The best bang for your buck?


an empty classroom

A classroom awaits students.

Truth be told, pursuing a degree at a four-year college or university is not the only education option available. In fact, for students seeking a quicker and more affordable way to pursue their studies, a vocational education might be a more feasible alternative. A vocational education, on average, costs roughly $35,000, compared to the total cost of a bachelor’s degree, which, on average, costs in excess of $65,000 (greatvaluecolleges). However, just because a vocational education does not typically come with a hefty price tag—one that promises eternal debt—does not mean it should be overlooked or undervalued.

Higher education is costly, and many students must apply for student loans to finance the costs associated with earning a degree from a four-year college or university. And, the more reputable the institution, the higher the costs. According to a recent USA Today article, “The Average Student Loan Debt in Every State,” Americans’ education debt has reached $1.4 trillion. This article suggests that, to avoid the student-load debt trap, parents and students are encouraged to save money and choose their schools wisely; however, this is easier said than done, especially since college tuition costs are continually rising.

Furthermore, a costly college education does not guarantee a profitable job upon graduation. In fact, according to a CNBC survey conducted from May to September 2016, 70% of student respondents indicated they were unemployed or working in a job outside of their chosen field. The survey also suggests that many college graduates do not know what to do with their degrees. So, upon graduation, many students find themselves confuzzled, jobless and in debt. As a student, I cannot help but cringe and panic over the possibility of my not-so-bright future. Also, I cannot help but wonder why, upon encountering such statistics, more students, myself included, do not consider a vocational education.

According to Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs, “A four-year degree is not the best path for all.” I have always enjoyed watching and listening to Rowe, not only because he is easy on the eyes and has a memorable speaking voice, but because I admire his practicality and strong work ethic. Rowe believes in the importance of education; however, he does not believe that a high-dollar education is the only alternative, especially since such an education does not really prepare students for the real world. Rowe makes a valid point. I can simply look at members of my own generation, and see that, despite being well-educated, we do not know how to handle disappointment and/or differences of opinion. If students are going to pay a fortune for their education, they should at least know how to deal with setbacks in the real world.

Furthermore, like Rowe, I think vocational schools are a suitable alternative for students seeking a quicker and more affordable way to hone their work skills and obtain a job in a field that does not require a four-year degree. Just because a job requires a skill rather than a college education does not mean it is low-paying. In fact, many blue-collar jobs pay more than white-collar jobs. I do not have to look any further than my immediate family to see the truth of this statement. Plus, I have met more than a few well-to-do plumbers and electricians who earn more money than the school teachers I know. This is unsettling considering the amount of education required to earn a teaching degree.

Vocational schools have typically been regarded as institutions that attract low-performing students bound for low-paying jobs. However, vocational education is not only intended for students with undesirable academic records, and labor jobs can be more profitable than they might appear. Such online sources as Edutopia and Forbes, for example, have touted the benefits of a vocational education, indicating that some vocational qualifications are equivalent to a four-year degree; a vocational education teaches practical, real-world skills, which makes graduates more employable; and there is great potential for financial success.

When it comes to higher education, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Just because a four-year education is typically considered the appropriate path, does not make it the most suitable path for all students. I mean no disrespect to the four-year education path. Heck, it is the path I have chosen. However, students should not adopt the mindset that the traditional four-year way is the only way to achieve success. Furthermore, my curiosity and respect for alternative education options continue to grow when I consider the debt and lack of real-world preparation associated with many four-year colleges and universities. Plus, in all honesty, I am not a fan of the violence and protesting that have become commonplace on many supposedly reputable campuses.

About Holly Reinert

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