More education should be. Here are the alternatives.

WM grad diplomaA recent report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York points out that acquiring a college degree, whether a two- or four-year, increases lifetime earnings compared to acquiring only a high school diploma. That fact alone should be enough to discourage even the most reluctant student from taking the first minimum wage job that comes along after high school.

But tackling four years of college isn’t the answer for everyone. As parents, we know what our children are capable of, and where their real interests lie. An occupational or technical degree may be the better option. This Huff Post College article highlights the earning potential for associate’s degree recipients.

Reasons to consider a one- or two-year program

*Money College is expensive, there’s no way around that fact. And full rides are hard to come by, even for the smartest kids with the lowest family incomes. Going the community college or trade school route prevents graduating with a load of debt. Plus it helps a young adult to begin their career and start earning a living wage in a shorter period of time.

*Focused on a career path I knew a young woman who figured out in high school that she wanted to be a makeup artist. She told her parents not to waste their money on paying for a bachelor’s degree when she could be learning and training in a one-year program at an accredited professional school that would directly lead her to the job and career path she wanted. They listened and she worked steadily for others until she bought her boss’s business, which she’s grown and expanded.

Chefs in training in Paris, France (2005).
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chefs, air traffic controllers, respiratory therapists, veterinary technicians, nurses, are all occupations that only require a two-year associate’s degree but offer solid earnings potential. Programs at community colleges, professional colleges and trade schools offer hands-on learning, training their students to use the latest techniques and technology, preparing them for the workplace now and in the future.

*Looking for more than the liberal arts Some kids don’t do well academically if they’re not interested in the subject. To succeed in most trades today, workers need math, reading and computer skills. By combining courses in those areas with others directly related to a specific career or trade, a student has a better chance of success. A kid who barely passed history may ace their courses in mechanical function, food science or digital design because it will hold their interest.

Where to pursue a degree

While researching the best institution for their career goals, students should verify that the school is accredited, which guarantees they will graduate with the skills necessary to get a job, and a license, if that’s required.

*Community college Two-year associate’s degree programs offered by community colleges are very affordable and prepare students for employment right after graduation or to continue on to a bachelor’s degree. Students can earn associate’s degrees in such areas as information systems, nursing, business administration, fashion merchandising, respiratory care, criminal justice, as well as professional certification in skilled occupations such as computer programming, digital filmmaking, emergency medical technology, paralegal and small business entrepreneurship.

*Trade schools While some community colleges offer occupational training, trade schools play an important role today. They provide the necessary instruction in areas like automotive repair, heating/ventilation/air conditioning (HVAC), cosmetology, culinary arts and manufacturing, among others, where skilled workers are in high demand in well-paying jobs.

*Professional schools or colleges Probably the most famous “professional” college is the Culinary Institute of America, which promotes itself as the premier culinary college in America. Here students can earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in various areas of the culinary arts and sciences, as well as certificates. Schools and colleges devoted to specific career fields, like nursing, usually offer similar degree options.

Paying for degrees and certificates The office of Federal Student Aid provides grants, loans and work-study funding for students attending college or career schools. Check out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) site to learn more about additional resources to help pay for career or professional training.

Share your thoughts on alternatives to a bachelor’s degree in the comments section below.