Going to College in Recessionary Times

There are those who predict that the Bleak Economy will have far-Reaching effects on Higher Education: in terms of increased competition between HEIs; the future of courses on offer, the changing make-up of the student population (age wise and socio-economic background), along with students considering: is college worthwhile?

The now redundant promise that ‘getting a good education will automatically lead to economic success’ will force colleges to rethink their strategies if they are going to remain relevant to a recession affected student population, and remain competitive with colleges at home and abroad.

The daily papers often carry anecdotal letters to the respective editors from graduates lamenting the lack of opportunities after years of study and sacrifice. It’s the case of between a rock and a hard place: being overqualified for some vacancies or not having the relevant qualifications for others. What awaits a significant percentage are dole queues or government sponsored internships. An article of faith in this country has been that college is the gateway to a better life. So deeply held is this belief that many students will invest thousands to attain that ‘better life’. Parents will remortgage their homes or dip into life savings, even with the new-found knowledge, that the college payoff could be a long time coming — if it comes at all.

There was always going to be a price to pay for further education: a monetary and a time one. There are always the ‘ones who got away’ from college life, who went on to work their way up the ladder or who became self-made successful business people. With the cost of going to college on the increase and no guarantee of secure employment post-graduation, prospective students are considering travel, emigration, going into direct employment, and simply opting out of higher education.

To date, there has been no significant drop in application to CAO from leaving cert students; however it remains static. Around 80% of those who sit their leaving certificate are seeking a place in college. However, Universities and institutes of technology have seen a huge increase in applications from ‘mature students’. Widespread redundancies, the shrinking jobs market, and the demand for new and higher skills in the workplace are all factors in the surge in interest. The downturn has triggered an overall 7.5pc increase in demand for a college place, to a record 73,982 applications this year, according to the latest figures from the CAO. But, compared with the overall figure, applications from the over-23s have jumped by 31pc to 12,291. One in six applicants for a place in college is over 23, which is up from, one in eight last year.

College could be worthwhile if you are clever: clever about the course you pick and the relevancy of your choice to the employment market. There is also the necessity to be astute about how you manage financially and how to reduce the financial burden of pursuing higher education. It is often the case that students will opt to go to college in a popular city to do a course, despite the same course on offer in a city/town with a significant reduced living cost.

At this stage, we know that ‘Free Education’ is not necessarily free when it comes to the Irish education system. According to research carried out by a number of financial institutions, the costs of sending a student to college is more than €40,000 if a child is living away from home and that does not include college/student registration fees (which continue to increase).  Whilst, the Union of Students, in Ireland, has put the average cost of going to college for a year at €9,000.

If you are considering going to college or returning to college as a mature student: familiarise yourself with the costs involved and how you will be able to afford such costs. If you want to make college worthwhile for you: research the industries and sectors with current or predicted skills shortages. Look at your current skills/abilities and identify gaps in your qualifications; look at all the ways to fill these skill gaps. It does not always take a degree to make you employable: look to Distance learning providers, evening course providers, PLCs and adult education centres.

What is evident is that a number of industries have collapsed and show little sign of a revival. These include the construction industry. Therefore there isn’t much demand for skilled workers related to this area. Also, keep in mind the cuts to areas like education and how those cuts will affect the recruitment of new teachers. If you are interested in law – keep in mind the amount of law firms which have closed or have reduced their working hours. But, in contrast, there is a huge demand for graduates with a background in IT, Science, Business and languages.

Is college worthwhile? According to national statistics: graduates are less likely to be unemployed compared to those who have a Leaving Certificate. In addition to this: spending a few years studying towards a beneficial degree is not a bad way to pass away this recession.

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