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Guest blog: The 'Four-Year College Myth'

Here is a guest blog by Jerry Ice, president of The Graduate School in the District.

Created by the Department of Agriculture in 1921 for continuing study, The Graduate School now serves 150,000 students a year as an independent nonprofit entity. With the acquisition of Southeastern University this year, the institution plans to begin offering degree programs.

Ice became CEO of The Graduate School in 2001.

* * * * *
As area colleges are welcoming back students this week, many D.C. residents are asking themselves if a four-year degree is right for them.

What other, less costly and more job-oriented educational alternatives are out there? Are viable careers supported by these alternatives?

Whenever there's high unemployment, enrollment increases at colleges and universities, but for many, attending a traditional four-year college may be impractical, if not impossible. Luckily, there are many viable paths to success.

Well over half of all students attending four-year undergraduate institutions are dependent on loans and graduate having incurred enormous debt; graduates of two-year programs and community colleges are far less burdened. Four-year colleges still maintain healthy enrollments, but the "traditional" four-year college road to a good job is becoming the less-traveled one (last year's "College Issue" of the Boston Globe featured an article titled "The Four-Year College Myth" that illustrates this change). There's a whole world where individuals can explore occupational- or job-related education, whether they are pursuing certificates, A.A. degrees or skill upgrades.

With the economy regularly creating new careers, educational institutions must constantly rework their curricula to meet the needs of students and prospective employers. The most successful of these are directly tying education to increased workplace performance, and that can lead to greater job security and higher pay for students.

Community colleges now represent over 50 percent of higher education enrollment. Their affordability and accessibility are a significant part of their appeal, as is their focus on essential skills and job-related training. While many who attend community colleges do so with the intention of transferring to a four-year school and earning a B.A., it appears that more than half are there to complete technical or vocational training, or just to upgrade their job skills.

Distance education is also a reliable, economically feasible way for many people to acquire an education. For the most part it is less expensive than most classroom-based training--and the option of having control over their time is important to many. If you are currently employed and face the normal time constraints imposed by job, family and other commitments, distance education is a great way to pursue professional skills. You are not bound by geography, so you can choose the school that's right for you, no matter where it is, and unless the class is offered live, you can study at your own convenience.

There is no doubt that education and training are critical to job success. While four-year degrees are not a necessity for entering certain careers, even the traditional vocational fields demand a certain level of education. There are many careers in IT, the allied health professions, business and other areas for which specialized training is available through short-term programs, community colleges and adult education programs. Similarly, currently employed professionals who want to move ahead in their careers need to determine what further training they need. Acquiring new and updated skills in any field is critical even for experienced employees.

Job-related education and training can help those D.C. residents who want to be hired by the biggest employer in their city -- the federal government. Your local school may not have exactly what you need, particularly if you're trying to get in the door. D.C. residents don't fill the number of federal jobs they should, given their location. This is an area to explore. If you're a D.C. resident graduating high school or an adult returning to school, you should look seriously at federal occupations. Individuals entering government right now are coming into a highly skilled, performance-based workplace that requires strong technical skills, strong communication skills and a willingness to upgrade knowledge.

By earning certificates in certain areas, residents can expect to be more attractive candidates for federal employment. Areas where federal hiring is particularly strong right now include project management, acquisition/procurement, and financial management. Some of the certificate programs for these areas are one- and two-year programs; they don't require a four-year commitment.

Explore the possibilities for short-term professional training and determine what will work best for you. Quality education is out there, and so are good jobs, and with creative thinking and an open mind, you can take advantage of them. People have been choosing alternate paths, with great success, for as long as there have been schools. Sometimes, bucking "tradition" is the traditional thing to do.

Does College Inc. come up garbled on your Blackberry? Try this address, and bookmark it for easy access.

By Daniel de Vise  |  August 31, 2010; 2:22 PM ET
Categories:  Administration , Attainment  | Tags: GS Graduate School, Jerry Ice, college attainment, four-year college myth  
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Next: Liberal arts college offers a job to every grad


Great points - Thanks for rasing them. There are a ton of options out there and not everyone is aware of them.

Another question - what about less "valuable" fields of study?? Should colleges offer majors in areas where there are minimal opportunities to earn back the costs of the education? Should students pay $150,000 to get a degree in social work???

Posted by: edvisors | September 3, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

USDA, Graduate School? I taught there before...

Posted by: knowledgenotebook | September 3, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

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