Thursday, February 21, 2013

Alternative to Traditional College

Going to college is expensive.  I know, as I went to one for eight years.  I'm literally paying for that now, nearly six years after finally leaving with a couple degrees.  Would I do it again?  Yes, but not the for the reasons most do it.  And I would change things around.  And I wouldn't have gone for so long. 

As some of you know, I enjoy learning.  I try to learn something new all of the time.  Even if it's not something useful to me, from a practical standpoint, I still see intrinsic value.  I feel that the most valuable portion of my education are my two minors in philosophy and psychology.  Do I use them directly?  Not at all.  But I enjoyed them both, and I feel that they help me indirectly.  They, with my major in computer science, basically gave me my major in cognitive science.  The rest of my education, my major and Mastery in computer science, I use directly in my career.  I also value the teaching experience earned while in graduate school.

But is college worth it?  Did you know that the average cost per year at a public, four-year university was over $15,000 two years ago?  And that's not including the $200 books, nor the fees.  Or that, in 2008, only 54.9% of students graduated from public, four-year universities within six years of enrollment?  Even if you get the Pell Grant, that only counts for $5,500 per year (as of the 2011-2012 school year).  Let's say you stay in-state and get a scholarship based on your grades for $2,500 per year.  You still have to pay $7,500 per year, and then some.  If you drop out after two years, and many do, you still have to pay back any loans.  In this example, you could owe $15,000 and still not have a degree.  Even if you finish within four years, that's still about $30,000 in loans.  That holds you back like you wouldn't believe.

So what are you alternatives?  Are there any?  Well, the first is to not go to college at all.  As much as I hate to admit it, this is the best option for some people.  Whether due to some physical or mental defect, being raised in a family that looks down on education, or any other reason, even a two year degree isn't for everyone. 

Another alternative is to go to a technical school for some trade or another.  Trade or technical schools train their students for careers in electrical work, plumbing, AC repair, or other vital maintenance activities.  While many educated people look down on those who choose this option, I have a healthy respect for them.  These are all important tasks to keep our society running.  They are also more difficult than many people realize. 

A third alternative is to go a non-traditional route and pay as you go, taking just a class or two at a time.  I have a friend who did this, and I have a deep respect for her.  It may have taken her longer, but she kept at it for several years and finished.  You still get your degree, and you still pay out the backside for it, but you don't go into debt that can hold you back for decades afterward.

Last year, I found another alternative.  There are universities that have no residency requirements; you don't need to take any classes directly through them.  You can take come courses from a local community college and transfer them, or take the even cheaper route and test out.  One website championing this is DIY Degree.  The creator of the site has found several of these universities and claims that you can test out of an entire degree in one year for about $4000.  While I haven't looked into this in any great detail, I have seen enough to know that it is at least partially true.  You can indeed take CLEP tests in place of classes.  As efficient as this route is, you need to be a series student; to finish in one year, you must be able to self-study and entire class worth of material and take the test every two weeks.  This includes history, English, and math.

Even more recently, I came across a public, entirely online university that offers a respectable number of degree choices at a reasonable price.  Most public universities offer online degrees now, but still charge in-state versus out-of-state prices.  Being from out-of-state can double the price per credit.  Trust me, I was an out-of-state student.  APU charges the same price no matter what.  Even their online graduate degrees are priced very well.  So long as the student can stick with it, they could continue to live with their parents, as unpopular as that usually is, work full or part time, and do their classwork in their free time.  This option is also a great method for those wanting an advanced degree while working full time or raising a family, or for those wanting to change their career.

So is college worth it?  Maybe, maybe not.  Only you can answer that.  The wise student will consider all of their choices and choose what is bet for them.  The fool will simply do what society tells them to do without a pause.  Your future is up to you.  Go live it.

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