Education Grows Economies: the more educated our community, the more robust our economy, the better opportunities our businesses and their families have to thrive, the healthier our community becomes. With that, Greater Spokane Incorporated is committed to increasing the percentage of residents in Spokane County with a high quality degree or certificate from the current number of 40% to 60% by 2025. This business led initiative in collaboration with our higher education institutions has taken a student-centered approach to this work. We recently interviewed Ellie, a working adult student currently pursuing her Bachelor’s degree.
Q: You made a choice to continue your education by entering back into the post-secondary system to complete a degree. What prompted you to go back to school?
A: In November 2015, I took a voluntary severance package as I left a long-term position, with the hope of finding a better schedule, greater job satisfaction and opportunity for advancement. I was unemployed for seven months and continued to work part-time for my previous employer. As a condition of accepting unemployment benefits, I applied for at least three positions a week over those seven months. My skills weren’t in demand and the positions I was interested in usually required a four-year degree. Several area universities offer evening classes, so I shopped around and made the decision to apply to Eastern Washington University.
How long has it been since you attended your last college class?
A: Spring 1988
Q: You had some college but no degree, how many credits did you have from your previous college experience and was that an important part of your decision to go back to school?
A: I had 108 credits from Western Washington University as well as an AA degree from Spokane Falls Community College, what is now called a DTA. Once I understood that I was more than halfway to a four-year degree, the decision to go back to school was obvious.
Q: You are working while going to school. From an employee perspective, why do you think it is valuable for an employer to engage in supporting adult post-secondary attainment?
A: Employees with greater skills and knowledge are a bonus for any organization. My desire to earn more money or gain personal satisfaction or fill a need in my community or pursue a life-long desire doesn’t mean I’m not interested in my current position or organization, it simply means I have a new interest I want to pursue to fruition.
Q: What is the single most important challenge a business could help a working adult student overcome?
A: Depending on the student, being available during the day to attend classes through a flexible schedule or tuition assistance would be most helpful.
Q: What is the “best” success you have had with your higher education experience so far?
Mastering the system used for online classes at my school.
Q: Do you have a mentor or cohort that provides support for you as you continue your education?
A: A coworker is pursuing her Master’s degree, so we share stories and anxieties. I have found some of the professors to be approachable and very supportive, as well.
Q: How do you manage your work/life balance?
A: At home, I try to make sure my assignments are completed by Thursday, that way, I can have my weekends free to play. I try to limit my time spent on schoolwork to three evenings a week, otherwise I would never see my family. At work, my schedule allows me time to go home for dinner before driving to class or working on assignments in my home office.
Q: What advice would you give to someone in your position?
A: Make plans for your future. If you know you want a new job or new career, find the program that can help you get there. If you have a specific job in mind, all the better. You can devote all of your time to pursuing knowledge and skills for that job.
Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t go back to school. Five years from now, will you still be hoping to become more successful? What if in five years you could have a degree that would make becoming more successful really easy. What if it would only take two years?
I tell people that since I made the decision to pursue a Bachelor’s degree, all kinds of jobs in all kinds of companies interest me. I have a broader interest in what people do, if they like what they do and how they got there.
Q: We are building a program here in Spokane with employers and higher education institutions to better support more adult learners, like yourself, in going to back to and completing a post-secondary certificate or degree. What advice do you have for all of us in this endeavor to make sure we are successful in serving the adult student?
A: For the institutions: Offer a variety of courses/majors. Many of us want to change careers instead of continue what we’ve been doing.
Have knowledgeable advisers/counselors who can walk us through what is expected of us, what we should expect and most importantly, how long we should plan on attending school before reaching our goal. We are all planning for our future.
For the employers: Encourage and acknowledge. If we are trying to gain skills to move up in your company, offer advice or mentoring to help us learn what they don’t teach in school. Tell us if you feel we have a strength that would help us in one particular area of your organization. If we hope to leave your employment to pursue a different career, talk to us about what we are studying, why and what we want to do with the degree when we get it. Also, please realize how appreciative we are that you have made our effort possible through working with our double schedule.