Getting by with no education?
SALISBURY — To spend less time pounding the pavement, Candice Daugherty is hitting the books.
Daugherty, of Salisbury, lost her nursing assistant job in the spring of 2009.
“There are always nursing opportunities out there. I was always able to get another job,” she said.
But this time, she couldn’t find one right away. And with a GED and a Certified Nursing Assistant certificate, the jobs she qualified for would barely pay the bills.
“I’d been doing this for 14 years, and I could make enough money to sustain my family, but it was paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “The two months I had to wait for unemployment, that’s the two months that I lost our house.”
After becoming unemployed and homeless as a single mother of two, Daugherty knew she needed to go back to school somehow to truly support her family.
Carol Spalding, president of Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, said many people are realizing the same thing.
“Unemployment is not fair. It’s harder on someone without a bachelor’s degree,” Spalding said. “The truth is that the more education you have, the less likely you are to be unemployed, and the more money you make.”
In the two counties the college serves, the unemployment rate for someone who didn’t finish high school is 21 percent, according to 2011 data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey. For high school graduates, it’s 16 percent.
Only 3 percent of people with bachelor’s degrees in the two counties are unemployed.
Spalding said Rowan and Cabarrus counties have gone through significant changes in the past couple of decades.
“When the textile mills were here, this was a manufacturing-type area,” Spalding said. “Places like Phillip Morris paid good wages, and you didn’t have to have the higher education level that other jobs required.”
Then, the tobacco, textile and furniture industries either shrank or moved their operations overseas. Some of the region’s largest employers left their workers unemployed with skills they couldn’t use anywhere else.
In both counties combined, Census data shows that just over one in five adults have at least a bachelor’s degree.
It also shows that they are earning an average of $37,376 per year, compared to $22,621 for a high school graduate and just $16,514 for those who never complete high school.
With the help of Rowan Helping Ministries, which housed her and her sons, Daugherty enrolled in Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in the fall of 2009. She receives financial aid through the Workforce Investment Act.
She said she felt God telling her in church one day to take business courses.
Her first semester, she failed every course except the one in business.
“It took me three semesters just to get acclimated to studying again, learning what’s going on and using the computer,” she said.
But now, she’s on track to transfer to a four-year university this year. Daugherty has signed another two-year contract with a branch of the Eagle’s Nest program at Rowan Helping Ministries, which gives her a place to stay and helps pay a portion of her bills.
Her “pre-major” is in business administration, and she said she’s still deciding on a career.
Daugherty said she still can’t believe what she’s been able to accomplish, and she encourages others looking for jobs to seek more education.
“Even if it’s not a four-year college, you still need to look into getting some type of certification or something, learning how to move into the next century with the workforce,” she said.
Keri Allman, director of Rowan-Cabarrus’ R3 career center in Kannapolis, agreed.
“Some people are under the misconception that they have to go into a two-year program or a four-year program or something along those lines to update their skills or education,” Allman said. “In today’s work search, credentialing is very key.”
That includes earning a specific credential for Microsoft Office or another in-demand skill, she said.
Different careers have different educational requirements and salary ranges, Allman said, but most employers want to know that workers have the modern skills that they need. Spalding agreed.
“Part of what education does for you is give you skills that are transferrable,” Spalding said. “Today’s 21st-century skills include things like critical thinking, problem solving, creativity and communication.”
Livingstone College student Ramona Hart said it is hard in this economy to find work, but she doesn’t think it’s harder for people without bachelor’s degrees.
The kind of work they can find, though, may not be what they’re looking for.
Hart, 41, moved to Salisbury in July from Atlanta, where she had lived for most of her life.
She had worked in Atlanta’s school system for 10 years, first as a paraprofessional and then as a school clerk. She always wanted to be a teacher, but she didn’t have the required degree.
When her school was set to close, the system asked her to reapply for her position. By that time, her two children were grown.
“I decided I didn’t want to spend the next 20 years answering the telephone,” Hart said.
Hart was familiar with Livingstone because both of her parents attended school there. She decided to move and enroll in its night and weekend program for adults.
“I like the fact that I’m going to school with people who are the same age as me and in the same kind of situation as me,” she said. “I didn’t realize how much I was going to love it.”
Hart began looking for work at the beginning of this year, after finishing her first semester. Now, she said she’s close to starting work as a substitute teacher.
She hopes to graduate with an education degree in 2015 and begin teaching. Eventually, she said, she wants to go on to get a master’s degree and a doctorate, in order to become a high school counselor.
Herman Fisher, 55, of Salisbury, also is taking night and weekend classes at Livingstone while working as a veterans’ liaison at the Salisbury VA Medical Center.
Fisher said he left high school to join the Army because he couldn’t afford college. When he returned more than two years later, he bounced around from job to job, eventually finding steady work at Cannon Mills until it shut down in 2003 as Pillowtex.
Suddenly, he realized that there weren’t many opportunities out there for a mill worker without a high school diploma.
After earning his GED at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, Fisher started working for the VA hospital in housekeeping five years ago. He soon became a driver before entering the rural health program, where now he travels to 24 counties talking to veterans about VA services.
He wants to earn his social worker’s degree to be able to help them more directly.
“It’s a talent that I’m able to relate and comfort and talk and have compassion to love people,” Fisher said.
Fisher is still in his first year at Livingstone. Hee said he enjoys it, and he’s trying to help other veterans go back to school.
“I’m pursuing my dream,” he said.
Daniel Dye, 28, spent a year out of high school working as an electrician’s apprentice before going to college. He earned an electrical certificate, then went back to get his associate’s degree in an online distance learning program.
The Salisbury resident is now five months away from earning his bachelor’s degree in business management.
During the day, Dye works as an assistant manager at a Verizon Wireless store in Statesville. On certain evenings and weekends, he attends classes at Catawba College.
“I’m going back for greater opportunity and more pay,” Dye said. “I wouldn’t even have gotten this job if I didn’t have an (associate’s degree).”
Dye said Catawba’s block scheduling helps him manage work, school and family. He takes one class per month, finishing one after the other, instead of all of them at once.
Terelle Augustin, a Cleveland resident, began her studies at Catawba in August 2008 and graduated in May 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
“I probably went as far as I could go without having a college degree,” she said.
Before she enrolled at Catawba, she was working as a site supervisor for the county’s nutrition program. Now, she’s the head of the program at Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, with a lot more responsibility and a bigger salary to go with it.
Augustin said it was difficult working during the day and going to school at night while raising two children, but she was supported by friends and family.
“Everything that I gave up for the last three years, it was worth it,” she said. “It really, truly was worth it.”
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