New Pathways to a Successful Adulthood

The Holy Grail for children in our society is college acceptance. From a very young age, we prepare them for the educational marathon that will define their lives. All too soon, they learn that grades and test scores are the measurements of their worth. The mental and physical exhaustion of this marathon has exacted a heavy price. Our children are exhibiting epidemic levels of anxiety, depression and suicide. But, we all must endure this price so they will have a chance at college, right?

What if college wasn’t the only pathway to a successful life? As a market researcher, parent and grad student, I have been on a quest to find out and the news is encouraging. Not everyone has to follow the same path! There are now pathways offering advanced training to well-paying jobs without the large debt or long time commitment of a four-year degree.

Technological advances have reshaped every aspect of our lives, especially the workplace. With this dizzying pace of change, colleges as the sole provider of higher education, may not be capable of delivering all the skilled workers needed in this new economy. The disconnect is exemplified by 6 million unfilled jobs across many industries. Indeed, a job posting site, compiled a list of the best jobs of 2017, which includes Data Scientist, Digital Project Manager, and Salesforce Administrator. Many of the listed jobs do not require a 4-year degree.

To fill the gap, lower cost, shorter-term training programs are rapidly emerging. These offer certificates, credentials and even “mini” degrees for specific skills and can be found through:

– college extension programs;

– MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) such as Coursera, edX and Udacity;

– industry specific online and blended training programs (WozU); and

– CTE/Vocational Training.

Coursera, edX and Udacity, all started in 2012 with a shared mission to “democratize education”. As their popularity has grown, they are increasingly partnering with businesses to offer affordable, fee-based training programs. For most of these, no previous experience is required.

Google just announced a new certificate program, offered through Coursera, that trains students for the 150,000 entry level IT support positions that are open and unfilled. The program can be completed in 8 to 12 months at a cost of $49/month. Requiring only 8-10 hours a week, it is an ideal fit for those who need to work.

In healthcare, CTE/vocational programs offer “pay as you go” training opportunities. Modern Technology School in Fountain Valley offers an X-Ray Technician/Medical Assistant program that takes 11 months. It costs about $18,000, less than two years tuition at a state college. Graduates earn salaries of $40,000 to $52,000. Additional training offers higher earnings potential with the progression and timing left up to the individual.

Many companies have well established internal training programs enabling advancement based on competency. Ernst & Young, IBM and others have announced that they no longer require degrees for applicants. Apprenticeship programs, which allow students to be paid as they learn, have been expanded and funded at the state and federal level. Additional pathways are opening in a multitude of fields to serve the immediate demand for workers.

For many youth, college will continue to be the chosen path as a valid transition into adulthood and for certain careers. However, alternative pathways can now be compared to the college option which has been under increasing scrutiny because of its high costs, large debt burden and poor returns. Rarely mentioned in the discussion of college are some harsh realities:

  • The majority of students take 5 years or longer to complete a 4-year degree.
  • For every 100 youth entering college, 40% will drop out without a degree.
  • Only about half of those graduating will find a job requiring a degree.

What would life be like if we didn’t spend so much time and energy preparing our children for college? What would our family life be like? Most of all, what would our children be like? We can finally find out.

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