Night School

Starting later this month, I will be taking a class, “Writing for Digital Media,” the first of three courses that comprise the Certificate in Technology and Communication offered by UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JOMC).

Originally, I wanted to apply to the MATC program…until I made an inquiry and was informed that one cannot pursue an online master’s program geared towards working professionals part-time. That would too reasonable. The only “option” is to be a full-time student, which means two classes per semester at full-price for two years with NO FINANCIAL AID. If you, as a working professional, should ever experience some unexpected turn of events that would prevent you from following this program — e.g. your finances take a turn for the worse, your life or the life of one (or more) of your loved ones takes a turn for the worse, global pandemic, godzilla attacks, whatever — it’s game over. You are out of the program, and you lose all your money and credits.

I’m looking forward to it, despite the fact that I am currently SO BROKE. Yes, I just paid my tuition bill, and I’ve rarely been so scared by my (lack of) bank balance, but it’s going to be ok (…eventually).

Because, in what I consider to be the BEST NEWS EVER, my employer is funding this class. Well, technically my employer is reimbursing 75% of [my] tuition and required materials pending successful completion of the course (must submit transcript as evidence), but still…that’s pretty cool. (Also, the class is completely online, which means that I can participate in it AND keep my job, which I both need and like, AND maybe even have some semblance of a home life.)

Unfortunately, I probably can’t afford to do the entire certificate program. In fact, I know I can’t unless my employer is willing to reimburse my tuition for the other two classes…and that’s not a given. It’s not impossible, but it’s not likely. So I feel a bit guilty about going into this knowing ahead of time that I’ll probably be forced to “drop out” after one semester, but I justify my actions by reminding myself that I WOULD continue in the program if I could swing it financially. Plus, UNC only accepts electronic bank drafts and Mastercard for tuition payments, which makes me less sorry than I would otherwise be, because c’mon, Mastercard? Is it still 1981, then? No, I don’t think so — if it were, my tuition would be much, MUCH lower.

Ah well, better get the gripes out of my system sooner rather than later. Professional development is important and, these days, nearly impossible to acquire on the job or through one’s employer. And it’s not such a hardship: I enjoy learning new things and expanding my knowledge base/skill set whenever possible.

Of course, most people — self included — would raise an eyebrow at the notion of deriving any sort of career benefit from a class offered by the J-School.* Most people would tell me to become proficient in a handful of programming languages or get an MBA or else master some complicated statistics software. Y’know, or something. Unfortunately, my employer will only provide tuition reimbursement for classes that are directly related to my job…which is writing-based. I’m absurdly lucky, but at the same time I’m a bit hemmed in. I am allowed to do things like learn Java (which I’ve done), but only on my own time and dime. And at this point in my life, I’m out of dimes for the foreseeable future.

I’m conflicted. On the one hand, this isn’t going to translate into a raise or promotion or, indeed, anything at all. I strongly suspect that I’ve hit whatever ceiling is currently in place, that I’ve gone as far as I can go in my chosen career (or at least, as far as I’m allowed to go**); I’m just trying not to stagnate.*** I’m not about to embark on a different career — even if I wanted to, I doubt that I could. My job is unusual and requires a highly specialized skill set, which may or may not be transferable to other contexts. I suspect it might be akin to being a drug mule or a Muppeteer: what do you do, if not that? Could you freelance? Is that allowed? Would you even want to?****

(Or do you have to go in a completely different direction, like LPN or pedicab driver or cupcakery owner? Thing is, I could do most other things, but I would also hate most other things.)

On the other hand…when I was in college, my job did not exist yet. When I was in high school, my company did not exist yet — at least, not in its current incarnation. When I was in elementary school, people used card catalogs and bound periodicals and reference books to find information in libraries. (In other words, not online databases or, for the lazy among us, Google.) When I was born, the Internet was not really a thing.

So I guess I’m hoping that my gamble will pay off, that I will learn something useful and be able to apply it somewhere down the road. If not, who knows?

*It’s just that…well, journalism isn’t exactly a viable path, is it? Not for middle-class workers, anyway, who have to earn a living wage to survive. I suspect that journalism has become a bit like PhD programs in the humanities, i.e. both are the sort of thing that one can really only pursue as a career if one is independently wealthy.
**If you think this isn’t a factor, THINK AGAIN. In my experience, the biggest barriers we face are the ones we can’t even conceive of, let alone perceive.
***Sometimes I think, if I’d known I was going to get stuck, maybe I wouldn’t have dismissed the idea of children. I’ve always been aware that I couldn’t do both, but now I’m starting to wonder if I “chose” wrong. Not that it was a choice, per se. It’s not really up to me — or rather, like most things in life, it doesn’t come down to my desire alone.
****Some gifts, I think, are better used and appreciated within the framework of an established organization.
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One thought on “Night School

  1. KimberlyFDR says:

    I was doing a web search on the MATC and I found your entry 😉 Random comment is random.

    I took the certificate in 2011-2012, so it’s always nice to see when new students join the program. Curious how the class is working out for you and if you’re enjoying it.

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