I love to learn. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mom taking my siblings and me to the Monroeville Public Library during the summer, where Mrs. Elliott would help me check out the maximum number of books each week.
A recent picture in the paper of parents and students checking out large stacks of books before the pandemic closed the libraries brought back these memories and made me smile.
As an adult, I have an even deeper appreciation for the impact and importance of lifelong learning. In my role at Indiana Tech, my job is to support college-bound learners of all ages. A college degree generates a significant return on investment throughout an individual's life. While much attention has been given to the downside of college debt, borrowing for college, when done with a plan, is an investment that pays dividends.
Every student considering college should start by filling out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) form. Then, seek out and take advantage of grants that might be available. Grants are essentially free money. They can be based on what you plan to study, where you're from, the schools you're considering, your income level and a wide range of other factors.
Scholarships are a second source of free money. Your employer may have a tuition assistance program to help you earn a degree or a certification that will advance your skills. Many schools offer academic and athletic scholarships. Churches, civic organizations and foundations are sources of scholarships, too.
Once you account for these sources of support, only borrow the money you need. It's likely to be less than you first thought.
This same approach to planning for college can support your lifelong learning, too. In today's economy, keeping your skills and knowledge up to date, and learning new skills, is essential. Just like earning your degree, with a plan in place, you can continue to invest in yourself and your skills throughout your life. It's never too late to start.
Many students I've known have gone on to work on an advanced degree following graduation. Others choose to invest in themselves and their career after some years of experience. I'm just one example – I earned my MBA recently after years of balancing my job with my family focus as a mom raising three kids. An advanced degree is a wonderful way to invest in yourself to earn that promotion or to simply show yourself that you can.
Just as important, lifelong learning goes well beyond the classroom. It's an investment in yourself beyond your career. It helps improve your quality of life, and there are so many ways to keep learning.
Our region continues to have the great, free library system I remember from my youth. Podcasts, audiobooks and webinars are often free and just a click away. Our area universities have ample opportunities for classes on everything from career skills to cooking to photography and more. And we live in a time when we are blessed with loads of information literally at our fingertips through a device that we still call a phone, but which is more like a supercomputer.
During my time working at home during the pandemic, I signed up for an online wine class through a vineyard in California's Napa Valley. What could be more fun than spending time learning about grape juice with others from around the world?
Many museums, from our own wonderful Fort Wayne Museum of Art to places such as the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy and the Guggenheim Museum in New York are offering online tours. These opportunities and many more like them are free and open to everyone. Take advantage of them!
It's possible I may have first read the following quote from Albert Einstein in one of the books Mrs. Elliott helped me check out all those years ago. Regardless, it resonates with me. Einstein quipped, “Learning is not a product of schooling but the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”
We are never too young or too old to learn. Invest your time. Find the support that's out there for you. Be a lifelong learner. You're worth it.
Judy K. Roy serves as executive vice president for finance and administration at Indiana Tech.