The Cost of Going Back to School as an Adult

By Kerry Hannon

"Career shifts typically require a skill boost and a sizable tuition tab that can be tough to fund, and an increasing number of workers are facing that reality whether they’re heading back to school to follow a passion or out of necessity.
"In the United States, 16 million to 54 million workers may need to switch occupational group by 2030, and they will need to learn new skills or increase their level of education in order to find work, according to a recent McKinsey Global Institute Report…
"And the ultimate price tag can be considerable. A graduate course at a public four-year college can run upward of $700 per credit.A single course at a private college can top $3,300. A master’s degree can easily set someone back anywhere from $20,000 to more than $100,000. A certificate program might run the gamut from $3,000 if done entirely online to $12,000 for on-campus credit hours, not including textbooks.
"While some students can cover tuition bills with personal savings, there are many resources available for adult learners, ranging from tax breaks to grants, scholarships, low-interest loans and reduced tuition…
"Roughly half of employers offer tuition assistance to employees, according to the Society for Human Resource Management.These programs can provide employees up to $5,250 each year, not counted as taxable income — and the contribution doesn’t have to be marked to a full-degree program.
"This route, however, can be tricky if someone is eyeing the exit.Some employers may impose restrictions such as taking courses that relate to the current job and requiring an employee to work a certain length of time after taking the course…
"For many adult learners, though, student loans may be the only resource.There’s no age limit for a subsidized financial aid, and part-time students are also eligible…
"Scholarships, discounts and grants for older students are usually offered by associations, colleges, religious groups, and foundations. Fastweb, an online scholarship database, provides details…
"Home equity loans may be an option for some students, but under the new tax law, the interest on the amount borrowed is deductible only if it is used to buy, build or substantially improve the taxpayer’s home, and there is usually a set time frame when the entire amount must be repaid.
"Retirement savings can also be tempting to tap. But many financial advisers caution clients against using retirement funds to pay education expenses. "Unless you’ve saved enough for retirement, this can be a very risky venture, particularly if your new career doesn’t pay a lot," Ms.Rush said…
"Many 401(k) plans allow participants to borrow up to half the vested balance, or $50,000, whichever is less.Typically, the loans charge an interest rate that’s a percentage point or two above the prime lending rate.Similar rules apply to 403(b) and 457 plans.The hitch: Funds from a 401(k) will normally need to be repaid when the employee leaves…
"Meanwhile, it’s possible to negotiate for an accelerated degree that can lower the cost.A college might waive some required courses because of "experiential" credit learned through work and life."