3 Burgeoning Alternatives to the 4-Year Experience

According to the new brief, there are three increasingly popular nontraditional pathways available to students looking to save money and gain workplace-needed skills:

1. Gap years, internships and self-directed learning: According to the brief, this pathway immediately following high school graduation lets students explore areas of personal interest while also learning the skills needed to succeed in the competitive job market; rather than being forced to pick a career path without having experienced it first.

2. Online resources and learning: Thanks to the growth of online learning opportunities, everything from degrees and certifications to micro-credentials and enrichments can be found at a lesser cost for a more tailored postsecondary skillset. While some may choose to completely replace in-person classes altogether with these options, some are choosing to complement and enhance their traditional learning with these opportunities. Students in K-8 are also starting to look into these options in order to get a head start in their education, notes the brief.

3. Immersive hard-skill programs: Students are increasingly foregoing the college route entirely, says the brief, and instead favor a direct route to developing technical skills, training and real-world education provided by programs that dive into technical careers (i.e. web development, user experience/user interface [UX/UI], digital marketing, and entrepreneurship training). Many other students are using these programs to get a head start before making the plunge into a four-year college or university pathway.

What These Pathways Mean for Colleges and Universities

Though nontraditional pathways may seem like a threat to traditional four-year programs, institutions (like Harvard) are increasingly supporting these alternatives immediately post-high school graduation as a way to not only help students better focus their career aspirations and personal interests, but gain skills that could help them perform better academically.

For example, the brief notes that many students taking a gap year choose to learn a new language abroad, or internship at a company that helps teach interns basic computer science or STEM-related concepts.

These skills born from a student’s own personalized learning could also be a boon for college and university admissions looking to attract the best fit of student in order to improve retention rates.

“As a result of these educational developments, I refrain from spending all of my counseling hours talking about grades, classes and test scores,” writes Alex Ellison, education consultant and founder of Dunce Labs, and editor of  The Dunce Cap. “Instead, I dedicate time with the students with whom I work to explain the values starting a blog, creating an independent project they can be proud of, and building a unique portfolio of all the cool stuff they have done over the years. For the college-bound, these pieces are immensely beneficial in the college admission process…But perhaps the most important benefit of this kind of out-of-the-classroom work is to the students themselves, who can say they have both skills currency as well as a greater sense of purpose in a world where grown adults still struggle to find such a thing.”

For more information on the pathways offered, read the full brief, “College 2.0: New Pathways to Higher Education.

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.


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