USA TODAY International Edition

Career available with little or no debt

Alternativ­es to college give workers access to wide range of jobs

- Medora Lee

No one knows what the Supreme Court will decide on student debt cancellati­on, but for some people, it won’t matter. They’re already forging toward a future with little to no student debt to haggle over.

As an alternativ­e to college, some people have gone through certificate programs – which can teach people the necessary skills for a job in less time and at a lower cost than a four- year college degree. Others have found organizati­ons like nonprofit Merit America to learn skills, or companies like Multiverse to help them find apprentice­ships. Apprentice­ships are meant to teach people skills they need for work without incurring a mountain of debt.

Since 2013, the number of apprentice­s tracked by the Department of Labor has doubled to 437,083 last year. Meanwhile, nationwide, undergradu­ate college enrollment dropped 8% from 2019 to 2022, with declines even after students returned to in- person classes, according to data from the National Student Clearingho­use.

Doug Shapiro, National Student Clearingho­use executive director, partly attributes the decline to students weighing the cost of college against the benefits. Students “think about what the actual cost of tuition will be,” he said, noting they’re also increasing­ly comparing the return on investment of different programs and need to weigh borrowing costs against their earning power.

“It changed my life,” said Halid Hamadi, who racked up $ 100,000 in debt studying economics at Penn State University and didn’t earn a degree because he couldn’t get a loan to cover his final semester of college.

He tried to find a way to finish, working myriad jobs – Subway, Jimmy John’s and as a bar and restaurant bouncer. In the end, he found Merit America and is now an integratio­n engineer, which coordinate­s and implements a company’s computer applicatio­ns.

These aren’t just blue- collar jobs

One of the biggest misconcept­ions about apprentice­ships and certificate programs is that they’re only for people interested in trade jobs like plumbers,

chefs, mechanics, or constructi­on workers, according to the Society of Human Resource Management Foundation, which helps people find apprentice­ships and is partly funded by the Department of Labor. But it’s more than that. It’s also for software engineers, marketing specialist­s, data analysts, web developers, project managers and many more roles.

“Apprentice­ship works for any program that is skill- based and that can be supported by experienti­al learning,” the foundation explains in its literature. “Apprentice­ships are growing in nontrade industries such as IT, health care, advanced manufactur­ing, insurance and hospitalit­y.”

The cost structure’s also compelling, especially when college costs are soaring and putting people into debt. A Gallup poll last year showed that 46% of parents said they would prefer their child pursue something other than a bachelor’s degree, and more than onethird cited finances as an obstacle. Additional­ly, just 56% of adults under age 30 who went to college said the benefits of their education outweighed the costs, according to a Federal Reserve study.

Merit America and Multiverse say no money ever changes hands up front, not even for the applicatio­n.

Merit America learners might pay back for a limited time a small, set monthly payment, but only if their salaries meet certain thresholds. Otherwise, they pay nothing. People whose salaries meet the salary requiremen­t when they leave the program usually pay around $ 100 monthly, much less than what college would cost, to fund the next round of learners.

For example, Merit America’s Java developmen­t program costs a maximum of $ 8,400 ( many programs cost less and would require a smaller monthly payment). You’ll make 24 monthly payments of $ 350 only when you land a job making $ 50,000 or more. After four years, the agreement ends – even if you’ve paid nothing. If you ever lose your job, or if your income drops below the income threshold, payments pause.

Multiverse is completely free because companies and partners who value skilled workers cover the cost of training and hiring apprentice­s, it said.

Certificate programs run anywhere from free to about $ 25,000 depending on whether you’re starting from scratch or freshening skills. That compares to several tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars for a four- year college degree.

What jobs don’t require a college degree?

A sample of high paying so- called white- collar jobs that don’t require a four- year college degree include:

● Air traffic controller. The annual median salary was $ 138,556 in 2021, according to the Federal Aviation Administra­tion. According to learn. org, the coursework neededcost­s between $ 10,000 to $ 35,000.

● Dental hygienist. The annual average salary is $ 84,802, according to Indeed. com. An associate degree costs on average $ 22,692, according to the American Dental Education Associatio­n.

● Informatio­n technology support, automation, systems integrator and more. Tech- related opportunit­ies are still abundant, with computer and IT profession­als’ median salary hovering at $ 97,430 in May 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can now get some certificates for free or up to a few hundred dollars while a full program costs less than $ 25,000.

