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As we learn from 2020, the case for furthering your education in 2021

students in a classroom


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics routinely publishes data showing that an individual’s earning power is increased with additional education – not to mention the possibility of more stable employment.  

As we enter 2021, professionals in and around the Asheville area will be finding ways to further skills and talents, update their credentials, and stand out among peers in a competitive job market through continued learning and graduate programs. The nature of our economy is that as jobs fade away in one industry or profession, opportunities attributed to growth and evolution of new industries and technologies create jobs in other fields. Demonstrating the talents, skills, and educational credentials to take advantage of these opportunities is what sets people apart in the applicant pool.

Call it a New Year’s Resolution or a self-investment, or a lesson learned from all that was the year 2020. The opportunity for education is here and more affordable and attainable than ever.  

At Western Carolina University and other regional institutions, there is an increased flexibility with instructional delivery. Learning from home or after work programs have increased across the board, as have hybrid course formats that allow for online learning and hands-on applications in nursing, counseling, and other fields requiring laboratory or clinical instruction. The efficiency and effectiveness of digital platform classes and online and hybrid courses was tested, and proven, during the physical distancing of the pandemic. 

This brings us to the here and now. Job opportunities continue to vary widely across Western North Carolina. Key increasing career trends are seen in health care, business and policy leadership, as well as science, engineering, and technology. It is no secret that the blending and evolution of related fields often leads to job creation. Great examples are the use of technology in teaching environments where web content designers are assisting teachers and school administrators to deliver more effective lessons and course content. Engineers and supply chain experts are increasing the efficiency and reducing the cost of renewable energy installations, and blockchain technology enables people to more easily purchase online and receive groceries, household products, and holiday gifts on their doorsteps. 

While no career track or job choice is immune to the chaos of something like a pandemic, having expanded educational experience offers advantages and choices in an everchanging world. Networking among peers in a graduate program provides opportunities to build experience, develop teamwork skills, and hone personal abilities. All of which broaden job leads and advancement potential, whether you are in an online, hybrid, or in-person graduate program. The evolution of teaching and learning environments in graduate education, sped along by the pandemic, enable students to select the program and the teaching format and pace that works best for them and their busy families. Changes in employment status may suggest that a student enrolls full-time in a graduate program enabling them to earn their credential quickly or to enroll part-time enabling flexibility with work and family commitments. The teamwork skills are what hiring managers and human resource professionals are looking for as we work in an increasingly shifting mosaic of teams and technologies. Since many graduate students are frequently part-time or full-time employees, these students are often able to apply and evaluate their newly learned concepts and skills in their current job, thereby validating and reinforcing program concepts and demonstrating their talent. 

Education is an investment and a wise allocation of time, effort, and money. A graduate degree program can lead to decades of dividends. Not surprisingly, students returning to graduate school typically have the drive, experience, and focus to succeed. Faculty recognize their existing expertise and seek their real-world examples and case studies to demonstrate course concepts and to test hypotheses. Effective graduate teaching and research builds on the range of expertise in the class and increases the collective knowledge and strengthens the critical thinking of all students. Though faculty may be paving the pathway for a course, students often learn and grow as much from each other as they learn, teach, and reinforce fellow students. 

While 2021 will have its challenges, we encourage you to learn and grow by building your educational credentials thereby enabling you to experience a more secure future for yourself, your family, and your community.

Brian Kloeppel is the Dean of the Graduate School and Research at Western Carolina University. Kevan Frazier is an Asheville native and the Executive Director for Western Carolina University’s Asheville Programs located at Biltmore Park. He is also the founder of Asheville by Foot, a local walking tour business in Asheville.

This story was previously published in the Dec. 27, 2020 Asheville Citizen Times.

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