According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, the number of people over the age of 25 going to college to get their first undergraduate degree has dropped since 2012.
The data also showed that college attainment among graduates with prior degrees has jumped by nearly 70,000 in the same time frame.
Beth Crews, director of the Undergraduate Evening Studies program at Furman University, said the numbers indicate people are more inclined to “bundle” their education by first achieving a certification, then an associate degree and, finally, a bachelor’s degree.
That is where the Furman program comes in.
Offering only evening classes, complete degree programs in business administration, accounting and information technology and certificate programs, Crews said the intent is to offer the most career-relevant programs and also include institutional strengths of the university. Crews said the program has approximately 90 students presently enrolled.
“I’m trying to prepare people who want to transition into a new career or want to take the next step in their present career,” Crews said.
She said times when the economy has been weak, adults head back to the classroom to obtain additional credentialing in hopes of boosting their job prospects. Another challenge is that many companies have cut back on their professional development spending during economic downturns.
Conversely, she said when the economy is particularly strong, adults typically don’t pursue additional education, but employers have a tendency to loosen the purse strings on their development budgets.
Crews said the program at Furman can help both adults looking for additional education and companies wanting to find ways to retain talent and bolster professional development.
“Furman can really address workforce development in two ways,” Crews said. “They can tailor programs for talent or there is the ability to help with an educated workforce.”
She said the evening programs can offer “soft skills” as part and parcel of the overall program.
According to the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, its Market Review 2016 report indicated that only about 15% of the Upstate population had attained a bachelor’s degree in 2015 and only 8% had a graduate degree or higher.
But, Crews said it is important for the population to understand the value of higher education, regardless of the career choice.
“If all you want is an entry-level job, then you don’t need a bachelor’s degree,” Crews said. “But, we have found that is not where people want to stay.”
The classes in the evening studies program are taught by both Furman University professors and adjunct instructors. The cost per credit hour is $450, which Crews said is much less than traditional tuition at Furman. Current class sizes are between 12-15 students per class. There is a dedicated adviser for the program.
“Those who teach for us like the adults because they have experience to draw on for discussion,” Crews said. “The advising is very personalized and we really sit down and get to know the student.”
The important component of the program, according to Crews, is the education and experience gained by students going through the program. She said the learning is intense, but valuable for those students looking for a new career or a leg up in their current one.
“We aren’t providing a piece of paper. We are offering an amount of learning they would not get other places,” Crews said.