Continuing Education 101

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Going Back to School for a Better Job
At Rutgers, many ambitious 30- and 40-somethings are studying for mini-M.B.A.’s, taking condensed, intense business programs to quickly fortify themselves with new expertise and increase their chances of getting a promotion — and soon. At U.C.L.A., many who aspire to a career in Hollywood are taking courses in producing, screenwriting, television writing and music production. At Macomb Community College in Michigan, many former white-collar workers from Detroit’s automakers are plunging into health care courses and careers.

Anyone who has been out of college for five, 10 or 15 years and is thinking of returning to school has important questions to explore before jumping back in. Many colleges have counselors to advise would-be students, often helping on matters like whether to pursue a degree program like an M.B.A. or go for a certificate program, which sometimes requires four, six or eight courses and attests to attaining a specific expertise, like project management.

“I would go first to an institution that has these kinds of learner representatives to ask these questions, to do the drilling down that helps individuals sort out what is best for them,” said Mary Nichols, dean of the University of Minnesota’s college of continuing education.

Any good continuing education program, Dean Nichols said, takes an individualized approach to its students. “We’re not in the business of steering people toward things,” she said. “We’re in the business of helping people capitalize on their strengths and put together ways to build on their interests and passions.”

Cathy A. Sandeen, dean of continuing education at U.C.L.A., suggested, “Look at trends in your field. Look at your current skills and what do you need to augment your skills to make you more relevant and more attractive in your field.”

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