Investing in higher education

There is no dearth of options to top up one's paper qualifications.

Private schools - several of whom have partnered reputable overseas institutions - now offer an array of full-time and part-time courses from those institutions, including universities. The fields of study range from accounting to advertising.

But the desire to succeed in the paper chase is just part of a matrix of factors that working adults should weigh before taking the plunge.

Look before you leap

One issue is the degree of financial commitment, which runs into the thousands and varies widely depending on the course and level of education.

To relieve the cost of study, several private schools offer access to bursaries, grants and scholarships. Banks furnish education loans too, and offer credit cards with interest- free instalment payment plans.

Mr Albert Lam, the managing director of investment and research at IPP Financial Advisers, says that a student can consider study loans to defray the cost of a programme.

But the borrowings "should not be used to meet financial obligations concerning the day-to-day expenses that might be incurred in pursuing the programme".

A working adult should also consider the loss of income and "the ability to fund any existing commitments on partial or no income" if he decides to study full-time.

"Furthermore, there has to be significant value attached to staying in touch with the industry and keeping abreast of changes and developments, which can only come from being directly involved in the profession.

Studying full-time will have an impact on that," he says.

The returns to be reaped from the diploma or degree also deserve mulling over.

Mr Lam says that factors to consider include increased earning potential and age. For example, a younger adult may enjoy higher earning potential as he may remain in the workforce over a longer period, and may find it easier to get hired compared to an older adult.

He adds that "ultimately, the amount of Return On Investment (ROI) realisable lies in how much specialised knowledge, or paper qualifications or accreditation might be required by the industry the individual would like to operate in".

A PSB Academy spokesman adds that ROI measurement requires considerations such as the ranking and recognition accorded to the universities, and suitability - whether the chosen course is "strong on relevant learning" that ensures it matches a student's needs, current career situation or future career goals.

Make the right decision

Ms Easter Weiss, the programme director of the University at Buffalo's Executive MBA programme offered at SIM Global Education, says: "Working adults should always consider first what their priorities are in deciding to pursue post-graduate studies as that will enable them to filter out unsuitable programmes."

So those keen on starting a business should look for programmes that provide training in entrepreneurship, while courses with substantial financial content suit those who specifically seek to sharpen their financial acumen.

She says: "I also recommend that you ask to speak with a graduate of the programme, preferably one from your industry or organisation.

They will be able to provide first-hand examples of the returns and value you can anticipate."

Potential students will also have more time to secure funding options by applying early for school. Pointing to United States statistics that link better pay to qualifications, she adds that advanced education is one of the best investments, but choose your programme carefully and be prepared to work for it.

Mr Gabriel Low, who recently graduated with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the University of Newcastle, agrees that it is vital to scrutinise the commitment of the private school and the university.

Besides soliciting alumni reviews, due diligence entails checking the targeted university's ranking and evaluating the institutional commitment towards teaching the course well.

Mr Low, a chief financial officer, says: "There are hidden costs - lost time and sunken costs - if something goes wrong, for example, the discontinuation of courses. In this case, students could be left in the lurch, having completed only part of the course and investing hours of time."

Ms Weiss adds: "We have had students enrolled in our programme who already had an MBA, but felt they didn't get what they needed in terms of knowledge, skills and network out of the first one."

Steer your future

Eventually, one's climb up the career ladder also depends on his personal attributes.

Mr Leon Choong, the executive vice-president of Kaplan Singapore, says: "A degree or professional qualification opens doors for graduates to enter the workforce. Their career success is still very much dependent on other factors, such as attitude, experience and drive."

A spokesman from the SMF Institute of Higher Learning adds: "Education is a life-long investment and as the courses can stretch over one to three years, those seeking to further their education must be prepared to make changes to their lifestyle and get support from their family members."

Ms Katrina Chen, 23, who is pursuing a full-time finance degree, has family support from her parents who partially fund her studies - they want her to earn a degree. The former businesswoman advises those keen on further studies to "consider why they want to further their studies - for personal development or for career advancement - and also to weigh whether the ROI is worth it in the long run".

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