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Does Everyone Really Need a College Degree?

Oct 06, 2011

The struggling economy is causing U.S. citizens and politicians to cast about for solutions. Many point to 4-year universities as the solution, but is going to college the only way to reach the middle-class? Learn about the alternatives to college, and weigh the benefits of each path.

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Does Everyone Need a Degree?

While it's true that some type of formal education is typically needed for most careers - be it a certificate course or multi-year, multi-degree education track - the idea that every job requires a bachelor's degree or higher is just not based in reality. The fact is that a degree isn't the only pathway to getting a good job and keeping it. If you are wondering about alternative ways to find a career and achieve economic stability, keep reading below.

The Degree Trap

A lot of people assume that earning a degree automatically leads to a good job. President Obama showed his allegiance to this idea by setting a goal that the U.S. will 'have the highest proportion of students graduating from college in the world by 2020.' The common belief that a degree guarantees success helped educational institutions thrive during the recession. There was a time when acceptance rates to 4-year universities were low and competition was high, but that seems to have bottomed out in 2012-13. For the 2013-14 school year, the trends are reversing.

Now that the recession has relaxed its grip on the U.S., colleges and universities are finding they are struggling to get enough students in their schools. Budgets for public colleges and universities are being slashed, and tuition rates have increased dramatically. Many potential college students are rethinking attending college, wondering if it really is worth it.

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College and Debt

One can't argue with the numbers - college degrees lead to better paying jobs over time. But a degree is not a guarantee that you'll get a job, and some people are learning this the hard way. If there are no jobs available to people when they complete college, the pursuit of knowledge won't have any economic value.

Another factor college students face is the high likelihood that they will graduate with debt. If you can't pay off student loans and other debt accrued while in school, earning a degree can be a significant financial problem. Part of President Obama's goal includes reducing costs for all students. Until this happens, student debt is a real concern for many potential college graduates.

Consider the Alternatives

Getting an education to improve your employment prospects doesn't mean that you have to get a bachelor's degree or higher. Instead of defaulting to a degree program, prospective job seekers should consider what it really is that they want to do. If the job you want to pursue doesn't require formal education, it might be a more efficient use of time and money to attend career training.

There are plenty of career fields, from technical jobs to work in the medical field, that don't require a 4-year degree. Consider 2-year degree programs, workforce development programs or apprenticeships as options for job training. For example, the position of respiratory therapist requires a two-year degree and shows faster-than-average job growth of 28% between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students can go to a community college for respiratory therapist certification and realize a median pay of about $55,000 per year, according to BLS reports in 2012.

Do some research in your area to see what sort of programs offer options besides attending a 4-year university. You just might find something in your field of interest that can be a great alternative path to economic success.

If earning a degree doesn't seem like the right decision for you, consider some career alternatives to college.

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