Recess from the Recession – Investing in Higher Education

image (An article I authored originally published January 16, 2009 in Tu Decides Newspaper, WA.  A Spanish language translation of this article can be found by clicking here.)

The national unemployment rate hit 7.2% in December (2009) – the highest rate in 15 years. Last year alone, 2.6 million jobs were lost. While much has been said about the challenging economy and unemployment, a topic frequently missing from the headlines is a potential reinvestment in higher education. Is it more worthwhile to reinvest in your own education than trying to find a new job in this economy?  Here are two things to consider:

1. Return On Investment

One of the greatest expenses of an advanced degree is the opportunity cost of lost wages during your time in school. From a financial perspective, there is no better time to invest in your education than during a period of reduced wages and employment opportunities. Analyzing data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a Master’s degree will help you accumulate roughly $4.9 million in lifetime earnings versus $3.8 million for bachelor’s degrees and less than $1.8 million for high school education only. Also, factor in the investment potential of these extra dollars and the payoff is evident. You can maximize your return on investment by leveraging opportunities to lower the costs of attending graduate school.

For Hispanics, there are two exceptional opportunities for financing a higher education in business. The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management (CGSM) provides a full two-year fellowship to diverse individuals seeking an MBA (http://www.cgsm.org). The National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) offers scholarships between $2,500 and $10,000 per year to Hispanics pursuing graduate management education. (http://www.nshmba.org). There were less than eight applicants for this scholarship from Washington last year, so odds of receiving a scholarship are good for those with demonstrable academic achievement.

2. More Opportunities

It may be difficult to consider making a career change when you are in a stable job. The jolt of unemployment or potential unemployment might be the wakeup call you need to evaluate whether your current career meets your ambitions. If it does not, consider expanding your education credentials at this juncture to help you achieve your ultimate career goals. Returning to school could help increase the range of positions for which you are eligible in your current company or industry, or even give you greater access to completely new industries and positions. Post-graduate degrees can also help widen your geographical reach. For example, for those in the auto industry, escaping Detroit might be a significant long-term career goal. I entered the MBA program at the University of California Berkeley in an attempt to switch from the automotive industry to the tech industry. After navigating through the dot com implosion, I renewed my career search at the NSHMBA National Career Conference in 2004. I received five job offers in five different industries, an impossible feat for me to accomplish without an advanced degree. Education can be used as a means to ride out the economic storm, reinvest in oneself, and create more opportunities long term. My story demonstrates that while recessions are temporary situations, higher education is a lifelong asset.

Richard Velazquez is the President of the National Society of Hispanic MBAs (NSHMBA) Seattle Chapter and a Sr. Product Planning Manager for the Xbox group at Microsoft. For more information about NSHMBA Seattle, visit http://www.nshmba.org/Seattle

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