To briefly catch everyone up: I am on disability for mental illnesses, have been for three years now. I am improving somewhat, and so to help prepare for my eventual return to work I have gone to the Texas Workforce Commission for vocational rehabilitation services. I started this process back in September of last year. TWC has a 90 day window with which they can create an action plan for a client. My action plan is centered around me returning to school to get educated in a new field. I met with my counselor a few times and was in touch with him through phone calls and emails for a handful more, and throughout the process things seemed to be in flux. My initial direction, an associate’s degree in architectural drafting, was dismissed early on because of the lack of job opportunities and the fact that the program I was planning on taking would not educate me enough to hold positions in the field. After that, I started looking at a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. I have radio experience and thought this would be an interesting way to go. However, when I presented this it was dismissed by TWC as being too broad in scope. This happened on day 83 of my 90 day plan, so at that final meeting I was more or less given the option of medical billing and coding or nothing, and so I signed my name to an action plan revolving around getting a certificate in that field.
Subsequent research on my part revealed that there was an associate’s degree in health information technology available at Austin Community College – where I was planning to go for medical billing and coding – and that it could transfer over to a bachelor’s degree program at Texas State University. So I called my counselor to set something up, and was informed that my counselor was no longer employed by TWC, and that I had an interim counselor handling my case until someone could be permanently assigned to it. I called the new counselor and presented my situation to her, that I was in the action plan because it was the only option I was given at the end of the window, and that many things that I learned from my former counselor were eventually corrected very late in the process, so I wasn’t really given much of an opportunity to think anything over. In light of that, she said that she would be willing to take another look at my action plan.
When I went in to meet her, I showed her the award plans for both the certificate program in medical billing and coding and the associate’s degree in health information technology. I explained that I wanted to do a job that required the higher education. She went to consult with another counselor there and eventually asked me to join the two of them in the other counselor’s office. They told me that they would be willing to look at changing my plan, and because of the way that my former counselor wrote it up, it would be an easy administrative switch and nothing more, but they explained that it would be an uphill battle finding work in the field. They presented another option to me: sonography. I told them I wasn’t prepared to make a decision that day, partially because I wasn’t about to be railroaded into yet another field that I had had no time to research on my own and partially because I was going to head home from that meeting, grab my luggage, and hop on a flight to Phoenix for my father-in-law’s funeral, and they gave me two weeks to think things over.
During that most recent meeting, I was told that regardless of whether it’s a certificate program or an associate’s degree, TWC would only pay out $173 per semester. I filed that away for a time when I could discuss it in depth with my counselor, and so today I sent her an email stating that if the assistance was truly only $173 per semester, there’s no way I could afford even the certificate program. She wrote back and told me that this was the case, so I asked her what my options were. She told me that she wanted me to wait until I had heard back on my FAFSA application before making a decision to opt out of school, and then she forwarded me another series of emails that she’d had with TWC’s ACC liaison, wherein the liaison said that the assistance was either $3,000 maximum for a certificate program, or $173 per credit hour, plus books. I wrote back telling her that $173 per credit hour was a lot more reasonable and that I’d do my research into sonography and get back to her at our follow up meeting later this month.
So here’s where I’m at with this decision.
Pros for health information technology: the action plan already lists health information technology as the direction that I’m going; the associate’s degree easily transfers to a bachelor’s degree program.
Cons for health information technology: jobs are scarce; there’s almost no opportunity to sit down; while employers can’t discriminate by law, the vast majority of people in the field are older women with 30 years experience.
Pros for sonography: the pay is significantly better than health information technology; the job outlook is phenomenal; I have had a passing curiosity on how sonography works for some time; the field was recommended by a senior counselor based on his knowledge of the job market.
Cons for sonography: while it’s not as bad as health information technology, I would still be on my feet a good deal; changing the action plan to sonography requires a rewrite and separate approval, which may not come despite a senior counselor saying that if there’s any problems in the approval process to send the decision makers his way; shift work may have me working nights and/or weekends.
Given this list of pros and cons, I’m leaning in the direction of sonography, but want to get your take on it. If you have an opinion, please let me know either here, on Facebook, or on Twitter. My follow up meeting is on the 27th, so I’ve got about a week to mull this over.
Let me know if there’s something that I’ve missed. I look forward to hearing from you.