Bachelor's-to-associate path offers affordable career redesigns

Guy Haines did it, and so did Mike Stepp. Count Jennifer VanAntwerp in, too. Don’t forget about Ehren Schouweiler; he’s in the process of joining their ranks.

These college graduates have challenged conventional thinking in higher education, and now they are celebrating the rewards for having done so.

Rather than embrace the mentality that advancing one’s future always requires ongoing degree-climbing, they chose to earn associate degrees from Ivy Tech Community College Northeast after completing a bachelor’s degree elsewhere. Schouweiler, an exception, is working toward a technical certificate.

Their independent actions speak to the same occupational conclusion: The ideal road to career enhancement and job satisfaction isn’t always paved with a graduate degree.

An investment in graduate school can certainly have merit, though—as Haines and Schouweiler can attest given their master’s degrees—but it often provides no easy guarantees toward in-demand employment or a larger salary when compared to other educational opportunities, especially in light of a substantially higher price tag and a more time-intensive commitment when earning a graduate degree.

DEGREES OF INDEBTEDNESS

Additional student loan debt is the last thing Haines wanted to consider as he evaluated his next professional move.

“Although I worked throughout both my bachelor’s and master’s programs, it took me several years to determine that the field of arts management, although personally fulfilling, was not going to yield a paycheck big enough to pay back the extensive student loans I accrued, let alone come close to supporting myself,” he says.

In response, Haines returned to college to pursue a career in healthcare. He’s now a registered nurse in the ICU at Fort Wayne’s Parkview Regional Medical Center. 

This bachelor’s-to-associate journey has become an emerging trend in higher education. A 2007–08 National Post-Secondary Student Aid Study estimates that 8 percent of students entering community colleges had already completed a bachelor’s degree.

Ivy Tech Northeast’s comparative data during the past five years is more modest. About 2.5–4 percent of all entering students reported having a post-secondary award, with approximately 1.5 percent of that group defining the award as a bachelor’s degree or higher.

ECONOMIC INDICATORS

For a variety of reasons, the bachelor’s-to-associate decision has gained momentum among people due to the nation’s long-standing economic slump, as well as related and unrelated circumstances ranging from unemployment and underemployment to career changes and skill-set updates.

By choosing Ivy Tech Northeast, VanAntwerp identified a means to rejuvenate her self-worth. When VanAntwerp, a music teacher, and her husband returned to Indiana from Texas to start a family, she realized she needed another 18 credit hours to be certified to teach in the Hoosier state. She had little desire to return to a college classroom at the time.

“Five years later, and two kids later, my daughter asked me what I did at work. My answer to her was ‘I work in a bank....’ She asked if I ran the bank. I responded, ‘No, the bank runs me.’  That’s when I decided to make a change,” VanAntwerp says.

Like Haines, she studied nursing, which she refers to as her “true calling,” and coincidentally accepted a registered nurse position alongside him in the ICU this summer.

In contrast to VanAntwerp, Stepp’s rationale for additional schooling has been to include teaching opportunities. He decided to expand the technology prowess from his undergraduate studies in electrical engineering to include the people-oriented field of massage therapy.

“I was interested in healthcare subject matter and wanted to help others,” says Stepp, whose multifaceted career now includes technical consulting, working as a private practice massage therapist, and teaching massage therapy and industrial technology classes part time at Ivy Tech Northeast.

WEIGHING DECISIONS

Ivy Tech Northeast Admissions Director Robyn Boss says she encourages all bachelor’s-to-associate prospects to look past any potential social stigma that may arise from choosing an associate degree, technical certificate, or certificate after having completed a bachelor’s degree—a move that defies logic to some critics.

“I think it’s all about choosing the path that works best for them and fits their needs, regardless of the level of education,” Boss says. “They may have earned a bachelor’s degree, but narrowing in on a specific area and earning a certificate may benefit them exponentially.”

Schouweiler is a product of this advice.

He is developing his technical competencies through a technical certificate in computer information systems. As a self-employed day trader and financial analyst, his work requires him to be familiar with custom spreadsheets, data mining, and certain programming languages.

“Five to six years ago, these responsibilities were handled by IT. Now, employers are looking to consolidate these duties,” says Schouweiler, who aims to make himself more marketable in his profession.

His atypical choice regarding further education has led him down a different path. Yet like his peers, Schouweiler’s no-regrets decision appears to have made sense—and saved cents.


Guy Haines
Occupation: Registered nurse in the ICU at Parkview Regional Medical Center


Mike Stepp
Occupation: Technical consultant and private practice massage therapist, who also teaches massage therapy and industrial technology classes part time at Ivy Tech Northeast


Ehren Schouweiler
Occupation: Self-employed day trader and financial analyst


Jennifer VanAntwerp
Occupation: Registered nurse in the ICU at Parkview Regional Medical Center