While we linger on the difference in earnings between bachelor's degree holders and high school graduates, many people still find themselves in a situation where a four-year, traditional residential bachelor's degree wasn't the right fit after high school. Often, life has carried people to a time when they have to make different calculations than an 18-year-old typically must make when it comes to answering, "Why is college worth the cost?"
While average data can tell us a lot about how education improves outcomes for many people, from access to healthcare to financial stability, it's also essential to think through what you want that education to do for you. If your goals are to progress away from entry-level, less-skilled positions, you need to determine whether a four-year degree will even give you access to those higher-level roles. If you need a particular certificate or credential, that might be much less expensive to obtain while providing a similar result when combined with your prior experience.
Many of the benefits of attending college, things like forming social bonds, may not be your priorities when deciding if college is worth it. Non-traditional students of all kinds can find a valuable way to make post-secondary education work for them.
Here are three ways to make college worth the cost at different stages of life.
Begin Your Career With Shorter Certificates
Many teens and early 20s adults see the costs of four-year degrees and fear that they don't know enough about what they want from their careers to justify such large expenses. A significant source of savings is to attend a school like Portland Community College, where degree programs and certificates are often directly linked to a particular job prospect. You can complete certifications within 1-2 years and can flexibly arrange schedules to work alongside it, helping to support yourself while advancing your career. These young people choose a job they want with a sustainable prospect, with solid pay and the opportunity for things like health insurance, with the full recognition that they might change their minds down the road.
Earn Flexibility in Refining Your Goals Later
Pursuing a quicker career path also allows you more options later and better flexibility to change industries. Seeking significant degrees without a plan in mind can lock you into a career you decide you don't like, making it challenging to move away from either due to costs or over-qualification. When you start small, you can earn an income while soul-searching or undergoing the personal growth necessary to find your true passions.
Spending fewer years attending school while young also saves costs in accrued debt, letting you pay down any debts sooner and achieve a stable financial position. The decrease in stress will improve your quality of life and allow you to focus on yourself, your family, or anything that gives you meaning in life. You can enter your program with more stability to pay for it and the capability to earn money without forcing your younger self to figure out your entire life too soon.
Mid-Life or Mid-Career: Use What You Know to Save Costs
Many people find themselves in a situation where college wasn't an available option early on, either because of family precedent, a direct path into a family business, or caregiving work as a parent or with other family members. Often, this lands people a decade or two into adulthood before they get the chance to look at college carefully. At this point, they are still weighing the factors of potential debt, how to handle other responsibilities, and where they want to go in their careers.
However, they have at least one thing that younger adults don't: experience. Whether you've been raising children or running operations at your family farm, the years of adulthood have taught you quite a bit about what kinds of tasks make you feel like you're thriving and which ones remain chores or challenges to you.
Strategize Your Education
You can be very strategic about schooling at that phase, which maximizes the benefits of attending college. For some, the goals they want to achieve will require a four-year degree or even a master's or doctorate. They can still save money by looking at many options, completing prerequisites at less-expensive institutions like community colleges, and checking with employers to ensure that the path they choose will lead where they want to go. In many cases, however, life experiences have provided them with the main reason they want to pursue a particular passion. They only need a credential or certificate to be recognized for those skills. Someone who has been informally working with their family business may only need an Accelerated Accounting certificate to fill in the gaps and do accounting for other companies. Strategic choices of where to study and what to study can save a lot and make your college experience impactful.
Use Inexpensive, Work-Concurrent Coursework To Test Out a Potential Degree
Portland Community College offers vocationally focused pathways that last from a few weeks to two years or more. There are also a variety of community education courses that are an inexpensive way to explore something new without having to commit to it for years. At any time in life, an excellent way to make college more worthwhile is to learn some introductory skills and information before you commit to a longer course of study, and Portland Community College is a great place to do that!