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MidLife GridLife – Necessity is a Mother

If you had told me I would be doing homework at this point in my life, I would have been either amused or horrified. Given that, had you told me I would find it just as loathsome as I did in high school, I’d have offered no resistance.

I can’t help but appreciate the Karmic humor in the fact that currently I am enrolled in a class that compels me to study a text called “Orientation to College.” The curriculum requires that I write weekly essays on topics such as “Why Go To College?” and “The Value of Being Civilized,” when what I’d really like to present are topics like, “Why I Know I Definitely Won’t Need Algebra” and “The Case for Allowing People Over 40 to Earn Credits for Life Experience.”

Despite my distaste for homework, and late arrival at the dance of deciding to get a degree, I have always been a strong advocate of higher education; I simply lacked the self-discipline to complete my own. The state of the economy has shifted my perspective, and I am not alone.

If it is difficult for newly graduated college students to find employment (in the state with one of the highest unemployment rates in the country), then imagine reentering the workforce at 40 after ten years as a stay-at-home mom.

I was that person.

It took me a year just to get to a double-digit wage.

I was fortunate to have child support and a couple of years of alimony, but after reinventing myself in a career I’d started in my twenties, I watched the economy plummet, and jobs disappear. After massive government and private layoffs, there are now employers requiring a Masters Degree for positions that pay $11 an hour.
I was fortunate enough to be able to transfer 20 years of community college credits, so, if I’m diligent, I will qualify for one of those jobs by 2015.

Retirement? I’m thinking, 85.

I have a friend who graduated at 50. She spent her earlier career as a media talent, but fall-out from divorce made a career change preferable, if not inevitable. She is now a successful teacher.

Another friend left media for a teaching credential in her forties and is now a fabulous elementary school instructor. No pension in PR.

A third friend, wife and mother of two elementary-age children, is braving the impacted schedules and insane parking of CSUS to earn her Masters Degree. She is but a young thing in her thirties, and thus will probably be only my age when the economy turns around, lucky girl!

CSUS is a certainly great option—although just the thought of trying to park there scared the hell out of me—but there are many education options available to adults, depending on needs, preference, and circumstance. There are schools that cater to career people, such as Brandman University, University of Phoenix, National University, and others. There are vocational schools that offer specific skills from cosmetology to computer programming. There are also excellent community colleges that not only offer the general education courses needed for undergraduate work, but also a variety of certificate programs, and at a much lower cost than the aforementioned schools.

I was initially very intimidated by the idea of pursuing a degree at this stage in my life, not only because of the time and effort I had to commit, but the financial commitment—the idea of student loan payments hanging over my head for how many years, and I’ll be how old? Even the paperwork involved for admission and financial aid was daunting.

This is where the small, adult-oriented schools kick butt. In a nutshell: they want your money, and they will hold your hand every minute of every step during the completion of every form to make sure you get it for them. It’s win-win. And the government, I found out in January, has kicked in a killer tax break.

Education in middle age is a very different experience, even different than taking occasional classes in my twenties and early thirties. I have a greater sense of purpose, and I make more of an effort at self-discipline, motivated by a combined sense of not-getting-any-younger and-these-classes-are-damned-expensive.

Four terms in, there is also, I must admit, a beginning thread of I’m-kind-of-proud-of-me-for-actually-doing-this.

In my case, and that of women in similar or parallel situations, necessity may be the mother of invention.

Or a mother may need to reinvent herself out of necessity.

Why go to college? It turns out I’ve found plenty to write about every week.

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