Gettin’ Edu-ma-cated

Our next assignment in the Prior Learning Assessment seminar is goal-setting. The question in my mind lately is: Do I want a degree? Is a degree possible for me? Am I setting myself up for failure if I pursue a degree?

I’m 38. It’s not unusual for people to get degrees at this age. I am more financially able than I was, I would qualify for credit now, and I’m not hinged to my parents under the “parental contribution” rule with student loans.

4 years is 4 years – they’re going to happen if you decide to do something or not. The time will pass.

But… do I want to pursue a degree?

If I did, it would be a social sciences or humanities focus. Would that get me anywhere? If I spend 3-4 years full time on a degree, will it increase my earnings potential? Will it open up jobs that are interesting and positive? Or will I spend a lot of money to be “educated” and gain little as far as earning power and flexibility due to my age at graduation?

An argument is that to be “educated” is a good enough reason to pursue a degree, and I don’t disagree with the sentiment.  I participated in HalifaxThinks, I’m an avid reader, a big supporter of a Liberal Arts education, and keen on being a well-rounded thinker.

But… under the circumstances, is it reasonable for me to pursue a degree?

The reality I face is I am a single woman, likely to stay that way, and I am responsible for making the money I need to survive. I have no safety nets or avenues of support outside of myself with this. There are no long term places to go if I run out of money for medicine or rent – except back to work. I am unlikely to be such a good student that scholarships and grants float my way.

It’s a shame universities only focus on completion of a package of courses that equal degrees.  I know it’s their “thing”, but many people are ashamed they never finished their degrees – their experience hangs on their resumes with a lingering sense of disappointment – a big red flag of “look what I didn’t finish!”

We discussed how to deal with these in the PLA class. Some in class feared putting unfinished degrees on their resume. We all worried about how to word our experience.  One participant had been enrolled for over a decade, taking courses year after year, but didn’t finish her program. In total number, they’d surpass a degree, she said, but she didn’t meet degree requirements because they were too diverse. Why is that not laudable? Why should she feel they had no merit? I have had many individual courses I’m proud of having completed like Drawing at NSCAD, and I can put that on my resume, but am I happy I took Sociology or Political Science at Dal? Not really, because they are considered a part of a bigger thing, which I did not finish, and now those credits are long “expired” and can’t be used for credit any more.

What is it about our educational structures that we can consider a $2000 weekend seminar in project planning or SQL offered by a university’s continuing education section more resume-worthy than years of coursework?

When I was at Saint Mary’s, the Communications Officers were asked to brainstorm about how to get more adults to enroll.  We advised the university to look at what an adult learner was, and whether the university could provide “success” to an adult learner on their terms.  They’ve followed that up with open house sessions at the university for adult learners to discuss their goals and see if a degree is right for them.  That’s a good move.

I think people with the luxury of time and money are able to make taking a degree worthwhile.  I can only imagine people with less money or less time are set up to fail in even the short term because that was my experience.  I also imagine many adults, confronted with the need to take the $681.00 (plus fees, etc) “Introduction to Literature” course, a requirement for any Saint Mary’s degree, might balk at how that will enhance their future success in their fields.  It seems frivolous somehow.

Then again, I did pay $500 for HalifaxThinks (Introduction to the Ancient World, a part of Humanities101).  I had steady employment, it was a one-time course, and it didn’t have any bureaucratic barriers to be considered “complete”.  I can put it on my resume and feel proud.  If I took “Introduction to Literature”, passed, but didn’t finish the degree, would I feel proud?  I probably would not.

[As a edit: When I took HalifaxThinks, two of my family asked me what it would do to enhance my career opportunities, and one thought I was silly to take it at all. So… there’s that too.]

My learning style in the past has been in bursts. I do well in courses, but then life gets in the way for the program as a whole. To embark on a degree seems to be foolhardy considering none of the individual courses matter if I run into trouble with the whole degree. I won’t say never, but for now I will take smaller programs over shorter times, and keep on learning that way, continuously.

Writing

I’ve enrolled in a Fiction Writing workshop for the end of the month with the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia. It’s a big step for me.

The Prior Learning Assessment program I am in now had a task where we needed to write our “Life Story”. I took it seriously, and ended up with over 40,000 words. I’m not even done – it’s crazy! I found a deep pleasure in writing it that I forgot I was capable of.

This blog is a part of a goal to strengthen my writing, and more importantly, my confidence to put it down and out there. Even if no one sees it. :P

As a part of the 40,000 words, I wrote some short stories about my childhood. My friend Susan read some of these, and suggested I submit a piece to the HalifaxHumanities book she was working on, which will be released on May 28th.

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I was a student in HalifaxThinks in 2012, which is a paid version of Humanities101, that acts as a fundraiser for the free part of the program.

It was an excellent experience – we read The Iliad, Gilgamesh, Genesis, The Republic, and other texts from “The Ancient World”.  I gained a love for the Iliad – the dialogue and interactions in it felt like any political campaign or project I’ve been on, filled with egos and human drama.  Of all things I brought out of that course, I think I gained a better appreciation that humanity, for better or worse, has not changed much since Homer wrote about Achilles sitting sulking on the beach.

My short story, “Sorry Mr. Connors!” is in the HalifaxHumanities book.  It’s the first time I’ve ever been “published”, and I’m both scared and a little worried that it must be some mistake.

I’m looking forward to reading all the other stories and pieces from authors as diverse as the students from HalifaxHumanities, to George Elliot Clarke, and Dr. Alexander MacLeod.  See – there must be some mistake!

As I go, I hope to gather up strength to write more.  I think I do have some interesting stories to tell.  There’s some fun ones from my childhood that I’d like to share.  I don’t know who the audience will be yet – maybe it’ll just be this page.  But that’s okay.

Budget Day

Budget day was always big when I worked in the constituency office.  For over 12 years, I worked with Graham Steele, and he was either Finance Critic or Finance Minister.  It was a day filled with energy – certainly not always positive, but usually with some “oomph” or key points where optimism could be found.

Reading the social media reaction to the budget, the negativity is universal – whatever side is spinning. Even the party in power’s message is overlaid with a cloud of doom.  There is no positivism, no talk of growth.  There isn’t even a “we’re in this together” message.  The only talk is about cuts, and sacrifice, and of painful choices.

Last year, the province released demographic numbers that showed a shark-like bite in the 20-40 range of people in Nova Scotia – an increasing demographic of people not working for Nova Scotia.  The message has been that Nova Scotia needed people to come back – to make, and to spend – their money here.

As it is, I know many people who are underemployed in Nova Scotia – working in jobs that are far below their skill levels, for far less than they should be worth.  Looking around, it’s difficult to see where the jobs are – where they exist, they are not the income a person would expect to make after 10, 15 years of experience.  Living here has been seen to be a benefit of its own, and moving is hard on a family.  But the benefits of living here seem to be disappearing.

People who are mobile, young, interested in building their skills, and not yet burdened with a house or kids in school have no incentive to stay.  It’s no longer just the men who go “out west” and leave families behind, sending back money and hoping for better days and work “back home”.   People aren’t coming back.

My incentive here is my family, but I often think it’s just inertia and unfamiliarity holding me back from actively searching in other provinces.  That’s changing – as I continue my job hunt, I am looking more often at other province’s job listings and apartment rentals.

I’m lucky to have the level of mobility I do. I have no kids, and no financial encumbrances here, no house to sell, and an apartment I could leave with three months notice.

All I need is a job offer in my field and a plane ticket, and I’ll very likely take the leap.