With recent statistics emerging from the U.S. Department of Education indicating that adult students are the most rapidly increasing educational demographic, it is no wonder the topic of education verses job experience has become such a relevant point of discussion. In fact, since 1998, the number of adult college attendees has soared by a noteworthy 41 percent.
Chances are, however, that most middle aged individuals considering a return to the classroom are willing to invest thousands of dollars on education to enhance career potential, and ultimately, their paycheck; which, in turn, raises the question of necessity. Shouldn’t their work experience, acquired knowledge, and accomplishments through the years offer enough merit to warrant their advancement?
Nonetheless, there are several fields where an impressive degree will increase your worth in the job market. An engineer or computer technician will command considerably more earning power with a high-level college degree, than without. Yet, while teachers are required to have completed at least a master’s program to be qualified, certain business professionals can glide for decades on an associate degree by working their way up the ladder through experience alone. However, this is not to say that by earning your bachelor’s, master’s, or beyond, you will not be increasing your professional value, even for those jobs that may not necessarily require advanced certifications.
Older workers who plan to remain within the same company, field, or industry may certainly be able to save their money and base their value as an employee simply upon cumulative experience, whereas individuals looking to break into a new line of work will fare much better with a solid education behind them. Of course, most employers should notice the long-term employee who took the time and effort to enrich their professional knowledge and status within their field. In many cases, it will be taken into serious consideration when raises and promotions are up for discussion; however, unless a return to college was specifically recommended by your employer, it is not always a certain guarantee toward a larger paycheck; or at least a paycheck large enough to render worthwhile the costs of earning a brand new degree.
However, whichever route you choose, it helps to be informed as to what type of degree is necessary, what it will offer you, and how it will ultimately affect your career potential.
Associate Degree (two years)
An associate degree eliminates the extra coursework requirements, and focuses on the classes that are specific to the student’s field of choice. An associate degree in business management, for example, may require fewer history and psychology credits, but the undergrad will have the opportunity to focus on classes such as business law, accounting, and administration. While in past years, businesses looked less favorably upon a two-year degree, many are now appreciating the value of a concentrated degree program which allows individuals to train for a specific field. It is recommended that most job candidates have completed a minimum of this degree when entering the workforce.
Bachelor’s Degree (four years)
While many have ascended the corporate ladder through experience alone or with only an associate’s degree under their belt, a four-year degree or Bachelor of Business Administration, for instance, is bound to get you there quicker. Attaining executive-level status in the corporate world is much easier with a four-year degree, however if an employer has their choice narrowed down to two candidates with the same education level, chances are greater that the candidate with more work experience will get the job.
Master’s Degree (two years + bachelor’s)
A master’s degree, or in business, an MBA can direct you toward a higher level job opportunities, and also offers you the opportunity to choose a concentration in another area, which definitely expands your career choices. Executives who earn MBAs with a focus in entrepreneurship, for example, often go on to start their own businesses, becoming their own bosses. Generally, however, an MBA will provide you with basic business principals, such as finance, management, strategic planning, and marketing. To obtain a master’s degree of any kind, an individual must have already completed coursework for their bachelor’s degree. While, as mentioned, investing in a higher educational degree isn’t always a guarantee toward greater pay in every individual case, on average, those with MBAs often do command greater earning power.
PhD or DBA (four-to-five years + prerequisite degrees/coursework)
Earning either a PhD in Business Administration or a DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) allows students to prepare for academic careers in business, such as research or teaching. These degrees tend to be interchangeable in most cases, so the selection is up to you. These are highly specified degrees that are not frequently required in most business settings, even on the executive level, unless you are aiming for either an educational business career, or you are an executive who wishes to obtain advanced research skills, tools, and qualifications.
Reaching a Decision
No matter your stage in life, it’s important to remember that any advanced education you ultimately choose to complete – whether an associate or bachelor’s degree to refresh your career, or a master’s degree or higher to catapult your career into the executive realm – your resolution to return to school in any capacity is a personal choice, even beyond your employer’s partiality. Famous entrepreneurs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg did not actually complete their college degrees, and are now among the most successful business people of recent times, demonstrating how success can be achieved in a variety of ways when the will, desire, and experience are there.
In essence, weighing the benefits of education vs. experience is subjective to a multiplicity of nuances in your life, including your line of work, employer leanings, financial standing, family life, and most of all, your personal career goals.
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