When it comes to making life choices that will determine the course of yours, few are better investments than a college education. From better income and insurance to greater social, professional and personal opportunities, a college degree is far more than just a certificate on the wall.
Story by Kelli Fuqua Hart
It’s a true and simple statement – Education Pays. And although it has been a hot topic of debate in the last few years, the fact still remains that those with a college degree aren’t losing nearly as much ground during our recession as their less-educated peers.
With an overall better chance at finding employment, as well as receiving higher wages, those who choose to continue their education post-high school are making an investment in themselves that will reap a lifetime of benefits, and not just financially.
Studies have shown that having a college degree is not only linked to higher pay, but to healthier lifestyle choices, better employer-provided health care coverage, overall job satisfaction, decreased levels of stress and increased job stability.
And because there are so many educational options, geared to fit any age and schedule, more and more individuals are strapping on their backpacks and heading to college!
In today’s economy, the people who are more likely to be employed are people with college degrees. How much more likely? Twice as likely as people who have only a high school education.
One reason for this, according to Shanley Hill of Taylor College, is that, “an education provides someone with the knowledge necessary to contribute to the ‘national team’ of Americans that operate and work together on a daily basis.”
Hill goes on to say, “It also allows the chance to pursue employment opportunities with higher salaries and benefits and allows any individual to grow within a corporation and achieve new positions once they have mastered and completed various levels of educational degrees to retain the knowledge necessary for success.”
Taylor College currently offers all programs related to the healthcare industry, including Associate Programs in Nursing and Physical Therapy Assistance and career preparation courses in Medical Assistance and Phlebotomy, all of which directly benefit Central Florida because of how dominant the healthcare industry is in this area and the number of jobs now available. Awarding over 2,200 successful graduates to date, Taylor College takes pride in producing motivated, knowledgeable individuals who are career-bound and immediately eligible for employment – and in some instances, in as little as a few weeks!
For some future students, it is not the length of the program that presents concern but the location. Those working full-time, taking care of children and even those who simply cannot manage in a classroom environment, can look to online courses as a solution.
Capella University is an accredited university with a vibrant community of learners and a faculty of committed and engaging instructors. This 100 percent online campus offers programs in Business & Technology, Counseling and Psychology, Education, Health Care and Public Service. From certificate programs to doctoral degrees, Capella’s staff and faculty seeks to maximize students’ personal and professional potentials.
According to the University website, nearly 40,000 degrees have been awarded with a reported satisfaction rate of 95 percent amongst alumni. Capella students range in age from 19 to 89, with an average age of 40 years old, making the dream of going to college or advancing one’s education level an obtainable reality.
In the Classroom
Obtaining a degree in the classroom is attainable as well. Ranked in the top 10 percent of all colleges in the United States, Ocala’s own College of Central Florida, or CF, has been serving students and its community for decades. Offering certificate programs, associate’s degrees and now bachelor’s of Applied Science in both Business and Organizational Management and Early Childhood Education, CF makes education possible, affordable and flexible. With day, evening and online courses, students can advance their education while still managing their current day-to-day schedule and routine.
CF’s faculty understands student concerns and provides guidance and assistance in solving student issues. When it comes to tuition, the CF Foundation can be of great benefit, having provided $700,000 in scholarships to CF students. Likewise, CF offers free tutoring and workshops on success strategies for students who need these resources.
Upon graduating, finding employment is priority one. CF has partnered with the Workforce Connection, called “Patriot Jobs,” where, according to CF’s Marketing and Public Relations Director, Lois Brauckmuller, “students can get guidance in resume preparation, job interview techniques and help applying for these available jobs.”
CF offers such a variety of courses, resources, scholarships, etc., yet they still find a way to follow through with each student when it comes to preparation, gaining employment and becoming an active leader in the community. Brauckmuller adds, “Our vision is to be the first choice provider for higher education in our community.”
Think having a college degree is a commonality? Think again! In Marion County alone, less than 11 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree. According to Molly Andersen of Rasmussen College, college graduates have an annual earning potential that is double that of an individual with just a high school education or GED.
According to Andersen, “More than 85 percent of Rasmussen College graduates are working in their chosen field of study or continuing their education.” From certificate programs to bachelor’s level degrees in Design, Health Science, Business, Education, Justice Studies, Technology and Nursing, Rasmussen offers course work in today’s most demanding fields.
With both campus classroom options and the evolution of online learning, Rasmussen students can graduate sooner than other traditional timelines and can pursue jobs faster with streamlined programs. In as little as 18 months, a Rasmussen student can graduate with their bachelor’s degree and immediately enter the workforce, eliminating the all too common, “this is going to take too long” excuse to not get an education.
Out-of-Town Colleges within Reach
At one time, it was necessary to either move out of Ocala or commute to attend a bachelor’s level program. Out of town colleges, such as the University of Florida, were among the most popular choices for students, but the distance made attending impossible for some. Today, thanks to valuable partnerships between the College of Central Florida and six accredited universities, A.A. or A.S. Graduates can transition “seamlessly” to a four-year program without leaving the Ocala campus. One of those partners is the University of Central Florida.
