Sending workers back to school

By Debbie Kelley The Gazette (KRT)

Thirty-four-year-old Adria Lopour is living a dream.

And she has a prominent role in it.

So does her employer, Hewlett-Packard Co., where she manages 26 software-support engineers.

Rounding out the cast is Regis University’s School for Professional Studies, where she’s earning a master’s of business administration focusing on international business.

“I realized I needed a degree to help expand my career,” Lopour said. “This MBA will give me portable skills.”

Lopour has been able to keep her full-time job, attend college and maintain a busy life that includes two daughters and various activities, because her employer and her school have made it less of a hassle for her to achieve her dream.

“The hours are convenient and the classroom is full of experienced adults in a career or making a career change,” Lopour said. “It’s definitely been worth it.”

Post-secondary schools have learned that catering to working adults attracts a growing market segment – nontraditional students, defined as ages 25 to 64, who want a degree for reasons that include earning more money, advancing professionally, experiencing personal growth or finishing a path they started years ago.

Students 25 years of age and older constitute nearly half of the new and returning student population, according to the Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education. And the number of students age 35 and older in degree-granting institutions has soared from about 823,000 in 1970 to an estimated 2.9 million in 2001, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The desire to make a lifestyle change is often a motivating factor for going back to school.

“This experience has made me realize that I want to continue my education with an advanced degree,” said Chris Brewer, a 37-year-old Webmaster and systems analyst who will earn his bachelor’s degree in business in May from the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Some employers are willing to help pay the bill. In 2001, 75 percent of employed adults ages 25 to 64 who participated in adult education received employer financial support, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Support included payment or reimbursement for part of or all expenses, such as tuition, fees, books and time off for classes.

Chief Master Sgt. Cari Kent, commandant of the Noncommissioned Officers Academy at Peterson Air Force Base, receives assistance through the military to attend the University of Phoenix. Earning a bachelor’s in business management isn’t about moving up the ranks for Kent; after 23 years of military service she’s attained the highest rank she can.

“The degree adds credibility to what I do, and those credentials are important,” she said. “What I’m learning at school mirrors what I’m teaching at work. It allows me to do my job better.”