Three Challenges Facing Adults Going Back to School

The weak job market has nudged many adults back to school in an effort to find a second career, but it's not always easy for older generations to hit the books again.

In the recently-released movie Larry Crowne, which actor Tom Hanks directs and plays the lead character, Crowne is laid off from his job at a big-box megastore for not having a college degree. He enrolls at a local community college for a shot at a new career, joining other students trying to make their futures brighter.

The film explores the emotional toll of unemployment as Crowne struggles to pay for his hefty mortgage, an expensive divorce, and gas for his gas-guzzling SUV. Movie watchers watch him struggle to find whats next in life--a theme that resounds loudly given todays grim economy.

Mary B. Hawkins, president of Nebraskas Bellevue University, which offers all of its courses online as well as instruction in the classroom, identifies three challenges adult learners have to overcome when going back to school:

Disconnect in Skills Learned vs. Skills Needed on the Job

According to Hawkins, workers are facing a major disconnect between skills learned and skills needed.

That disconnect is frustrating because you can either end up out of work, end up in a job that is not fulfilling, or you end up in a job that will not lead to further advancement. Many, many times its because a degree is needed to advance or the skills youve got are no longer the skills the workplace needs. That one we see and hear over and over again.

Statistics show people with no or little college education have been hit hard by unemployment in the economic downturn, but college graduates are also having a hard time finding jobs that satisfy them these days. A study  released by Rutgers Universitys Heldrich Center for Workforce Development earlier this year found:

"82% of those graduating college between 2006 and 2010 are working, but only 53% hold full- time jobs.

"62% think they will need more formal education to be successful in their chosen careers.

"Among those working for employers who require a four- year degree, 11% said they were working below their level of education, compared to 60% of those with jobs where a college degree was not a requirement.

"About 25% of those surveyed accepted a job outside their area of interest.

Time and Work Commitments

Older college students tend to have much more responsibilities and commitments than students in their early 20s.

One of the biggest fears of going back to school is trying to fit in & people are willing to go to work but they cant juggle the schedules, Hawkins says, citing that older students tend to also have family commitments that take up a lot of time.

Adult students should pick a college that offers flexible schedules such as evening, weekend and online classes to give them the flexibility in when they can complete their work, whether its after work, after the kids are in bed, or before their professional day starts.

Fear and Proximity

After being out of a classroom setting for potentially decades, many adults are hesitant to join their younger counterparts in the lecture hall, particularly if they are unemployed.

Fear is huge a lot of people dont have the confidence in their learning skills; they dont have the confidence theyre going to succeed in college, Hawkins says.

But more often than not, Hawkins says, once adults get back into the classroom, they are more motivated to learn than when they were younger.

Students realize, once they get into class & OK, I can do this and I have the support of other classmates.