Why Higher Education is Needed for All Hoosiers

Higher Education Needed

By Deborah Fisher

As an older individual living in this world of ours, I can confidently say higher education matters and changes lives – even if you go back to school later in life. Statistics, studies, and my own personal story bear this out. Beyond increasing the ability to earn and support a family, my own experience has taught me the world-opening power of returning to school as an adult. More Hoosiers should consider taking advantage of the supports available to adult learners and policymakers should be thinking about how best to increase access for this group of potential students and workers. 

As a young woman, I was a wife and a foster and adoptive mom taking care of babies. My life was hectic, of course, but made me happy. While I felt content, there always seemed to be something missing. My whole world revolved around my house and my family. I knew that there was life outside of my home, but I did not know how to make a difference in the lives of others. In my younger days, before I became a wife and mother, I loved learning and being in the classroom. As the children in my home grew and were able to attend school all day, I felt I needed to do something for myself. At age 49, driven by a love of learning, I decided to go back to school and in doing so, I opened a whole new life for myself. 

Looking back, while I remember my curiosity as the reason I initially wanted to go back to school, the host of professional and emotional benefits convinced me to stay. Wanting to help others with my work, I chose to study social work, a career close to my heart given my own experience needing case management in the past. In addition to opening my heart during my course of study, I opened my mind, learning new digital skills that I had never encountered before and their applications for my future career. As a member of the first cohort of Ronald McNair Scholars at IUPUI, I also learned how to conduct research and present data, using tools like PowerPoint to communicate my findings. The cohort of McNair Scholars also offered me the opportunity for a less tangible asset: that of community. Research indicates the importance of cohorts and communities for adults returning to education, a fact I lived out in my own experience, where being part of a wider group empowered me to participate in ways I had never imagined. One example of my engagement beyond what my younger self could have imagined:  traveling with a project team to different states and countries to present my research on globalization. Acquiring key digital skills such as PowerPoint creation opened doors for me to present our work internationally, and I traveled as far as Recife, Brazil with one of my mentors - a memory I will never forget! When I graduated, I was able to sit on the other side of the desk from individuals in need as a case manager. Being able to work as a case manager made me able to see myself in others, particularly as they faced similar barriers to entry within adult education as I had: namely being overwhelmed with care taking within the home. 

I am not alone in experiencing the barriers and benefits of going back to school as an adult. Among the latter category 70 percent of Hoosiers who complete adult education leave with employment, and Hoosiers over 25 years-old with a bachelors degree have median earnings of $58,609 per yearabout $20,000 more than the typical high school graduate earns. And upskilling is becoming more and more necessary; for example, in Indiana, 89 percent of jobs require digital skills, and those who have such skills within the job market can earn over three times as much as those without. This doesn’t necessitate earning a graduate degree, as even a certificate can be an incredibly worthwhile investment. In fact, 58 percent of jobs in Indiana require skills training beyond high school but less than college, while only 47 percent of workers fit those criteria. While my own passion for social work drove me to pursue an advanced degree, higher education unlocked so many opportunities—professional and otherwise—that I would have missed out on 

As an older adult, I know my generation brings a lifetime of experience to the workforce and society, which is integral to our state’s success. At the same time, the world is constantly changing and we must continually learn in order to grow and contribute to our families, communities, and the world. The benefits of higher education are evident, but support and motivation are needed to ensure that adults can access these opportunities. We older adults can sometimes be stuck in our ways, so helping folks understand how things are changing is essential. Those of us who have been through a return to higher education can be ambassadors for others. Pushing learning opportunities into communities where older adults are already present is another important strategy. These investments to make older Hoosiers aware of the benefits and opportunities available to them will pay dividends, just as they did for me.  


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