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In tough economic times, does it pay to go back to school?

Updated on June 29, 2012

AASU Continuing Education

Fast Track to becoming a teacher, or fast track to being bilked out of your money for a degree that still won't guarantee you a job?
Fast Track to becoming a teacher, or fast track to being bilked out of your money for a degree that still won't guarantee you a job?

Putting your college degree to work for you

Like many people, you may have gone to college to get a degree with the promise of making anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 more than your peers who chose to go directly from high school into the work force or who went to technical school to earn a trade.

If you majored in English, math, history or political science, you may have found yourself without any job prospects when you graduated, despite what the program head promised.

If you were not willing to go into teaching or didn't have the funds to get your Master's degree, you may have done like many and worked at a job that may have not required a college degree at all.

After working 20 years as a car salesman, administrative assistant or tour guide, you may have wondered if there was something better out there for you, and if you were ever laid off from your job, you may have wondered if you should go back to school and get a more useful degree in nursing or teaching.

If you felt like this, you are not alone.

In 2010, at an information session for substitute teachers in Savannah, nearly 300 unemployed adults showed up looking for full or part time employment.

In those days, all you needed to become a substitute teacher, was some college, a back ground check and two observational periods, where you sat in on a class in the grades you wanted to cover.

In 2011, all that changed. Now, in order to become a substitute teacher, in Georgia anyway, you need to have a teaching certificate. So, when Armstrong Atlantic State University announced that it was hosting a Fast Track to Teaching program to get those with college degrees certified to teach, a lot of people showed up hoping this might be the answer to their financial crisis.

On Thursday, June 28, at 6 p.m., nearly 150 adults, mostly middle aged and over 2/3 African American, showed up at the Continuing Education Center to listen to an information session which sounded a lot like a sales pitch for a used auto.

Department Head John Hobe informed the gathering that there were two paths to becoming certified to teach. Both of them required a small fortune and a lot of hard work.

AASU only offers two paths to teaching. One of the them is a Master's Program, which is limited in scope, and the other is a post baccalaureate in a specified field, which is also limited in scope (meaning, it only allows you to teach in certain areas, in certain classes - not media specialist, counseling, chemistry or high school ether for that mater).

The programs at Armstrong only allow you to be certified in Early Childhood Education, through grade 5; Middle Grades (4-8) and Special Education (any grades).

A Masters in these areas will net you $4000 extra a year; enough to pay for two semesters of course work, minus books and added class fees, if you can get a job.

Greg Dziuban, graduate admission coordinator for the school of education, stated that 100 new teaching positions would be open this year, compared to about 48 last year and 46 the year before.

What he failed to say is that a lot of students who graduated from AASU with teaching degrees were unable to find full time employment upon graduation and many ended up working as substitute teachers and finally gave up and went on to work other jobs, especially if their major was in a field outside of math and science, the two subjects most often requiring new instructors.

When he had finished he introduced the Financial Aid Department worker who nervously stated the options for Financial Aid, which translated into Student Loans with 6.8% interest.

When the talk was over, the first question to come from the audience was, "How much does it cost?"

Interestingly, Dziuban did not have a clue.

The Dean of the school did know and stated that it would cost about $1500 per semester.

The actual cost per semester is closer to $2000, once you tack on the enormous fees, which total as much as $500 to $800 and include many things most graduate and returning post graduates will never use, like computer tech, athletic and entertainment fees.

This does not cover lab fees, parking fees, insurance, background checks, books and gas to get back and forth to class.

A good safe estimate for a full time semester (6 credit hours) for a returning student is about $2,500 per semester. If you go part time (3 credit hours- one class is generally 3 credit hours), you will have to pay about $500 in fees for each class you take.

By comparison, in the early 2000s, one class with fees would cost you less (about $387) than the fees for one class just ten years later and the costs are predicted to continue to rise.

So, how many classes do you have to take to get certified?

The answer: at least 21 credit hours. So either seven times three for about $15,000 or four times six for about $8,000 or if you plan to get your Master's Degree, around $20,000 minimum, which again, does not include internships, lab fees, insurance, or the cost to take the actual test to become certified.

And no... you can't just take the test and become certified, you have to take the classroom hours and do an internship, which is usually monitored and counts as a class which will cost you about $2000.

If you have the money to spend, are willing to move out of state to find a job, just want to substitute teach, or are lucky enough to find a full time job in the school system, it may be worth the expense, but mind you, there is no guarantee you will find a job and no guarantee you will want to continue to do the job once you start.

If you have taught before and liked it, then you might go ahead and take the plunge. Just remember that at $4000 extra a year with the Master's Degree and the interest on the loan, it will probably take you about six years of teaching to pay off the loan with the extra dollars you make.

If you have never taught in the public school system before, you might want to know what you are getting into before you sign up. It is not an easy job and requires a lot of take home work and preparation as well as behavioral correction, though it can be a rewarding career for those who are willing to stick with it.

So bottom line; should you go back to school or get a Master's degree in the hopes of finding a better job?

There are millions of people out there now with college degrees who cannot find employment, are underemployed or working two and three jobs to make ends meet. Many of those have Master's degrees.

You might want to go to someone in the field where you want to work and talk to them about the pros and cons of going back to school.

Universities and Technical schools are geared to get you to pay for their courses by promising wonderful returns in the job field, but there are only so many positions available.

If you have the funds and the ability to go back to school, then by all means follow up on your dreams, but if you are already strapped for cash, going back to school could turn into an even bigger financial nightmare for you.

Don't let an institution rush you into getting enrolled.

After the June 28 meeting, Dziuban announced that prospective students needed to sign up right away (just to apply will cost you $20 if you are not a previous student at AASU) because the deadline for Fall Semester was July 10.

To make matters worse, students who had not taken the SAT or GRE and gotten at least a 1000 on either, were required to take the GACE test to get into the school of education and the deadline to sign up for that.... June 29th! How convenient is that?

Though I do not know what the test costs, they are not cheap and you have to pay to take them when you register to take them, so no money will be refunded if you change your mind.

While there is nothing wrong with furthering your education, there is no guarantee that doing so will get you a higher paying job or even a job at all.

Going back to school may seem comforting for some... you are actually doing something. Instead of telling people you are unemployed, you can tell them, "I am going back to school."

Being at a University and taking classes can seem fun and exciting and brings back days where you had nothing to worry about except doing well in class, but the financial toll it can take on your bank account can be more devastating than the lack of a good paying job, so use caution and make sure you do your research and discover what your chances are of finding a job in your area before you take the plunge and go further into debt.



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    • bje117 profile image
      Author

      bje117 5 years ago

      Thank you. I went to this event hoping they would be offering to get you into teaching and offer scholarships for you to attend classes while teaching, but that was not the case.

      When I first went to this school I paid about $87 in fees and about $400 for classes and books per quarter, so the cost to attend one class, just 14 years later has risen 100 percent.

      The price they are charging was once what private schools were charging and we remarked then that only a very wealthy person could afford private school.

      I never would have imagined public university rates would go this high and the $150 text book, in five years, will be worth about $5 on the open market as well.

      I think more places need to offer intern and apprentice-ships.

      College is great fun and very mind stimulating, but also very pocketbook draining these days.

    • eHealer profile image

      Deborah 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      Good realistic approach to a frequently debated topic. I don't think education can hurt anyone, but the price of a degree is staggering. 80% of graduates this year returned home due to lack of prospects. It's not looking good, we need an alternative to contemporary education.Thanks for the info, I vote you up.