This blog will chronicle the trials of a WGU student as he strives to reinvent himself in the face of the biggest financial crisis since the great depression. As this journey begins, there will no doubt be times of anxiety tempered with the pride of achievement and hope for a better tomorrow.
Who am I, and why am I here?
My story begins just months before the economic collapse and ensuing unemployment crisis. Until then, I had been happily employed 7 years as a systems administrator / web developer for a marketing firm specializing in retail.
I entered the IT field at the height of the dot-com boom, with only a high school education and advanced knowledge of servers and web development. I continued to refine my skills, until one day in 2007 it was casually mentioned to our new General Manager, that I did not have a college degree. A few months passed when I got the call to meet with the new GM and the CEO. The meeting began with a review of my educational background, and ended with the statement…”We’ve decided to restructure with a preference for higher education”. The CEO did make an offer to provide some tuition assistance for me, but going back to school part time would have meant that I had no extra time to stay up to date on current and emerging technologies. Everyone in IT knows that current skills = marketable skills. I simply could not imagine how studying sociology (for example) would help me build better web apps or better networks. Seven productive years ended that day with a good reference and an unemployment check.
Laid off, not because of my work or ability, but because they wanted to expand and I lacked a college degree! So I hit the job market, hopeful that someone with my skills could find a better job at better pay rather quickly. Interview after interview ended with the understanding that I needed some IT certifications before being deemed “a safe bet” to re-enter the workforce. Suddenly, my experience didn’t seem to matter at all.
I stared obtaining certifications… It all started with the CompTIA A+ certification, which lead to the CompTIA Network+ certification. Just for good measure, I also obtained the MCP Microsoft Windows certification. These certs did lead to another job in the field which entailed working for a granite company with supplementary IT duties. With a new baby on the way, I jumped at the chance to accept this job offer, even though this new job paid 25% less than the job I held at the marketing firm. This all ended abruptly in early 2011 with the company closing, and the owners moving back to their native country. (South Korea)
Ok, I stood up, brushed myself off, and prepared to get right back in the saddle. I was in for a wake-up call! Here I was, approaching middle age, with a family to support, and there are virtually no jobs available!! The few jobs that ARE available read, “bachelors degree required”. Is this a good time to panic?
A new normal or catch 22?
After about 4 weeks of bone dry job leads, I was able to land a job in the field I had been in years before doing manual labor (warehousing). I’m back to driving forklifts and unloading trucks, and I’m happy to have it! However, the logistics are a bit tough. The job requires a 2 hour commute (1 hour each way) and is on 3rd shit (night shift). This is the type of job that is physically demanding. I come home after each shift completely wiped out, so I crash into bed until it’s time to get up and do it all over again. I’ve been stuck in this kind of catch 22 before, where you’re caught in a cycle of sleep and work, sleep and work, with no time left over for anything else.
For better or worse, the new “normal” in the new job market is to require an associates degree or higher for almost any job not in the service sector. My warehouse supervisor, (who enjoys a climate controlled office) is going to the University of Phoenix seeking a degree to improve her life. Her part time school schedule has her projected graduation date set 7 1/2 years into the future. I can’t imagine spending 7 1/2 years worth of tuition money to complete a bachelor’s degree while working full time and while raising a family. I do know people who say they have done it, and I highly admire those people. Add the prospect of a master’s degree to the mix, and we’re looking at 10 years or more to finish school! Yikes! 7-10 years is a long, long time! I’ve gotta get moving. I’ve gotta get moving fast!
I know it will be hard, I know it will be time consuming, and I know it will be expensive, but continuing my education seems like the best thing to consider at this point in life. This prospect leads to 3 direct questions.
1. How much will it cost?
2. Can I do the work? I haven’t done school work in a very long time!
3. How quickly can I get this done?
The WGU Advantage
I’ve been researching various schools, and it seems that tuition costs have exploded into the stratosphere! Add a time commitment to the cost, and college seems almost impossible! I stumbled on this school called Western Governors’ University. They charge a flat tuition rate and allow each student to accelerate as quickly as motivation and ability will allow. Best of all, they offer a bachelors degree in Information Technology!
One thing is for sure, I’ve got the motivation. My Wife and I make the decision to live on rice and beans for a period of time, while I become a stay at home dad, and give this college thing a try. For practical and financial reasons, we decide that I should focus mainly on school, and get that knocked out as quickly as humanly possible.
Am I ready? Yes! As stated earlier, I have the motivation, I have the ability, and I have the drive. So driven, in fact, that I’m prepared to work 16 hours a day 7 days a week if needed so as to get this college thing done. We get everything set up so I can start on April 1st 2011. Until then, I’ll study as much math as possible so as to feel prepared for the journey ahead. Calculus *sigh*…here we go!