Continuing education is good, but where are the jobs?

The latest New York Times special section on continuing education leads off with a piece from Steven Greenhouse on the growing trend of adults returning to school to obtain additional education and credentials:

With the world growing ever more complex and new technologies being developed every day, it’s hardly surprising that millions of Americans have returned to campus. . . . Many experts say continuing education is more important than ever because most college graduates will go through five to seven job changes over their careers.

But where are the jobs?

I’ve been around colleges and universities for most of my adult life as a student and faculty member.  As an educator and lifelong learner, I have cast my lot with institutions of higher learning that cater to mature students. I’ve seen, up close and personal, what opportunities to retool a career or change professions can do for people.

But in today’s economy, we must ask if all this added learning and credentialing opens doors to actual jobs.  Lately I’ve been reading too many accounts of working adults who pursued expensive degree and certificate programs believing they would enhance their employability, only to find few openings in their new field. And as a law professor at a university that appeals heavily to working adults, I’m well aware of the difficult job market awaiting our students as they approach graduation.

Generically speaking, continuing education remains a good thing, but is not a panacea in an economy that isn’t producing a lot of new jobs.  Before people engage in a potentially expensive and time-consuming course of study, they should get an honest assessment of what that program can do for them.

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