By LISA RAMBO
Today, women are becoming the dominant gender in institutions of higher education. The National Center for Education Statistics indicates that in the 1960s, there were 1.6 males for every female enrolled in a post-secondary, degree granting institution compared to 2010’s statistic of 1.26 females for every male. Recent trends show that the number of women enrolling in college continues to outpace the number of men.
One of the reasons women are pursuing additional education is to become more qualified in an ultra-competitive job market. Unemployment is currently at its highest levels since the early 80s; the national unemployment rate was 9 percent in October 2011, almost double the 5 percent unemployment figure of December 2007, according to The National Bureau of Economic Research.
In an era when pink slips are being handed out rampantly and hiring has almost come to a halt, qualifications, updated skills, and expanded areas of expertise are recommended for the “look at me” effect to score a job. Higher education provides an opportunity for women to gain these skills and prepare themselves for an rapidly changing workforce.
In the last decade, the number of women entering post-secondary, degree granting institutions has increased 40 percent, according to NCES. It also projects that between now and 2019, that number will increase by 15 percent.
For women who have been out of the workforce for an extended amount of time, the transition into the world of work can be most challenging. This group of women usually lack up-to-date work related skills, which can make them undesirable to a potential employer. Further education can fill this gap.
“Women who have been out of the labor market for a significant period of time are the biggest group I see that desire to return to school,” said Wendy Roeber, career center specialist at the Workforce Development Center for Waukesha County. “Typically, they lack current job skills, which can result in poor self-confidence.”
Sandra Bruski, a student at Waukesha County Technical College, had worked for 11 years at one company as an administrative assistant until staff cuts left her jobless. What made matters worse was that she didn’t have a college degree and was left unqualified to find an equivalent position.
“Although I have many years of experience as an administrative assistant, it isn’t enough today. I must have the education to back that up,” Bruski said.
Achieving financial security in a bleak economy may also require scoring a promotion. Additional education can supplement current expertise and experience, which can give one the edge over other candidates.
Janel Bucci first began her career as a part-time instructor at Waukesha County Technical College. When a full-time position became available, she was overlooked because she did not have a master’s degree. Upon completing her master’s degree a few years later, she was able to secure a full-time instructor position.
“I enrolled in an online master’s degree program at Union University in order to be promoted to a better position, and it helped me advance to the next level in my career,” Bucci noted.
Besides going back to school to get a job or pursue a promotion, more women are also enrolling in school to change careers.
After leaving her teaching job of 29 years, Linda Hirsch decided to pursue her passion of creative writing at Mount Mary College.
“I loved creative writing and had taken many classes over the years … but I felt I needed more formal education to help me become a writer that could hopefully publish a magazine article or something like that one day,” Hirsch said.
In addition to financial and career motives, some women return to school for social or personal reasons such as learning more about a hobby or interest, meeting other like-minded adults, or setting a good example for their children. Many colleges sponsor non-credit special interest classes at a nominal fee.
Margit Schiefelbein, a full-time instructional assistant at Waukesha County Technical College, has taken a multitude of non-credit classes, which include topics such as quilting, assertive speaking, and even Zumba, at her place of employment.
“Taking classes that are related to topics that interest me allows me to devote time to accomplish things I wouldn’t otherwise do at home, and I can have fun and learn more at the same time,” Schiefelbein said.