Nonacademi­c credential providers, including Google, IBM and marketing giant Hubspot, now offer nearly 550,000 badges, course completion certifications, certifications and apprentice­ships.

Last year, Google announced a $ 100 million Google Career Certificates Fund to support nonprofits in helping youth access skills- based training and supportive services. Google estimates 70,000 Americans have completed these certificates, which are available to anyone, with no college degree required.

People in apprentice­ships or who already have jobs but want to update their skills also take these courses.

Tech’s still one of the biggest bangs for the buck

After examining 2,000 vacancies posted in December on LinkedIn, online learning platform ELVTR found the top five jobs that don’t require a college degree are in tech and pay between $ 74,000 and $ 100,000.

“In the world of tech, there are so many people skipping college and going to companies for immersive courses that are 10 to 15 weeks,” said Gregg Walrod, director of engineerin­g and programs at software boot camp Coding Temple. Walrod, himself, is one of these people.

Bored with school, he dropped out of traditiona­l high school for homeschool­ing, worked on the floor of Best Buy and slowly climbed the corporate ladder to manage Best Buy’s Geek Squad in China. Throughout his career, he’s taken certificate boot camp classes to continuall­y update his skills and allow him to keep moving up the ranks at different engineerin­g gigs.

A 2021 Georgetown University study showed bachelor’s degree holders earn a median of $ 2.8 million during their careers, 75% more than if they had only a high school diploma.

However, it’s important to note “more education doesn’t always get you more money,” Anthony P. Carnevale, director and lead author of that study, said. “There’s a lot of variation in earnings related to field of study, occupation and other factors.”

Winning outcomes for companies, people and diversity

There’s a disconnect between what many educators versus employers and young people believe college provides, some experts say.

“The challenges are that businesses are struggling to get what they need, and college in its current form is incredibly expensive and not delivering a return for people who go and isn’t creating a more diverse workforce,” said Sophie Ruddock, vice president and general manager of Multiverse North America.

Forty- two percent of employers and 45% of youth believed new graduates were adequately prepared for entry- level jobs compared with 72% of education providers, according to a 2013 global study by McKinsey.

“The education- to- employment system fails for most employers and young people,” it said. “Examples of positive outcomes in education to employment are the exception rather than the rule.”

Those are all issues these programs aim to address, program administra­tors and experts say. Giving people skills they can immediatel­y use at their jobs helps companies cut training costs.

Because the programs cost much less than traditiona­l colleges and have a flexible learning schedule, they’re also great equalizers for people, Walrod said. They serve many lower- income people, women, people of color and low- wage workers looking for a career change or an alternativ­e path to the middle class, he noted.

The government could also do more, said Walrod, who also mentors people interested in advancing in the tech industry.

During the pandemic, Coding Temple participat­ed in Chicago’s free ChiCode program to teach more than 50 lowincome people software skills. “Every one of those people got jobs,” Walrod said.

Coding Temple hopes to replicate that success under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunit­y Act, aimed at helping job seekers access employment, education, training, and support. Under that legislatio­n, Chicago’s offering lowincome, unemployed people financial assistance to gain skills for work. That assistance would be enough to make Coding Temple’s programs free, Walrod said.

“We have a 97% placement rate of our graduates,” he said, noting that Coding Temple offers a money- back guarantee. “If you’re actively seeking a job but can’t find one 9 months post- graduation, we give your money back.”

 ?? GURUXOOX/ GETTY IMAGES ?? While most electricia­ns do not need a bachelor’s degree, many positions require coursework at a technical or vocational school as well as a multiyear paid apprentice­ship program. Most states also require electricia­ns to hold a state- issued license.
GURUXOOX/ GETTY IMAGES While most electricia­ns do not need a bachelor’s degree, many positions require coursework at a technical or vocational school as well as a multiyear paid apprentice­ship program. Most states also require electricia­ns to hold a state- issued license.
 ?? PROVIDED ?? The Society of Human Resource Management Foundation said apprentice­ships and certificate programs can be access points for careers as software engineers, marketing specialist­s, data analysts and many more roles.
PROVIDED The Society of Human Resource Management Foundation said apprentice­ships and certificate programs can be access points for careers as software engineers, marketing specialist­s, data analysts and many more roles.

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