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, UCF has reached an enrollment of more than 60,000 students. UCF students, according to Tanya Armstrong, “offer as much to UCF as UCF can offer the students – a diversity of backgrounds and cultures, life experiences, talents, skills, aspirations, and a thirst for learning – all of which bring added value to the university experience.”
Ocala’s UCF campus first opened its doors in the fall of 2002, with its first program in Elementary Education. Today, the UCF Ocala campus offers 11 undergraduate programs and one Graduate degree program. With more than 200 students taking classes on its campus, UCF Ocala makes it easy for students in Citrus, Levy and Marion counties to get a quality education. And over 20 UCF programs are offered entirely online. These courses are ideal for students who cannot travel to the UCF Ocala campus to take classes or to its main campus in Orlando. Students appreciate the option to take some or all of their courses online, enabling them to earn a UCF degree without the limitations of time or location.
Armstrong goes on to address the issue of tuition. She explains, “So many students rely on some form of financial aid to cover the full cost of their education. Tuition increases, rising costs of textbooks, fees and living expenses have made paying for a college degree more difficult. The average college student will graduate owing more than $25,000 in debt.” However, a diligent student can find ample money to cover the cost. Most students don’t realize that thousands of scholarships go un-awarded because students simply don’t apply. These resources are out there and campus advisors are available to assist students in uncovering these funds.
In addition to accreditation, cost, location and courses, many students give much consideration to a school’s core values. Saint Leo University realizes the importance of developing their curriculum with these values in mind and has infused a very specific set of values into each of their courses. And according to Jo-Ann Johnson, Staff Writer and Media Coordinator for Saint Leo, “Our students will find at least one core value discussed in each course. Those values are excellence, personal development, respect, integrity, community and responsible stewardship.”
Saint Leo University is a Catholic, liberal arts school. Established in 1889, the University has grown from a “campus in the rolling hills of Central Florida to an institution of international consequence.” In the fall of 2012 alone, Saint Leo enrolled nearly 16,000 students, of which 2,950 were pursuing an undergraduate degree completely online. Johnson points out, “Saint Leo is a leader in online learning.”
In addition to campus classrooms, being able to obtain an excellent education in a flexible manner produces graduates who, according to Johnson, are “better prospects for employment, better equipped with critical thinking skills, more exposed to a wide variety of disciplines and are lifelong learners.”
And with business being a popular major amongst current students, Saint Leo now offers a Doctor of Business Administration, which is heavily on-ine focused. This option allows students to further their education post-master’s and in the comfort of their own space for flexibility and convenience.
And on the subject of graduate level courses – is there any value of continuing one’s education? Absolutely. Students who want to fine-tune their knowledge of a subject are perfect candidates for a graduate degree. For example, a person who studied psychology as an undergrad can dig even deeper in their field by focusing on specific components, such as cognitive or physiological areas of psychology. By doing so, the graduate obviously gains a deeper understanding of specific topics, but they are also putting themselves at the top of the list of recruits in that field.
Likewise, employers are more likely to hire individuals with a graduate degree, even if it’s outside of the specific requirements for that job, simply because having earned a graduate degree can reflect a more diligent, disciplined, overall socially adequate person. Employers like to hire people who voluntarily went the extra mile to learn more and better themselves, both academically and socially.
Webster University has a Metropolitan Campus here in Ocala, making it easier for Central Florida graduates to further their education without having to leave home. According to Mike Fallon of Webster University, “Starting salaries are around 20 percent higher for those with a master’s degree when compared to those only holding a bachelor’s degree.”
Webster University Ocala Metro offers graduate degrees in Business Administration, Counseling, Human Resources Development or Management and Management and Leadership. Fallon adds, “We offer competitively priced, non-traditional, evening graduate degree programs that are perfect for the busy adult. Webster University is a tier 1, accredited, global institution and a leader in higher education.”
With an average class size of 10, students receive personal attention from world-class faculty who are experts in their respective fields and assistance from a staff that puts students’ needs first. Webster University prepares its students through career services, resume writing and interview skills. Likewise, potential jobs are posted on campus and they invite students to numerous regional job fairs. For the university’s counseling programs, students connect with potential employers through the internship portion of their degree.
When a student graduates from Webster University, they leave with extensive and specific skills and knowledge, confidence to obtain employment and succeed in their field and a familiar resource pool of people whom they’ve connected with both personally and professionally throughout their enrollment.
So whether it’s a certificate in a specific skill set, an undergraduate degree in a popular major or a continued educational path through graduate school, investing in education is investing in yourself, your future and your community. Set yourself apart. Decide what motivates you, intrigues you and drives your will to succeed. Reach out to your local campuses and find out what path is right for you. In as little as a few months, you can look back and say, “I wish I had…” or you can be proudly saying, “I’m glad I did!”