Taking the Next Step

A look at the options, and rewards, for those looking to forward their careers through higher education.

For those considering a return to academia, it can be a harrowing task to consider all the choices before finding the best program tailored to their needs. Is a master’s degree a good idea, or are continuing-education courses or a certification program the way to go?

In New Orleans numerous colleges and universities cater to the professional looking to return to school. Louisiana State University, Delgado Community College, Tulane University, Louisiana Tech, University of New Orleans, Our Lady of Holy Cross College, Southeastern Louisiana University, and Nunez Community College all offer the compelling prospect of a professional shift. Yet the engaged working stiff may still wonder: What are the benefits of getting an advanced degree or going back to school? What are some potential programs? How do these colleges and universities ensure their curriculum and materials remain relevant to industry standards? What are the differences between continuing education and an advanced degree program?

Benefits of an advanced degree

Both quantitative and qualitative benefits make a case for returning to school. Some people have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, while others hope that college or university coursework can make their résumé more attractive. Some potential students want to know how to better their workplace and think that additional studies and discussion can aid in that pursuit.

“It’s an opportunity for them to bring professional examples into the classroom and work on them there,” said Amanda Athey, director of UNO’s graduate school. “They get to have that objective perspective in the classroom setting and examine a problem. That gives them a different skill set moving forward in terms of bringing it back into the profession. A lot of it has to do with the interaction with the faculty and their peers and getting other people’s perspectives on the problems that they share.”

But there’s also the literal flip of the coin in considering the quantitative benefit. Students between the ages of 21 and 64 who return to school and receive an advanced degree earn an average annual salary of $55,242, while their less credentialed counterparts only earn an average annual salary of $42,877, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

This boost in salary or financial reward can also be accompanied with a better job title, greater recognition and an earned sense of credibility amongst peers.

“Advanced degrees typically mean a higher pay,” confirmed Dr. Sheryl S. Shoemaker, dean of Louisiana Tech University’s graduate school. “They can also mean starting off at a higher level of employment or moving up higher in the chain of the business.”

“Advanced degrees typically mean a higher pay. They can also mean starting off at a higher level of employment or moving up higher in the chain of the business.” -Dr. Sheryl S. Shoemaker, dean of Louisiana Tech University’s graduate school

Higher qualifications may also help earn the type of employment that once could be secured with only a bachelor’s degree. Baby boomers and generations after have learned that baccalaureate programs may not be enough to gain attractive entry-level positions. As many professionals remain busy with work and their families, schools have tailored their programs to appeal to the professionals so that they are accessible at night or over the Internet.

“It’s a way to build skills and confidence while students are earning something tangible and meaningful each step along the way,” said Lindsey B. Jakiel Diulus, Nunez Community College’s Public Information and Alumni Relations Officer. “It’s really helping people to advance, if they’re already working in the field in a entry-level job while they are simultaneously working toward a degree.”

Popular programs

Colleges in New Orleans and southern Louisiana area offer a number of compelling opportunities to those considering a return to the classroom. The schools mentioned above offer non-credit courses, certifications and advanced degrees in everything from welding to business, from education to tourism and hospitality management. This area’s educational options reflect the region’s industries and employment.

“We offer associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, certificates, post-baccalaureate certificates, master’s degrees in homeland security, liberal arts and computing technologies,” said Rosaria Guastella, associate dean of Tulane’s School of Continuing Studies. “We have six programs in addition to our applied-computing and homeland-security undergraduate programs; we also have paralegal studies, media arts that includes digital design and public relations; we have health and wellness; and we also offer associate degrees only in business.”

The other colleges and universities in the area have varied course and degree offerings. Louisiana Tech boasts popular MBA, engineering and computer science programs. Southeastern Louisiana claims a robust master’s of education and international baccalaureate degree program as well as business and nursing programs. Our Lady of Holy Cross includes counseling, education and business programs within the institution and is beginning a master’s degree in Catholic theology. Delgado Community College offers culinary arts, business and technology, and nursing and allied health programs.

Popular programs at Louisiana Tech University include MBA, engineering and computer science.

One popular program at Nunez Community College is process technology: It prepares individuals to become process technicians and operators. UNO boasts an MBA, MS degrees in hospitality and tourism management and healthcare management, and a number of certification programs, including their coastal science and coastal engineering certifications.

LSU is known for its endless list of graduate degree programs — many of which can be earned online — as well as its distance college credit courses, professional development courses, non-credit programs for students in K-12, and the personal enrichment programs in its school of continuing education.

Maintaining relevance

But just how relevant are classroom discussions to today’s business world? How do programs stay on top of industry standards? Many a student has been frustrated by the theoretical applications found within the classroom, and they want to know that their school of choice keeps a utilitarian and hands-on perspective.

Louisiana schools do this in a number of ways, but many start with the process of earning accreditation, which is done college- or university-wide and then sometimes within specific programs.

“If there is not an outside accreditation agency, the college as a whole is accredited and that program has to do a program review itself,” said Dr. Carolyn White, dean of the College of Counseling, Education, and Business at Our Lady of Holy Cross College. “There’s a template they have to go through that is pretty extensive. You have student-learning outcomes, and you have to prove your students are meeting those outcomes and stay up-to-date on the current research and literature that is out there for the programs.”
Beyond that, schools also engage in an open dialogue with the area’s industry leaders. They do this best by bringing in members of various industries to examine programs and tell them where they could do better.

“Each of our technical programs have advisory committees made up of industry representatives.” – Dr. Kathleen Curphy, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Delgado Community College.

“Each of our technical programs have advisory committees made up of industry representatives,” said Dr. Kathleen Curphy, vice chancellor for academic affairs at Delgado Community College. “We meet with them regularly and talk about what’s going on in their business area, what changes they foresee in the next five years, and how our students are doing that they’re hiring. It is an ongoing process. We don’t just do this once every five years.”

Continuing education vs. advanced degree

There’s a difference between taking continuing education courses and earning an advanced degree.

“Typically the people who are in professional development aren’t going back to school in the traditional sense — they’re not seeking a degree,” said Kathy Carroll, director for research, planning and communication at LSU’s School of Continuing Education. “They’re seeking a credential that will help them in some more immediate manner. Our credit courses are for people who are either working on a degree or they’re pursuing a professional credential that requires college credit.”

Many continuing education courses are non-credit but might look good on a résumé. These skills are more a means of professional development and can aid a person in a much quicker sense. Certification programs may take only a semester or a year, while degree programs can often take two years or more to complete.

New technologies might compel a person to take these courses, such as learning social media best practices or computer coding — all skills designed to create more attractive job candidates.

“You take college courses for one reason, you take professional development, continuing education courses for another,” added Carroll. “They’re both good, they’re both important, but they serve different needs and get people to different goals.”



Categories: Education, The Magazine