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Adult learners need to pick up their own groceries

"I am very disappointed in my choice for a degree. It has left me stranded when looking for work. I am only able to get a $12 per hour job and working two jobs is getting old. Suggestions?"


My answer:

"Degrees will open doors" is a myth that many college students mistakenly accept as entitlement. Students who buy into that myth have a tendency to do the minimum required for earning a degree and fail to develop the knowledge and skills they need to be successful at a job. It's like paying for groceries and leaving them at the checkout stand; then expecting to be fed by others once we leave the store.

A more apt "door" metaphor is that a degree allows you to knock on some doors. If you knock on the right door, someone might answer. If you have the right answers, someone might open the door. If you demonstrate the right skills someone might invite you in. If you consistently demonstrate the capacity to grow while applying knowledge and skills in a turbulent environment someone might let you stay.

Put differently, the degree is only as valuable as the knowledge, skills, and adaptability it represents. If I blame a lack of employment on a degree, it says more about me than it does about the degree.

Adult educators should help students build relevant knowledge, develop practical skills, and gather effective tools that they can immediately apply for personal development and professional success. An adult who expects that someone should give him a job because of a piece of paper has missed a fundamental lessons that the degree is supposed to represent.

For current and prospective students, the message is this:

Don't wait until graduation to start your career; build your career as you advance through the program by doing the following:

  1. Integrate the assignments with your current or target job; for example, if you have an assignment to develop a training program, apply the assignment to solve a training problem at work.
  2. Use each course to network with executives; for example, if you are taking an HR course, interview HR executives as part of your assignments.
  3. Advance through the program with an eye toward building your brand or your business; for example, use your strategic management course to build an actual plan that you can propose to your management or that you can use to build your own business.

Such strategies helped me to advance two steps up the management ladder while I earned my first master's degree, and laid a foundation for helping me transition to new careers when economies radically shifted.

For Phoenix graduates who made it through a program focused only on getting a degree, your saving grace is this:

Phoenix is a lifelong learning program; you have lifelong access to the premium developmental resources that you can use to differentiate yourself from others while building your career or business.

That means you can revisit the resources, lessons, and tools that you could have used to build your career while in the program. A first step for the jobless graduate might be to accept responsibility for personal and professional development. Second, revisit the objectives, concepts, and tools from the courses you took from the perspective of someone who needs to demonstrate mastery to build a career or business. Also consider taking free professional skills workshops. Third, use the concepts and tools to develop your brand or business. Fourth, persist, adapt, and perpetually develop.

Bottom line, if you are a Phoenix graduate who missed the lessons that would make you "A Phoenix," the University is holding the groceries that you left on the counter; it's up to you to pick them up.