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Is a Career College Right for You?

Monday, October 25, 2021

Comparing career colleges to universities is complicated. Students have motivating factors for attending each, including career outcomes and time commitments. However, with the cost of attending university on the rise – along with strict academic and social requirements to enroll – many students are turning away from the university standard in favour accelerated programs and real-world training.


Traditionally, a four-year university program is viewed as a guaranteed pathway to success. For some professions like doctor, lawyer, scientist, and engineer, they are essential. Recent data however, shines some light on the actual value of attaining a degree.


For students coming out of high school, university is a right-of-passage. It represents the first opportunity of youthful independence and building new relationships. It’s a time of exploration, self-discovery, and intrigue, but not without drawbacks.


The perception is universities are a necessary step between youth and adulthood and it is one that still holds value. Typically they offer favourable results. Hiring managers often over-value a degree when they are reviewing candidate, and view it as a safe play. University grads are also viewed as earning more over their lifetimes than those who don’t have degrees.


Universities Face Hard Times

Increasingly, universities are eliminating classes that teach hard-skills that can go out of date quickly, with soft-skills like creative thinking, critical thinking, and leadership. Even though these skills don’t go out of date and remain in demand by employers, they are not the same as job-ready skills students need upon graduation.


Hard-skills are often difficult for universities to teach, especially in the instructional style large institutions have. Larger classes and lectures tend to be one-way environments with hundreds of students, all vying for a professor’s attention. The only chance to engage with the material or have any guided instruction is to work with other students, or with the teaching assistants who are usually students themselves and little opportunity for hands-on training.


One thing that has come out of the pandemic, however, is that more students are demanding a more individualized, or accelerated approach to learning. In the fall of 2020, more than 300 thousand part-time students have been driving post-secondary enrollment, while first year and international students have been on the decline.


It’s the decrease in these second groups that may be of concern to all students. The decline in international students in particular is having a disproportionate impact on funding, meaning universities have to make sacrifices in programming or technology upgrades over the next few years.


The declining enrollment during the pandemic is also leading to a concern that many students decided to take a gap year, and may cause a ‘bulge’ of incoming students, with more competition for fewer spaces. The impact this will have on the part-time students is still unknown, but it could mean difficulty enrolling in part-time studies as universities prioritize full-time and international students.


Even before the pandemic, a four-year degree was no guarantee of a superior outcome. A 2018 study by the Harvard Business Review suggested that as many as eight percent of CEOs do not have a university education. Over the course of their careers these CEOs stayed longer and took fewer roles, and advanced by building trust and credibility in their respective industries. The qualities they possess – like passion, work ethic, perseverance, loyalty, and a growth mindset – were invaluable to them, and could not be taught in post-secondary.


More Options and Greater Flexibility

Of course not everyone wants to be a CEO. The study is just an example of high-level employees who achieved success not through university pedigree, but through tenacity, experience and skills. It marks a broader shift in hiring practices, with more students looking at a skills-based approach to learning. Hiring departments have had to shift their approach. Companies like Apple and Google have begun to prioritize skills and experience over education. 


Once thought to be inferior to traditional universities, career colleges are better able to prepare students for these new trends. Accelerated programs, boot camps and rapid upskilling mean that people are graduating with the skills and experience they need to be competitive in the job market.


Career college students are being offered smaller classes, with more individual learning and more hands-on training. They have more one-on-one guidance and more real-world career advice, and with accelerated programs, boot camps, and rapid upskilling, graduates are getting the skills and experience they need to be competitive in the job market.

Traditionally, those who held a university degree would enjoy higher life-time earnings than those who didn’t, but recent data is showing that it’s more complicated. Once high paying careers like doctor, lawyer, and engineer are factored out, the gap becomes smaller. Over their lifetimes 16% percent of those with high school diplomas earn as much as those with a bachelor’s degree.

With employers starting to emphasize skills and experience over advanced education, and earnings gaps narrowing, more students are seeing the advantages of a career college. With lower costs, smaller classes, and tailored studies, students are better positioned to enter the job-market right at graduation, and have little need for additional training when they are hired, and a clear path to success.

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