Older Americans Went Back To School During The Recession. Did It Pay Off?

When Ed Morneault returned to college in 2011, two months before his 40th birthday, he didn’t just want a bachelor’s degree — he wanted a raise and a promotion. Morneault, who works as a facilities manager for the U.S. Army outside of Baltimore, first went to college immediately after high school but dropped out to join the Marine Corps. He stopped and started school multiple times, taking courses all around the world but never earning a degree.

This time, though, Morneault was determined to finish. He chose Excelsior College, an online institution that caters to nontraditional students such as those returning to school later in life. It pieced together his multiple transcripts and determined that he needed only seven classes to get a bachelor’s degree in history. He finished that in 2013 — and then kept going. Last December, he earned an MBA from Excelsior at the age of 44.

But even with those two degrees under his belt, Morneault said, he has yet to receive a raise or a promotion. “There’s no advancement at the moment, unless I want to relocate to a different area,” he said.

Morneault was part of a trend in which older students returned to college during and in the years immediately after the Great Recession. In 2007, 1.9 million students ages 40 to 64 were enrolled in college or university either full or part time, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.1 That number reached 2.3 million by 2011 and then dropped as the economy recovered. For some, the decision paid off, resulting in higher wages or more stable employment. But others, like Morneault, are still waiting.

Some went back to school because of a job loss. Some, such as Morneault, wanted to improve their skills or had hit a ceiling in their current jobs and wanted to advance further. Others wanted to change careers.

“I needed to finish because it’s important for myself and to be able to progress in my career,” Morneault said.

Read the rest of the article on FiveThirtyEight.


More: Read our profile on Ed Morneault, Against All Odds, from December 12, 2014.

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