With tuition prices rising across the nation and alarming statistics revealing that many college graduates are jobless or underemployed, many hoping to further their education may be wondering what alternatives are left.
Just last year, 53.6 percent of bachelor’s degree-holders under the age of 25 were jobless or underemployed, according to an analysis of government data gathered for The Associated Press.
Now, recent data release by the U.S. Department of Higher Education showed that between 2008 and 2010, tuition at public four-year universities went up 15 percent.
This increase is devastating, not only to high school graduates but also to non-traditional students with a desire for a new start.
Vocational, or technical, certificate programs may offer a valuable alternative to traditional four-year schools.
With vocational schools, students are able to just take the classes necessary for their degree or certificate, minus general education courses. According to students and administration, vocational schools also allow for a more personalized experience with classmates and professors. Many certificates or degrees from such schools require less time in the classroom and, often, for less money.
Clint Gabbard, vice president for student services at Lake Michigan College, oversees all areas of the school other than classroom instruction. Gabbard, who has held the same position at two different colleges for nearly eight years, said schools that boast both professional and technical offerings should not be ignored when higher education is being considered.
“I think sometimes when people think about community colleges or technical colleges, they just talk about how we’re the cheap alternative,” Gabbard said. “We’re high value, but they forget about the quality. I think your traditional four-year bachelor degree is great for some students, but some are looking at today’s world and today’s economy with important roles that need to be filled but don’t require a four-year degree to be successful.”
Gabbard said Lake Michigan College offers both professional and technical degrees for roughly $6,000 a year, a much smaller price tag than many public four-year universities.
Given that many professional and technical schools work to enhance the community in which they are located, Gabbard said the majority of non-traditional schools are constantly adapting their coursework to reflect the necessary components to a successful career in whichever field students may choose.
The Lake Michigan College administrator said this community component often proves valuable when alumni are on the job hunt.
Since graduating from Full Sail University in May 2010 with an associates degree in recording arts and bachelor’s degree in music business, Tyler Sovchik said he has discovered many valuable opportunities in the entertainment world.
“I honestly think it’s opened more doors for me,” Sovchik said. “I mean, it was never an easy walk through the park. It was very stressful, very hard and very challenging. Because I took Full Sail seriously, I feel like I’m able to do a lot more things as far as the entrainment industry goes as opposed to going to a four-year school where I would’ve stopped caring if I had to sit through the basic classes.”
Sovchik began his journey at Full Sail, a school best known for being an entertainment and arts powerhouse, right out of high school and was able to graduate with two degrees by the time he was 19. Now, Sovchik works for Pinpoint Media, an Emmy Award winning company, while doing freelance work on the side.
Professional degrees in healthcare are also another popular alternative at vocational schools.
Trevor Cogdill completed his radiologic technologist certificate from Hillyard Technical Center in 23 months, allowing him to find a stable job at Heartland Health Medical Center.
Before attending Hillyard, Cogdill attended Northwest Missouri State University, a traditional four-year college to complete his general education requirements while getting a true college experience.
After experiencing student life at both a public institution and a vocational school, Cogdill said there were definite differences in educational approaches.
“Classes are smaller so you get a lot better teacher to student experience,” Cogdill said. “We got things done a lot faster than we normally would at a four-year university. You gain a lot more of a personal experience, but at the same time you don’t get a full college experience at anywhere like Hillyard.”
While vocational and professional schools may not offer the complete college experience with dorms, parties and month-long breaks, they do offer many things traditional four-year universities cannot provide.
If you’re looking to complete a degree or certificate program quickly, avoid the unneeded pre-requisite classes — or spend less money than you would at a traditional university — a school with both professional and technical offerings may be the best fit for you.
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