Alternatives to the 4-Year Degree

CAVEATS:  You know what’s best for you. Your parents/family should certainly weigh in on this decision. You and/or your parents know what you can afford, or want to afford/how much debt you want to go into as well as what kind(s) of school you can or desire to get into.

But we just wanted to give you a few things to consider as you make any of these types of decisions about the next steps in your education.

First of all, this is not to talk anyone out of a 4-year degree. We both have multiple degrees and are glad we do. I am the first person on either side of my family to get a degree.  We just want to remind you that there are OTHER OPTIONS out there if you wish to investigate them. Repeat: We are not bashing 4-year degree programs or the opportunity to go to university and your dream school!

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Community Colleges / Associates Degrees

The American culture has spent the last several decades (since the 70’s and 80’s) brainwashing everyone into believing that all young people must have a bachelor’s degree in order to succeed.  This is not necessarily true. And guess what happened?  A SERIOUS shortage in the skilled trades. You can find many articles on this topic in a heartbeat. Some are calling it a “CRISIS”!

Which means if you want a job as a mechanic, nurse, welder or electrician, just to name a few, good paying jobs are ripe for the picking!  If 4 years of college academics isn’t for you, you’re in luck.  Especially if you prefer to work with your hands, or just can’t stand the idea of a 40-hour-a-week desk job!   

“There are an estimated 30 million jobs that pay at least $55,000 per year and don’t require a bachelor’s degree.

– PBS News Hour, 2018

High Paying Trade Jobs Sit Empty While High School Grads Line Up for University.”

NPR, 2018

Sources: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/education/decades-pushing-bachelors-degrees-u-s-needs-tradespeople; and, https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/04/25/605092520/high-paying-trade-jobs-sit-empty-while-high-school-grads-line-up-for-university

Apprenticeships: Trade/Industrial/Vocational School

Alongside 2-year Associates degrees, we see a trend in engineering companies and the trades paying for students’ schooling while they work on the job. In Michigan, for example, MAT² is a website that publishes all the jobs that include training for high school graduates at specific community colleges.  What better way to get trained AND paid at the same time?

Here’s an example:

Apprenticeship Programs at Brose

Our award-winning Brose Apprenticeship Programs prepare you for a career in advanced manufacturing by combining on-the-job and in-the-classroom training. You will earn your Associate’s Degree while getting paid* to work at Brose. Upon successful completion of the program, you will have a guaranteed job and highly marketable skills.

*Compensation can be a combination of tuition reimbursement, hourly wages, and a living stipend. Exact amount varies by location and can be discussed during interviews.

Armed Forces:  Army, Navy, Air Force, National Reserves, Coast Guard, Marines

The military offers many options before, during, after or instead of a four-year-college degree. 

Maybe you want to go to college but don’t know if you can afford it and/or you’re not sure of what you want to choose as a career. (Or maybe neither of those are true, you would just like to serve in the military).  Definitely check out your options, including ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corp) with your school counselor. 

Each branch of the armed services has recruitment centers where they can walk you through the process and answer your questions in a completely transparent manner.  All college classes taken while serving in the armed forces and after will be paid for under the GI Bill.

Over the years I have taught many stellar young men and woman who enlisted.  In 2016, I got the opportunity to actually attend Marine Educator Boot Camp in Parris Island, SC.  For four days, I lived and performed like a recruit. (I say “performed”… I tried to scale a 10-foot wall and repel down a building.)  I have total respect for the Globe and Anchor and for every single recruit that leaves boot camp as a Marine.  A life of service can bring stability, a vocation, travel and a brotherhood. You will leave with a competitive skill set that many employers need and want.

Gap Year, Peace Corp Year, Travel Abroad, etc.

It is very European to do a “Gap Year”, taking a year off between high school or college and your next phase to travel the world. There are some advantages too. The business Insider magazine suggested that there are five.

  • Accelerated Maturity
  • Improved Academic Performance
  • Gain a New Perspective
  • A Chance to Re-focus
  • Improve Career Opportunities

I say go for it! If your parents approve, you are street smart and you have friends and family you can crash with, around the world – DO IT!  Even take a few language immersion classes along the away and you can be bi- or tri-lingual when you get back. I didn’t take a traditional gap year, but I did Nanny / Au Pair in the USA, for the long summers that college gives you. That’s an option too instead of a whole year!

I am a huge fan of service projects abroad.  This type of work wakes you up to how good we have it.  Whether it’s a full year working for the Peace Corp or a mission trip to Guatemala to build a house, take any opportunity to serve.  It looks phenomenal on your resume and it’s definitely a connection topic in an interview or at a networking event. 

Considerations on a 4-Year Degree: In-State, Out-of-State, Community College and Scholarships

  • There is NO reason to pay out of state tuition for your college degree. Unless you have a VERY specialized major that you can’t find at an in state university (e.g. veterinary school, etc.)
  • Want to save even more money? Go to a community college for your first year of school, or take summer classes to fulfill requirements (make sure your credits will transfer before you enroll!) You must seek advice with a college admissions counselors and have something put in writing if you do this.
  • If you are offered a full-ride scholarship to a school that is not your first or second or even third choice school, please take it anyway for your undergraduate degree.  You will save yourself and your family $100,000 of debt. Then you can pay or finance grad school, which is a fraction of the cost.  It pains me to hear of a student who turns down a full ride because it’s not their dream school!  Don’t participate in the branding / brain-washing machine!

Warm regards,

Karen

P.S. Michigan students, A Few More Things to Know For Post-high School

Fact: “There will be 811,000 high-wage, high-demand career openings through 2024 in the state of Michigan.” (Marshall Plan, 2018)

Problem: How do we get Michigan students trained and qualified to meet these career requirements?

The good news is that legislation has just been passed to expose high school students to alternatives to a 4-year degree.  The high school diploma is not enough to meet the skills gap. Certification, Licensure, Associates degrees and traditional 4-year degree are all valid options.  In 2018, only 43.7% of Michigan students earned post-secondary credentials. It is the goal of this new plan to raise this to a lofty 60%. 

So how will this happen?   

  • Develop, retain and attract talent in the strongest, fastest growing industries
  • Keep graduates from Michigan’s universities in Michigan. Over a third (38%) of Michigan’s graduates left the state in 2017.
  • Fill the jobs we have open now.

High School Exposure

To expose high school students to opportunities in the trades, a go-to website has been created called Going PRO in Michigan.  This is an excellent resource that all schools now need to embed into their curriculum in the 2019/20 school year.

  • Education Development Plan
  • Talent Portfolio
  • Career Development Education
  • Career Information/Counseling
  • School Improvement Plan
  • Work-Based Learning
  • Job Application Skills

Here’s a way to get your Associates degree paid for.  The MI opportunity will offer debt free pathways, if you qualify through FAFSA.  See info below. 

Alternatives to the 4-Year Degree.

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