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The Census Bureau estimates that only 27 percent of working adults have college degrees in the U.S.

Now facing new challenges posed by a slow economy, including continued layoffs and a lack of new jobs coming to market, this figure is expected to rise as an increasing number of adults are deciding to head back to college to earn a degree that will enhance their existing professional skills and give them the education they need to be competitive in today’s workplace.

Dr. Deborah Snyder, senior vice provost of academic programs at Strayer University, offers 10 tips for adult students to consider when heading back to the classroom:

1) Discuss your decision with others you trust

Whether it is colleagues, family, or friends who have already made this educational journey, discuss your plans with people you trust and get their advice. Most people like to share advice about their experiences.

2) Determine financing in advance

Will you pay for school out of savings, borrow the funding or does your employer offer tuition reimbursement to help finance your education? There are many options to help pay for school today. Have discussions with school advisers and others to determine what makes the most sense for you. A college education is a valuable investment.

3) Consider your present lifestyle

What are you doing with your “free time” now? Returning to school will require a commitment to spend some of the time you were spending on other activities on attending classes, studying and completing assignments. If you have been out of school for awhile, getting back into the habit of studying will likely take a focused effort (but one that is worthwhile).

4) Look for quality and flexibility

It is not only possible to fit a high quality educational experience into your life, but some colleges and universities today offer programs that are designed with adult learners in mind. Adults returning to school typically seek two things: knowledge they can put to use right away in their lives or on the job and an environment that understands and appreciates their multi-tasking lifestyles. Look for institutions that are regionally accredited and offer a flexible schedule of classes at sites close to your home and office, or online.

5) Keep an open mind about new ways to learn

When many of us were in school, we went to a physical location and listened to a professor share his or her knowledge in a classroom setting coupled with assignments, discussions and exams. Today, there are many new ways to learn inside and outside of the traditional classroom. You may want to take a class or even an entire program via the Internet with students from different geographical locations and diverse experiences.

6) Determine a plan and include timeline goals

As you begin your studies, map out your program with help from school advisers to ensure that you achieve your goals by a target date. Determine in advance how many courses you need to take and how much time it will take you to complete your program. This will give you goals to work toward. Of course, you can always adjust your course load as your life schedule dictates as long as you keep your goals in mind.

7) Develop a portfolio of accomplishments

As you progress through your courses, save papers you have written and other assignments that you have completed successfully. This is a reminder of your progress and evidence of success that you may share with potential employers.

8) Don’t be afraid to ask questions

As a wise person once said, there is no such thing as a dumb question. Going back to school is an exciting but serious undertaking. As you begin the process, ask questions. As you take your classes, ask questions. There is no better place than school to ask questions. Your goal is to gain knowledge and the goal of the institution you choose should be to help you achieve that goal.

9) Learn from your peers

One of the unique opportunities of adults learning together is the rich sharing of experiences that often takes place. Unlike a traditional classroom, adult learners bring knowledge from their jobs and work history that can be invaluable in the exchange of information. Not only do adults learn from their professor, they learn from each other.

10) Network early and often

Part of the college experience as an adult is establishing peer relationships. Make an effort to get to know your classmates. This will come in handy for study groups, makes the journey more interesting and may even lead to job opportunities.

(C) 2012 Chicago Daily Herald. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved.