Traditionally speaking, a college education usually means spending four or more years at a pricey university, but the times are definitely changing. Read on to learn why alternative college pathways are transforming and becoming the future of postsecondary education.
What do you think of when you hear the word ''college''? A sprawling campus with every amenity under the sun? High tuition? Huge class sizes? Seemingly endless course offerings?
While all of these things can be part of the college experience, they're certainly not everything, which is probably why alternative college pathways that make postsecondary education more accessible and attainable are growing in popularity. If you're wondering what we mean by ''alternative college pathways'', here are a few examples:
- Credit-granting online courses
- Technical college (also known as trade school)
- Community college
Let's take a closer look as to why these alternatives are changing the face of higher learning as we know it.
1. The Money Factor
A traditional college education is expensive. According to one 2018 Forbes article, the average college student carries about $37,172 in student loan debt at graduation. In addition, there are many students who don't graduate from college, but who still leave with a fair amount of debt, which is another serious issue plaguing our country.
Fortunately, alternative college pathways give people the chance to advance themselves academically without acquiring too much debt. For example, the College Accelerator lets students earn real college credit for a flat-rate monthly fee, while the College-Level Examination Program, or CLEP, offers 33 different tests that correspond with introductory-level college courses. These tests cost $87 each, and a passing score allows students to earn credit that's accepted at over 2,900 U.S. colleges and universities!
While community and technical colleges charge tuition, it's often considerably less than the tuition at 4-year schools due to shorter and more focused programs.
2. The Flexibility Factor
In today's busy world, convenience and flexibility are top considerations for most people. And while a traditional college education tends to require a big commitment that doesn't allow much time for anything else (often 4-plus years of full-time class schedules), alternative pathways offer much more flexibility for postsecondary education seekers.
First, many online college courses can be completed at one's convenience (day or night and while on the go), meaning they easily fit into busy lives that include work and family commitments. CLEP exams also offer flexibility to test takers, with several testing centers and schedules available. These testing centers are commonly located at colleges and universities, but may be found at high schools, military bases and standalone testing centers as well.
Next, numerous community colleges offer both part-time class schedules and online course offerings that allow students to complete their studies in an accommodating, accessible way. Some technical schools may also offer part-time programs for their students.
3. The Focus Factor
Another way college alternatives are changing the future of higher education is by offering students a more focused pathway. For example, instead of lengthy college programs requiring many courses that might not directly relate to one's chosen career path, technical colleges (and even some community colleges) offer programs that allow students to take relevant courses and receive focused, hands-on training in specific trades or professions. This can reduce both the time and money spent by eliminating unnecessary coursework.
Further, earning alternative credit through online courses and exams may allow students to forego certain general education courses so that they can focus on their chosen career fields if and when they're ready to enroll in school—provided the school accepts alternative credits.
4. The Time Factor
Although we already touched on this issue a bit, time is another big factor as to why college alternatives are becoming more popular. Many people nowadays simply don't have the time to devote hours each day (or years, for that matter) to furthering their learning. Fortunately, earning alternative credit can help save students time by giving them a head start on their postsecondary education, as we mentioned earlier.
Additionally, technical schools and some community colleges may help you save time by offering concentrated programs that can usually be completed in less time than a traditional, 4-year college program. At the end of the day, alternative college pathways are advantageous because they may be able to help students enter their chosen professions in a shorter period of time, whether by getting a head start on credits or by completing a focused training program.
As you can see, there are several reasons why college alternatives are becoming the future of higher education. When you consider the cost, flexibility, focus and time factors, it's easy to understand why many students are choosing an alternative pathway over a traditional college program.
Looking for more information on how to prepare for college? Check out Study.com's Guide to College Planning course today.