Recent Unemployed Becoming a 'Class' of Their Own

By Alicia Alford

education-for-unemployedLast year at this time Patricia Brown was a television producer in one of the top markets in the country. Today, she's back in the classroom, pursuing a career in education.

Just like more than 7 million other Americans, the recession left Brown without a job. Determined not to develop a "woe is me" attitude about unemployment, Brown, as well as many adults in her position, are opting to go back to school.

"I was concerned because I hadn't been in college since 1984," said Brown, "but I did want to explore something else prior to getting laid off, so it actually came at a great time."

-- See the average salaries for workers with a master's in education.

At 48, Brown is in her prime. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, 95-year-old Nola Ochs is noted as the oldest person to graduate from college, and now at 98, she's broken her original record by receiving her master's degree in liberal studies from Fort Hays State University.

Whether the goal is to sharpen their skills or to learn a completely different trade, these "nontraditional" students believe that for them, now is a better time than ever to continue their education. Many adults find jumping back into a scholastic setting in the 21st century a challenge, however. Unlike the 20-somethings seated around them, these students have marriages, children, and bills to balance while maintaining their GPA.

Real-world experience

Despite a list of obstacles that would discourage many people from returning to the classroom, Brown believes that her years of real-world experience and raising her 17-year-old daughter give her an edge on her new career path.

"I think I probably have an advantage over younger students who went straight to graduate school because I already had a child who's gone through the school system," said Brown. "I know how kids are, and I think I will have a better command of the classroom."

In January, Brown enrolled into a master of education program at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania. Another area school, Central Penn, has seen a 20 percent rise of older students in the past year, many of them seeking entirely new career paths, ones that have not succumbed to the recession.

Brown had worked in the communications field for 23 years. She lost a TV news production job that she held for 14 years in July 2009, but took it in stride. Brown knew she was ready for something more.

"When I first got into the business, I wanted to be able to make a difference in people's lives," said Brown. "Based on the way the television business has changed, I didn't feel that I was making the kind of impact on people's lives that I wanted to."

Putting the time off to good use

During the time between the layoff and going back to college, Brown had the freedom to do what she wanted to do. She used her production skills to create a video bio for an author, got her church's newsletter off the ground, and even created a documentary about a missionary trip she took to Uganda.

"That trip was in itself amazing and life altering," said Brown. "That one or two months of working on that documentary was more fulfilling than the entire 14 years that I had spent in television."

At this point in her life, Brown's focus is pursuing a career that allows her to give back to her community.

"I want to work as an educator in an urban setting or the inner city," said Brown. "If I'm going to give back, I'd like to work right in the community that I live in."

Brown is using her previous employer's tuition reimbursement plan to pursue a new life. Despite her current circumstances, to her, the future looks pretty good.

"I'm probably one of the happiest laid off people that there is," Brown said. "I'm very excited about doing something different and being able to give back. I'm really excited about the possibilities to help young kids and being a role model. I'm really excited about that."

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