Less Expensive Educational Options to Consider

By Patricia Gorden Neill - May 20th, 2013

Considering the hyperinflationary high cost of college, the huge student loan debt problem, the dead-ended lives of young people with a degree, student debt totaling $100,000 and no high-paying job in sight and the lightweight fluff posing as academic courses offered on the majority of college campuses, is going to college still a worthwhile project? Can a young person find fulfillment and success in life without a college degree? Can someone be fully motivated and highly educated without going to a traditional college?

The answer to all these questions is yes. Fulfillment, motivation, education and success can all be found without heading off to the traditional two or four year educational grind. While in the past decade, all high school students have heard the “you must go to college or you’ll be a failure” refrain too many times, other paths to a good life are easily available.

Today, there’s too many college graduates in jobs that don’t require a college degree. Bartenders, janitors, waiters and cab drivers these days can hold a bachelor’s, master’s and even a Ph.D. in a variety of subjects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics took a look at the rate of job growth in the near future and found that of the over 30 jobs projected to grow the fastest, only seven of those jobs require a degree. While in the past, getting a college education was a step into the middle class and well-paid employment, these days a college education costs three to four times what it did 20 years ago, and graduates can’t find well-paying jobs requiring their degree.

With student loan debt nearing $1 trillion dollars, college is frankly becoming a losing proposition. At least, the traditional college paradigm is, that of going to college right after high school, trying for grants and scholarships, but signing up for educational loans if that’s what it took for attendance. With the average graduate owing $25,000 for his college education, and a weak job market of low-paying jobs, the traditional concept of college is losing its appeal.

For students and their families who don’t have the immense amount of money to fund a traditional college education and who do not wish to go into unsupportable debt, we’ve compiled a short list of options for getting around the high-priced college paradigm. These options may still require schooling or training, but they will set the student on a firmer life path of obtaining well-paid jobs with much less debt and with the option of going to college later still open.

Testing Out

Self-directed students who know what they want can easily find out how to achieve their goals without going the traditional route through college. While few high school guidance counselors recommend testing out of the first two years of college to their students, this is a good option for students who know they want a college degree, but don’t want to take the time or pay the costs of two years of college when they can do it faster and cheaper by testing out.

The College Level Examination Program, created by College Bound, the folks who came up with advanced placement courses and the SAT exam, allows students to take exams to prove their knowledge in 33 college-level subjects. By taking and passing a CLEP exam on American History I, a student can earn four college credits and pay just $80 for taking the exam. Compare that $80 to the average price of $700 for an undergraduate college class in history and you can see the savings.

CLEP exams cover the general education portion of a college degree. The exams cover history and social sciences, composition and literature, science and mathematics, business and world languages. Passing a CLELP exam could earn you up to 12 college credits, but each of the 2,900 colleges who accept CLEP exams credits determines how many credits you get for passing the exam.

CLEP works with colleges. The testing out strategy requires that you enroll in a college, check with your college’s CLEP policy and then start taking the exams to earn college credit. Keep in mind that you may run into college red tape, as you’ll be paying far less for the exam than you would be paying to the college for its core curriculum courses.

DSST or Dantes Subject Standardized Tests is another credit for examination program, this one developed by the U.S. Department of Defense. DTTS has 38 exams for both lower and upper level courses, while CLEP exams usually only covers lower level courses. Students can take both the CLEP and DTTS exams to cover many subjects and obtain college credit for them rather than taking the course. Returning veterans, adult students and non-traditional self-directed students can all benefit by taking CLEP and DTTS exams. Students who chose this route pay far less money and take far less time in finishing their college degrees.

One young man who pioneered this technique started his own Web site called DIY Degree. He offers a program that guides students through the entire process with strategies, advice and counseling. If you’re considering this route to a cheaper, faster college education, you might want to check out DIY Degree.

Professional Certification

If the “you have to go to college or you’ll be a failure” refrain hasn’t psyched you into following everyone’s footprint in the traditional college route, you might want to check into professional certifications. To obtain these certifications, you’ll still have to take some training, usually taking under a year, and you’ll have to pay for it, but overall it’s another far faster way to get you into a good paying job with a future.

When you take a certificate training course, you’ll be learning the knowledge and skills to perform a specific job to a satisfactory level. Certification is usually awarded by a profession, industry or trade organization. Many community colleges offer certificate training courses. Earning a certificate tells future employers that you are responsible, professional and competent in a certain position. Information technology professionals use the certificate method for training employees in this field. However, certificate training is used by many professions from finance and accounting to the hospitality field to aviation to plumbing to massage therapists.

If you want a fast track into a viable, growing field getting certified is the first step on that path. Check with your local community college. While the college may offer associate’s degrees in many industries, it will usually also offer certificates in those same industries. For instance, in the health support field, you can go to that community college to obtain an associate of applied science degree, or you can become certified in outpatient insurance coding, medical office administration or pharmacy technician. While obtaining an associate’s degree in accounting requires 62 credits, getting certified as a bookkeeper requires 18 credits.

Certification training is considered workforce preparation, so you’ll be trained on the skills and knowledge you’ll need to work in that profession right away. Once you’re working full time, if you then wish to work toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, you can take online courses or evening and weekend classes to earn further academic degrees.

While a certificate program may cost approximately $2,000, an associate’s degree comes with a price tag of approximately $8,000 or more with books and fees. Getting into the job market right off the bat is a good idea these days; you can always take further training or work towards advancement. In our current tough economic climate, college graduates with bachelor’s degrees are heading back to community college to get certificate training so they can find a job.

Cooperative Education

Read AcademicInfo’s article on cooperative education for a fully detailed picture of this old-new college and work program. Briefly, a cooperative education program at a college has the student take one semester in traditional classroom study and work full time in their field during the next semester. In this win-win program, students gain up to date knowledge and skills in their major in the classroom and then put that knowledge and skill to work in hands-on real world applications. The students benefit by earning money while working and getting work experience and employers benefit by gaining and training good employees while they’re on the job. As students are earning significant money there’s no need for expensive student loans, and usually employers have a job waiting for that student when they graduate.

For students facing going into debt to fund their college education, cooperative education could be a godsend. Over 400 colleges of all kinds, from large public universities to community college have cooperative education programs. Usually the four year degree school will have an alternate programs set up for their coop programs, with classroom study one semester and full time work the next. Community colleges use the parallel model where students attend classes part of the day and work the other part. Rather than face a lifetime of debt, consider going to a college with an active cooperative education program.

In summary, if you’re worried about the cost of college and don’t want to live a life of debt slavery, then stop and consider other choices you can make. Testing out of two years of college, but completing a bachelor’s degree in half the time and half the cost is a viable option. Getting professionally certified and diving into well-paid work and maybe going back to school later is another equally viable move. Cooperative education is a proven road leading both to an academic degree and, for 95 percent of graduating coop students, a full time job. Don’t limit yourself to the traditional when there’s so many other flavors of educational option out there.

About the Author

Patricia Gorden NeillPatricia Gorden Neill edited medical and scholarly journals for over 20 years in the ivy-covered halls of the University of Rochester. She is a freelance writer, often covering higher education and the concerns of college age students, and is regularly published on a variety of websites.