As a working adult with an extremely busy life, why do you want to complete your college degree? This is a question that our admission professionals ask prospective students. It’s a question that we’ll ask you when you come for your campus tour. A typical response to this question is focused on money as a prime motivator, and that’s okay. We would all be less than honest if we answered any other way. Really, who doesn’t want a promotion, an increase in pay, a new job – all the things that earning an undergraduate or advanced degree may provide? But…
Let’s drill down a bit. What if, in addition to the tangible benefits mentioned, returning to college provided intangible outcomes related to more deeply-seated needs? What if, in addition to fiscal rewards, you found your purpose – your life began to make sense? What if, perhaps for the first time in a long time, you felt like you belonged? These are things that we adults are hungry for and, for adults, these are things that an experience at a Christian college or university can provide.
So, my contention is that the outcome of your college experience may be a more fulfilled life. Psychologist Abraham Maslow proposed that when our needs for food, safety, self-esteem, and even love are met, another level of needs and associated motivators come into play. He called this the need for “self-actualization.” Maslow recognized that once we think we’ve arrived, there’s still a ways to go… that finding satisfaction in the tangibles will still leave us searching for something deeper. What might that “something deeper” be?
As an observer of adult learners (and as an adult learner myself), I feel that a major driver for us to try something as potentially daunting as returning to college is we want to figure out our purpose in life. As a young adult with a master degree from a state university, I still had no real sense of my life’s purpose. It wasn’t until I experienced deep dissatisfaction with the direction of my career in a state government agency that I was prompted to investigate why, as a Christian, I was so unhappy with my work. There was a huge disconnect between my work and my faith, and I couldn’t understand why. About this time, I became a part-time faculty member at a Christian college. It was there I was confronted for the first time with the concept of “Biblical Worldview.” I learned, among so many other things, that my work in a government agency was a calling from God – that one didn’t have to be in “church-related” work to be useful to God. He wanted me in state government. Needless to say, this game-changing insight about my purpose was a result of my connection with a Christian college. I didn’t find it in my six years of education at a state university.
In addition to a desire to find purpose in life, adult learners may consider a return to college because they’re looking to make sense of what appears to be their fragmented worlds – things in their lives that don’t seem related to a larger meaning. Adults want to “connect the dots” so to speak. Why the divorce, the job loss, the illness, the death of a spouse…of a child? Returning to college offers the opportunity for new experiences – for a different platform from which adults can ask questions and even express doubts they otherwise wouldn’t feel comfortable expressing in other settings. Christian colleges do this well. In a secular university setting, there’s nothing outside of our life experiences to which we can connect. In a Christian college, our students find that a loving and purposeful God resides above our disappointments. Meaning is found in our connection with Him.
I’ve noticed that adults seem to find “community” in their return to college, so I offer “a search for belonging” as an additional motivator for returning to college. At Belhaven, community happens through the relationships we build with our adult students. We teach, advise, listen to, and most of all, pray for our students. God has created us to be social creatures, yet we adults struggle to rise above our feelings of aloneness in the world. The answer to what, at times, feels like a solitary existence, is the connectivity we feel in an environment in which others actually care for us. At Belhaven we strive to build communities in which our students feel loved, accepted, and listened to. Relationships are top-of-mind with us.
If you’re an adult thinking about completing your college degree, here’s what I hope your takeaway will be from reading this post. You will benefit greatly from completing your degree. The development of your professional skills that results from your coursework will have a positive impact on your employer. The new job, promotion, or salary increase that may follow earning a college degree will result in measurable benefits for your family, community, and church. However, pursuing these outcomes aren’t the only reasons adults return to college. We want something more, and the benefits of finding one’s purpose, of understanding the “big picture,” and finding a caring community are definitely worth the pursuit.