuition money either in whole or in part, and that they will have a problem getting out of their federal loans. Investigate all these areas before you sign up for any continuing education program.