I didn't recognize the plain white cardboard envelope resting between the screen and front doors—a non-descript, slender package with "do not bend" stamped in red on the front. I could have mistaken it for any number of mail-order envelopes with cheap, used books inside. I broke the seal and peered in.
My delight was instantaneous. Inside was a single sheet of white paper resting in a clear plastic cover. I had nearly forgotten its promised arrival. Feet dancing, hands pumping above my head, my celebration was a simultaneous outpouring of relief and joy. After years of hard work and sacrifice—mine as well as my husband's— my master's degree was acknowledged on paper with ink.
It had been nearly four years since I decided to return to school. The coursework and graduate project that followed were challenging and difficult. Some days, writing, reading, and weeping late into the night, I could hardly remember why I went back. But sorting through the reasons why I wanted to return in advance of my decision was what gave me the strength and determination to finish.
Hope, promise, and payback
When I explored the opportunity to return to school, I was one of many women who were flooding post-secondary institutions. Adult women returning to school was already a growing national trend, but the recession caused an additional surge.
Women of all ages were attending colleges and universities in large numbers. Degree attainment statistics between men and women had shifted in both bachelor and graduate programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of women completing bachelor's degrees had increased over men by 7 percent since the mid-1990s, and women completing graduate degrees had outpaced men by 3 percent over the same period.
More relevant to me was the number of people over the age of 35. The NCES predicts that people in this age demographic enrolled in degree programs would exceed 4.1 million by 2015. According to ABC News, we "middle-agers" strongly believe that post-secondary education improves the quality of life by providing higher pay and better opportunities.