Many Going Back to School

August: a time of fresh notebook paper, scientific calculators and new pencils. It’s time to go back to school. But as the job market continues to be tough, the make up of students flooding school grounds includes more than 6- to 18-year-olds.

Places that provide graduate studies and continuing education courses throughout the region are seeing a trend in the number of people enrolling. Whether they’re trying to change careers completely or just gain a competitive edge, both college students and professionals seem to be diversifying their training.

Photo by Elliott Doolittle

Switching It Up
Walt Bratcher worked in the construction industry for 20 years. He co-owned a drafting service and a construction company, both out of Ocala. As the industry started to tank, he sold off his ownership in each of his businesses and tried to make it on his own. He looked for jobs here and there, but the construction industry was completely falling apart. He was fed up.

Bratcher decided to make a switch. He enrolled in some courses at New Horizons Computer Learning Center and gained the skills necessary to be hired as the IT manager at Prioria Robotics, Inc.

“Basically, the training I had there let me completely change career paths,” he says.

Bratcher’s story is one that has been seen time and again by those in the continuing education world.

“We’ve noticed a slight increase [in enrollment], and some of that increase are people who have lost their jobs and are going back to school or are preparing themselves for when the market gets a little better,” says Mike Fallon, the community relations coordinator at Webster University in Ocala.

At the Ocala campus, which offers master’s degrees in business and counseling fields, Fallon says their goal is make those students more marketable in the new shape of the job force.

Photo by Elliott Doolittle

The same is true at New Horizons Computer Learning Center, where courses are geared toward training people interested in information technology.

“Most of our students are career-changers of sort,” says Ted Gilson, the student services director.

People are drawn to programs like that of Webster University and New Horizons because of something the two have in common: convenience. At Webster, courses are in the evening, and at New Horizons, they’re online.

“It’s doable because you can have a life and go back to school,” Fallon says.

Courses are taught at an accelerated rate, which is helpful when the people taking the classes are in need of a job. In some cases, students used to be in the military and are learning ways to apply their training to a job in the civilian world.

For some, going to school for a master’s is not just about convenience and career change; it’s a life change.

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