I must admit, I’m a nontraditionalist when it comes to higher education. The four-year, bachelor’s degree route simply isn’t a good fit for everyone, particularly considering the high cost. I love the idea of a quicker path to get a similar outcome, because less time spent in the academy almost always means lower cost. With that said, other non-traditional or flexible routes are less promising, or even harmful. For instance, many for-profit schools have a history of poor outcomes, high prices, and predatory practices. You might get flexibility, but not necessarily the right outcomes or less debt. Not good!   

So what nontraditional approaches to college work?

Of course, Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) like Udacity are a great place to pick up a skill, build a portfolio of meaningful work, and network your way into a job. This is not a path for the weak of heart, but possible, if the right supporting factors are in place. 

What about apprenticeships and 2-year technical degrees?

I tend to gravitate toward a few other options in particular: apprenticeships and 2-year technical degrees. Did you know 9/10 individuals who complete at apprenticeship program have a starting salary of $60,000 per year? Furthermore, the starting salaries for many 2-year technical degrees – engineering technology for instance – have formidable starting salaries. Furthermore, these paths often lead to the opportunity for the student to start his or her own business and spur innovation in the economy. 

The stigmas concerning “junior” (community) colleges or moving directly into the workforce without formal education are misguided, especially in the days of the $140,000/year welder. Many non-traditional routes are assuredly better than a 4-year degree with few job prospects.