Most of the time, an economic slowdown or recession coincides with an increase in college enrollment – but this time, things seem to be playing out differently. If anything, college enrollment numbers have trended flat since the economic collapse began unfolding in late 2007. While out of work employees would normally be heading back to the classroom to pursue a new degree in an in-demand field, many are shying away due to financial fears.
So is it a bad time to go to college? Or is it still one of the best times?
The Case for Staying Away
If you’re responsible for providing the needs of a family, this could be a very tough time to head back to school or spend money furthering your education. With jobs scarce and underemployment rampant, such breadwinners might find themselves pressured to take on a second job or any available overtime opportunities.
If work is available, it could be hard to turn down gainful employment for the pursuit of theoretically higher wages after an extended period of higher education. If there are already heavy debts to be paid, like an expensive house, car, or even luxury items and prior consumption, it can be hard to balance a budget that provides college expenses as well as what it takes to live day to day.
The Case for College Enrollment
If you’re not working at all… if your specialization is no longer in demand… why not enroll in college for new training in a new degree? Many professions are finding that there’s too many potential workers for too little work. This is particularly common right now in financial services, construction, and even business management in general.
If you’re trying to shop around for a job using one of those majors on your resume, it may be an uphill battle that can’t be won. Instead, the demand for new hires tends to be within education and the healthcare services (or even pure sciences & government work, to a lesser extent) so maybe you’d have better luck paying off expenses and college costs if you had some skills that employers were currently in search of.
Scholarships, Financial Aid, and Yes even Student Loans can Help Make it Happen
Regardless of your individual (and unique) financial situation, every college has a variety of scholarship and financial aid programs that can help pay for the expenses of higher education. Not every student will receive scholarships, but only students who search them out and apply regularly will even be considered! Financial aid programs also tend to be sensitive to a student’s financial need, so it is likely that the worse of your own money situation is the better your odds of being assisted through an institutional or federal financial aid grant.
In some ways, the economic stimulus package is going to increase federal spending for higher education – and this means more money to the students in the form of grants that don’t have to be paid back and public loans that carry lower interest rates. In terms of government assistance for students, now is definitely among the best times to get enrolled in college.