Less Traditional (and Less Costly) College Options

by Joanna Rini, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, The Ohio State University

College savings – parents and students across America hear these two words and likely feel overwhelmed, unprepared and in-over-their-heads... but maybe they don’t have to. Though most people associate college with traditional four-year degrees complete with residence hall living and a swipe-for-a-meal plan, there are a variety of alternative options for higher education that offer promising job prospects and come at dramatically lower costs.

Some of these alternative options include:

  • Community Colleges
  • Vocational Job Training such as HVAC or carpentry
  • Certifications and Licensure programs such as in Real Estate or Insurance
  • Associate’s Degree programs offered by Universities such as Ohio State ATI, where 65% of students secure employment before graduation
  • Attendance at a regional campusof a state university as part of a bachelor’s degree program

Education beyond high school is associated with lower unemployment rates and higher levels of job satisfaction. So, the pursuit of higher education still proves to be worth the investment. The paths to education outlined above should not be overlooked as students consider their post-secondary options.

Consider these facts: First, the healthcare industry continues to be one of the fastest growing fields with a number of job prospects – most of which require an associate’s degree! Second, skilled trade jobs will account for an estimated 40% of job growth by 2017. (Read a compelling story about a student that took this route here). Depending on a student’s career of interest, these alternatives are certainly worth considering and could cost a family tens of thousands of dollars less than some bachelor’s degree programs. Families can save big on education through these alternatives by:

  • Working with school counselors, who are a resource for exploring options for post high school education or job training
  • Learning about programs offered at local community colleges, or associate’s degree programs offered at state schools in your area
  • Working with colleges to see if there are options to earn an associate’s degree and transition into a bachelor’s degree program after, if you think you may be interested later
  • Comparing costs of technical school, community college, and 4-year universities 
  • Comparing the salaries of the jobs for which you are interested in becoming qualified – you might be surprised that jobs that require advanced degrees do not always have higher pay
  • Living at home while completing your education or training to save on room and board
  • Considering earning a certification, associate’s degree or job training that allows you to enter the workforce sooner. Then, if you wish, continue your education while working, allowing you to offset the remaining cost of education significantly
  • Being certain credits will transfer if you think you might like to pursue a further education at some point, by working with the counselors or admission representatives at the schools of interest

With a higher percentage of families than ever relying on loans to fund their students’ enrollment in traditional four-year degree programs, it may start to feel like something that must be done in order to set your child on the right path, but that certainly does not make it the right choice for everyone. There are many possibilities to explore, so don’t rule out these less-traditional and less-costly paths.

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