The Rise of College Alternatives

Today, a college degree comes with both student loans and career uncertainty. We used to count on college as the answer to the job market, but now we have to count on ourselves to take responsibility for our careers.
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If college held the secret to a successful business or full-time job, then there wouldn't be so many alternatives these days. I value the education that I received from Bentley University, while understanding that college isn't for everyone. In fact, only 56 percent of college students complete their four year degrees within six years and only 29 percent complete their two-year degrees within three years, reports the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Today, a college degree comes with both student loans and career uncertainty. We used to count on college as the answer to the job market, but now we have to count on ourselves to take responsibility for our careers.

Many students, and their parents, believe that without a degree they can't compete in the job market. It's becoming harder for recent graduates to differentiate themselves by just having a degree because they are so common now. It is part of the reason why we're seeing a lot of recent graduates pursue advanced degrees, especially those that can't find jobs. The truth, that many don't want to believe, is that many jobs don't even require a college degree at all. Forty-three percent of recent grads that found employment are in jobs that don't require a college education, says the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development. In addition, many recent graduates get a degree in one field and then a job in a different field based on what's available.

The rising cost of education, even in a bad economy, and the students loans that are incurred are a huge issue for young people. The average college graduate has $25,000 in debt and the total student loan debt is now greater than a trillion dollars. These debts are a huge burden because there's nothing you can do to shake them, even filing for bankruptcy. We've heard colleges advertize that a college degree will yield a few million dollars over the course of a working career, but that's not true anymore., a compensation data provider for both employees and employers, found that in 2012 the cost of a college education and graduate earnings decreased the 30-year college ROI, falling 2.3 percent to an average of $353,182 when comparing the same set of schools in 2011. Knowing this, young people are looking towards alternatives to offset the education they could have had or enrolling in programs that enable them to graduate without loans. Here are a few:

Peter Thiel's "20 Under 20" Fellowship. The most ambitious young people compete to bring their world changing ideas to life. If they win the competition, they are granted $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, research and self-education. They are mentored by extremely successful entrepreneurs and get experience you wouldn't get from a traditional professor. CNBC also had a show called "20 Under 20" where the competition is brought to TV for the world to see.

College work programs. Small schools such as Berea College (Kentucky) and Deep Springs College (California). At Berea, students work campus jobs to cover all of their tuition expenses, which end up adding up to $100,000 for all four years.

University of the People. Founded in 2009, this is the world's first tuition-free online academic institution. UoPeople offers Associate and Bachelor degree programs in Business Administration and Computer Science. They have already partnered with leading companies (such as HP) and schools (such as Yale). As of today, students from more than 130 countries have been accepted.

UnCollege. This company was founded in 2010 by Dale Stephens, who is a Thiel Fellow and elementary school dropout. UnCollege provides resources that assist students with designing their own educational paths and feature forums, workshops and more.

Self-education. Start reading books, blogs, and trade magazines in your field. Go to conferences and local events to meet people and get mentors. Go through online courses such as, MIT's Open Courseware, Udemy, and even the Khan Academy's resources.

Start a company. The barriers to entry in the startup world have come down drastically because of the internet and the ability to reach mentors is much easier. There's still financial risk associated with starting a business especially since most founder invest their own money (or their parents), at least in the beginning. Starting a business can lead to a successful career even if it folds.

With all of these different options, we will see more high school graduates ditch college to create their own educational experience. Since children are more tech savvy and hands-on, they are more likely than other generations to take advantage of the free resources provided by the internet. College tuition rates keep climbing while many students are graduating without jobs. The big question is, will employers accept non-traditional forms of education when making hiring decisions? Only time will tell.

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