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Two-year colleges

Posted in Business Careers by Author - Sandra Alvillar on 29 Aug 2013

The decision to go to college or to go straight into a job out of high school weighs heavily on many students’ minds. There are very strong arguments on both sides. College is increasingly expensive, verging on unaffordable, loan interest rates continue to rise, and there are thousands of college graduates who are either unemployed or not working in their field of study. On the other hand, going into the world with only a high school degree does not qualify anyone for a lifelong and rewarding career, just low-paying jobs that have no future, offer little or no job stability, and can quickly become unsatisfying.

So what is the solution? Maybe something in between. Two-year colleges (also known as vocational or trade schools in some cases) are the best parts of both sides: they offer training that qualifies students to be employed immediately upon graduation, and the cost is a fraction of four-year college tuition, sometimes even free if an applicant qualifies for financial aid. Best of all, students can complete these programs in as little as two months.

Two-year colleges are becoming increasingly desirable options not only for high school graduates but also for those in the workforce who have either lost their jobs or who want to change careers. When there is an economic shift or an industry begins to shrink, two-year colleges are ideal in assisting displaced workers to quickly transition into a new and higher paying career. In many situations, they either can’t afford to get a four-year degree because they may already have a mortgage and children, or it would take too many years to work while attending a university part-time. So, training in half the time (or less) is ideal.

Hands down, two-year colleges are more cost-effective. With four-year college tuition generally ranging from $8,000 to $33,000 per year, spending $10,000 for a year’s worth of training from a two-year college that immediately qualifies a student to enter the job market is a compelling argument. And if a student qualifies for a Pell Grant (currently $5,650), that tuition is immediately cut in half, leaving the student with less than a $5,000 bill for a quick and painless certificate.

Additionally, if students are willing and able to work while attending classes, they can begin paying down that loan sooner, leaving a smaller debt upon graduation. Once employed, they should pay the absolute maximum they can afford, so they will end up with very little debt and significantly less interest over the life of the loan. And since students who graduate from two-year colleges often find higher paying salaries than four-year college graduates, paying off that debt early becomes even easier.

As for school loans for a four-year college, the current interest rates start at 6.8% and go up to 7.9%. With the repayment requirement being 10% of current income, it can take a student upwards of ten years to pay off loans for a job that may only pay $30,000 a year. For a liberal arts degree where jobs are scarce and salaries are far less than science and finance degrees, it hardly seems worth the huge expense. Studies show most students take as long as six or more years to complete their degrees (not to mention those who never finish their degree and still have those colossal loans to pay off). As a result, those loans can easily double if the graduate comes across hard times and can’t pay back the minimum every single month. With some loans, interest continues to accrue even if the repayment is put on hold.

Usually, two-year colleges offer programs for jobs that are in high demand and are generally stable regardless of economic upheavals. And many of these programs tend to be hands-on classes that take place at the workplace. Four-year college courses are generally theoretical. This is why so many graduates who didn’t work during college have “no work experience” upon graduation and have to take entry-level jobs that are sometimes not even in their industry. This is not the case with two-year college graduates. They have already performed the required skills for the job and are qualified for hire immediately upon graduation. And on top of all that, trade schools often have career centers that are very successful in assisting their graduates find jobs, whereas universities are so large, that is less of an option.

For those who dislike school in general, just keep in mind, America outsources a tremendous amount of jobs yearly to other countries—the blue collar sector is shrinking. And with the requirements being so few, there will always be tremendous competition for low-level jobs available to high school graduates, GED students, or high school dropouts. Hundreds of people will be competing for the same low-paying, unsatisfactory jobs, so these jobs are harder to get and keep, and employees are easy to replace.

Do a little research into local two-year college programs before you make your final decision. You might be surprised how affordable and life-changing these programs can be. And remember, two-year colleges are not always community colleges. Prices are very different as are graduation rates.