Valley Works: Going back to school

FRESNO, Calif.

Cindy Steele, executive director of Fresno Pacific University's regional centers says over the last two years the university has seen a huge growth in its adult population.

Over 23-hundred students attending classes at one of the FPU's five different campuses. The vast majority of them are back in college to complete their bachelor's degrees.

Steele said, "Our students are coming back to us that would like to complete their degree and saying that my employer is requesting that I complete my degree."

Many workers are learning that they need a degree if they want to advance in the workplace. That's the situation 42-year-old Bernard Jimenez faced. "It was probably three years ago that it dawned on me that I was really going to have to get that four year degree if I was going to advance in the county."

When Jimenez started working for Fresno County as an analyst 17 years ago -- his two year degree from a community college was adequate -- the position didn't require a bachelor's degree. Jimenez says getting hired was more about your experience. "Luckily, I had worked in the private sector so the experience I gained qualified me for the position."

Several years ago Fresno County as well as many other agencies updated job descriptions requiring bachelor degrees for positions that once didn't request a degree.

Steele says the additional education is needed because jobs have changed, and employers want workers who can think. "They need employees who can problem solve, they need employees who can write and they need employees who can critically think."

Jimenez also believes it has to do with the competitive job market, there are so many qualified people looking for work, employers have their pick and they want the best. For this long time county employee, who just graduated, the degree paid off immediately. "I was able to promote almost immediately after completing my degree."

The unemployment rate for people with at least a bachelor's degree is also lower, around four-percent. And college grads often command higher salaries, but if you have been laid off, college degree or not, it is still tough to land a new job.

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