An Alternative to the 4-Year Plan

An Alternative to the 4-Year Plan

By tpm | June 16, 2015

Just a quick anecdote I wanted to share. A few weeks back, I was at possibly the last graduation party I’ll ever be invited to as a teacher of a former student. It was a great experience speaking with the recent grad and her friends, many of them also former students of mine, as the conversation was more relaxed and open than it typically is between teachers and students.

As the conversation shifted to future plans, some of the students who are recent plans started sharing what universities they are headed off to and what they plan to major in. I was particularly interested in the story of one recent grad from the math team, a particularly strong student.

The math team students tend to be the best and brightest, and even so, I’ve seen them take a variety of college routes for a variety of reasons. Most go straight to a traditional 4-year university, but some have done community college first to keep expenses down, others have down the military to take advantage of the GI Bill. Likewise, they choose a wide variety of majors from engineering to mathematics to education to the humanities.

For the first time, however, this student told me his plan was to opt out of the 4-year university system altogether. He was planning to get an Associate’s degree followed by 9 months in a computer programming academy and straight to work. He said that the average starting salary for students of the programming school, which doesn’t have the 2-year degree as a prerequisite, is $75,000.

We didn’t discuss the cost of his plan, but from similar coding academies I’ve seen and the typical cost of a community college degree, one would have to think this plan would cost this student no more than about 1 year of schooling at many 4-year universities.  I’m still a big fan of the 4-year university as I know how my time there shaped my life, but their skyrocketing costs are unappealing. I’m going to be curious to see in the years to come if the many emerging alternatives to the bachelor’s degree can start to pick off a significant number of top tier students like this.

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