Middle-aged students should weigh pros and cons of getting a college education

June 1, 2012

There are many benefits associated with getting a college degree at any age. It can help you fulfill a lifelong goal, increases your marketability in the job market and boosts your earning potential.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2011, individuals with a bachelor's degree made an average of $1,053 per week, compared to $768 per week for those with an associate degree, $719 per week for those with some college (but no degree) and $638 per week for those with a high school diploma.

In addition, recent research from the Pew Research Center reveals that over the course of a 40-year career, college graduates are expected to make about $650,000 more than those without a college degree.

For middle-aged students, getting a college degree can enable them to begin a new career or advance in their current career. And data shows that an increasing number of nontraditional students are heading back to the classroom.

ABC News reports more than 3.9 million people ages 35 and over were enrolled in degree-granting institutions in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Additionally, NCES predicts the number of middle-aged people in college, graduate school or technical school will rise to 4.1 million by 2015.

But those considering returning to the classroom also need to consider the cost. According to the College Board, the average cost of tuition and fees for the 2011-2012 school year at a four-year, public college or university is $8,244 for in-state residents and $12,526 for those who live out-of-state. At private, four-year colleges and universities, the average tuition is higher - $28,500 per year.

"You really have to consider your age, your expenses, how much money you can expect to make after you graduate," financial planner Cristina Briboneria told ABC News.

Knowing how much money you stand to make upon graduation is especially important for those who plan on financing their education through loans, as they need to make enough money to pay their loans back in a shorter period of time.

Luckily, there are many college scholarships for mothers as well as scholarships and grants for single mothers available for women of any age who want to pursue a college degree. Many employers will also reimburse workers who go to school while continuing their career.

"For middle-age students, ideally you want to go to school on someone else's dime," Mitchell Weiss, a former co-founder of the Center for Personal Financial Responsibility at the University of Hartford, told ABC News. "You don't want to do it speculatively, taking all this risk yourself and hoping it's going to turn out."

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