Updated: Jan 20, 2020
The value of the traditional college degree has been under scrutiny in recent years, especially in light of media headlines of high tuition costs, student debt that appears to be out of control, and course curricula that one side or the other questions as to its relevance or suggested bias. Many have questioned the wisdom in spending four years in class, when a lot of the information can be found online for free.
Still, truth be told, the age-old adage “knowledge is power” still holds firm today, perhaps more so than ever. The rapidly changing and complex world of the 21st century, only men and women who are intellectually nimble, versatile in their skillsets and responsive to change can be successful. Those who have received an education and have acquired both tangible and intangible skills, will be the leaders of tomorrow. Thus, having an education, more so than a degree, is truly non-negotiable. What is however open for exploration, is how to acquire said education, as well as, how to finance it.
America has always been known for its “can-do” ingenuity and finding innovative ways to meeting new challenges. The same holds true to financing college. For many enterprising, bright students, a variety of opportunities to obtain an education are available. Unfortunately, not everyone has been made aware of it to the same extent. However, there are great opportunities available for All students, regardless of background or income.
The answer can be found in revisiting already existing institutions and programs such as vocational high schools, community colleges and alternative pathways for college credit, and realizing their new potential as many others already have done.
The vocational tracks of old, where students learned auto-mechanics and cosmetology rather than prepared for college, are long gone. High School students now have the opportunity to earn college credits, up to an Associate’s Degree through so-called dual enrollment programs in concert with their local community colleges and County Vocational Schools. They have been revamped and have been given additional funding in the 2018 election in NJ. Here, each county has outstanding, academically competitive academies that offer not only college level credits but also career ready skills upon graduation to its students.
In addition to dual enrollment programs, community colleges have expanded upon their transfer articulation agreements with their four-year partner institutions as well as created apprenticeship programs with businesses, working in collaboration to teach the skills needed in today’s demanding economy.
For adult students, who have work, military or professional certification experience can use these to turn them into college credit through standardized exams, micro-credentials and the prior-learning-assessment process such as creating an e-portfolio.
Increasingly more institutions have begun to create policies that incorporate a variety of such credits into their academic programs and admissions criteria to the benefit of their students’ completion rates and their institutional efficiency. Those institutions that have adapted any aspects of these innovations have been shown to come out ahead in the current climate of enrollment and fiscal constraints.
In sum, students who are aware of different opportunities can make educated choices and plan early on which path may be right for them. For older students, their experience can pay significant dividends and the service performed for this nation as military personnel or first responder will be honored as it should be . Professionals who have licenses and want to improve upon their skills can “stack credentials.” By doing so and by spreading the word in all communities, students from every background will be able to close any lingering achievement and potential skills gap, thereby creating a truly diverse and highly educated quintessential American society.
For more information and a free 30-minute consultation, please contact:
Anna J Cooper Education Advocacy Consultant, LLC