The Princeton Business Journal

Multiple choice

By: Mike Mathis

Opportunities abound for those hopping back into higher-ed

You're never too old to learn, the saying goes, but some in today's workforce have no choice.
Whether they've lost their jobs through corporate mergers or hope to obtain that much-sought promotion, workers are re-entering college classrooms at two- and four-year colleges and universities in Mercer and Middlesex counties long after they've graduated.
Offerings at the area's higher institutions of learning are vast and range from the alternative route curriculum for aspiring teachers at The College of New Jersey to programs in broadcast captioning and interior design at Middlesex County College.
And schools are using a variety of methods – including non-traditional media - to let the public know what their schools offer.
Continuing education is "part of our mission," said Richard Novak, associate vice president of continuing education and distance learning at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. "We believe we have a responsibility to the citizens of the state, and that responsibility includes helping the workforce.
"We believe in lifelong learning, and we need to continue to provide opportunities beyond a degree program," he said.
Workforce development at two-year colleges is the fastest growing area of college services in many states, according to the U.S. Department of Education. English as a second language (ESL) programs are the fastest growing component of the state-administered adult education programs.
A survey of community college funding found 19 states used state funds from their community college appropriation, 32 states used funds from other state agencies such as the departments of labor, vocational education, economic development, commerce and human resources and 31 states used non-state funds, according to the department.
In New Jersey, the number of adults over 25 who enrolled in state-administered adult education programs was 30,916 in 2003-2004, down slightly from 31,261 in 2000-2001, the department reported.
Nationally, 1.2 million adults between the ages of 25 and 44 were enrolled in state-administered adult education programs in 2003-2004, far exceeding the number of adults in other age groups, the department said.
Those statistics and the fact that it's not uncommon for workers to change jobs several times in a lifetime are not lost on educators locally. Rutgers University had 120,000 enrollments in continuing education at its campuses in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden last year, a trend Dr. Novak said he expects to grow as the economy continues to change.
"It's very much tied to what's happening in the workforce and what's happening in the economy," Dr. Novak said.
The reasons workers decide to return to school vary and include corporate downsizing, mergers, buyouts, burnout and the desire for a promotion.
One local example was the crash of the information technology field several years ago, said Lynn Coopersmith, associate dean of the Center for Continuing Studies at Mercer County Community College, which counted close to 10,000 registrations last year.
"We served quite a few people who realized they needed to gain a whole new set of skills," Ms. Coopersmith said. "As the economy changes and some jobs are phased out, new skills are required and people need to retool."
At Middlesex County College, the interest in allied health careers has skyrocketed, said Lynn Lederer, director of professional and community programs.
To meet that need, the school offers programs in health information management, limited scope chest radiography and for those seeking to become pharmacy technicians, Ms. Lederer said.
With the increase of Spanish-speaking people in central New Jersey, Middlesex's non-credit ESL program has been expanded and is offered at the college's three locations in Edison, New Brunswick and Perth Amboy, Ms. Lederer said.
Middlesex County College also offers Spanish courses for healthcare workers and for those in the hospitality industry, Ms. Lederer said.
"My department's goal is to offer an assortment of educational options for those who want to make some sort of career change in their lives," Ms. Lederer said. "I am always mindful that adult learners are voluntary learners; that is, in order for my department to be successful and continue to grow, I must offer top quality courses and certificate programs that help our students to make the changes they desire.
"I am cognizant of the demographics in my service area and build programs that offer the skills and knowledge required to succeed in high demand occupations," she said.
In addition to the 67 different credit and non-credit certificate programs it offers, Mercer County Community College has services for businesses and a component that enables people to enroll in distance learning courses.
The school's offerings range from non-credit certificate programs as a certified financial planner and child care career development to the Virtual Campus, where students can enroll in courses taught on television and on the Internet.
"Our mission as a community college is to ensure that we have the workforce we need," Ms. Coopersmith said. "We serve the needs of the community at every level, and that includes career changers and businesses that need training for their employees."
While the primary focus of The College of New Jersey is on its undergraduate programs, the school offers some continuing education programs.
The Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement offers a nonprofit management program to executives of nonprofit organizations which covers topics such as strategic thinking, leadership, human resources management, fundraising, financial analysis and program evaluation, according to the center's Web site.
TCNJ also has an alternative route program for professionals who want to become teachers without having to get an advanced degree, spokesman Matt Golden said.
No matter how extensive a school's continuing education offerings may be, however, prospective students can't take advantage of them unless they know about them.
Mercer County Community College publishes six major direct-mail tabloids a year, and the non-credit division sends other direct-mail pieces to targeted lists, spokeswoman Saveria Symons said.
Middlesex County College utilizes targeted mailings to prospective students, and information about its programs is published in a countywide bulletin, spokeswoman Joanne Stern said.