Re-thinking College Education

Re-thinking College Education

I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Before you sit down for your turkey dinner, consider this…

If you’re a product of the baby boomer or Gen X generations, there’s a good chance you spent your childhood hearing the best way to be successful is to get a college education… And the more degrees, the better. Of course, there are careers that require a college degree, and college graduates still tend to bring home a larger paycheck than their peers who hold only a high school diploma.

But times are changing fast, and the education system isn’t keeping up.

In fact, so much has changed over the last 30 years that a complete overhaul needs to be considered. Instead, higher education is plodding along as it always has, employing the same teaching and political structures that were used over a hundred years ago… sitting for exams, tenured professors who are difficult to oust despite their work quality and a lack of hands-on experience.

What has changed about education is the cost…

It’s doubled in the last 30 years, even accounting for inflation. In fact, the cost of tuition has grown eight times as fast as wages have!1 And as of 2018, the average household student loan debt was a whopping $47,671.2

Those numbers should have you thinking… Is a college education really worth the cost? Are there alternatives to spending four years and a lot of money on the education you need?

Luckily, in many cases, there are ways to get the education and skills you need without going into debt.

In some cases, you might even be able to earn while you learn!

Get an Early Start!

In many states, students have the option of dual enrollment in high school. Students can enroll in college-level classes earning high school and college credit at the same time. In many states, college classes are taught in high schools at a deep discount (often as low as $5.00 per credit hour) or free of charge. Check out what your state has to offer here, or call your local school district and ask about concurrent and early enrollment.

Another option for earning college credit before graduation is taking Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Students study through the year and take a low-cost standardized test in the spring, earning college credit for a passing grade. Classes are offered starting in grade nine and vary from school to school. Additionally, students can study for the test on their own — allowing ambitious kids to earn college credit with AP testing in as many classes as possible. Free online resources like Khan Academy offer a variety of online AP test prep classes.

For tech-savvy and mechanically inclined students, technical colleges can be a great option. Sometimes school districts offer dual-enrollment programs in technology, and some technical colleges offer free or reduced tuition to students who take classes before graduation. These programs prepare students for certification exams in everything from welding, manufacturing and computer-aided drafting to graphic design, computer programming and medical assistance.

Graduating with in-demand skills gives students a huge advantage.

Hack Your Education

The digital age has ushered in a whole new level of self-paced learning… and a lot of it’s free! If you’re dedicated and ready to spend some quality time learning, you can “hack” your way to a new skill set. Online learning can teach you Adobe, Autodesk, computer programming, marketing, manufacturing, website design, video production, Microsoft… the list is almost endless.

Online classes and training can vary widely in price, but when you consider the cost of college, most of these programs are bargains. In fact, you can often earn certification for just the price of the exam by using free study resources. Check your local library for free resources like LinkedIn Learning (formerly that offer extensive training and certificates for your LinkedIn profile. Many libraries offer similar resources for free use if you have a library card.

Work While You Learn

Many companies offer educational benefits to their employees as a perk. Check with your current employer or shop around for a company that offers this option. It might not be the job of your dreams, but if you’re able to pay for college and take home a paycheck, it turns a mediocre job into something worthwhile.

Starbucks made headlines several years ago when it partnered with Arizona State University to offer free college to employees who work 20 hours a week or more. Called the “College Achievement Plan,” the program offers over 80 online degrees and does not require you to stay at Starbucks after you graduate.

Some colleges also offer free tuition to employees. It might be difficult to land a job (they’re often in high demand and offered to people over 20 who have work experience) but the added benefit is that school and work are in close proximity.

Finally, there are schools around the country that offer free tuition. Some are grant-based and others require students to work a certain number of hours in exchange for an education… Here are 15 tuition-free colleges to investigate.

If You’re Willing to Look, You’ll Find a Way

The cost of college might make getting an education seem impossible, but with a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, you can get the skills you need… without getting buried in debt and burning years of life sitting away in a classroom full time. Consider what you want to do for a living, determine the skills you’ll need to do it and then find the quickest and least expensive way to get those skills.

The path you take will look different depending on your goals and your unique situation… but that’s OK. The “one size fits all” approach in traditional education has always had its problems, but today’s fast-paced, entrepreneurial environment is quickly leaving that model behind.

The future will have a much broader horizon, but until our education system catches up it will be up to us to blaze our own path.

With Purpose,

Patrick Gentempo

Patrick Gentempo