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In the past, those who spent the time and money to earn a traditional college degree enjoyed more earning power over their lifetimes than those who didn’t.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, in 2015, men with high school diplomas earned an average of $751 per week, while men with a bachelor’s degree earned $1,249. Women with a high school diploma earned only $661 per week, with that figure increasing to $995 with a bachelor’s degree.

However, statistics that compare the salaries of traditional college graduates to those of people who earn professional certifications are difficult to find.

There is also another important element missing from these statistics, and that’s the element of school loan repayment. The average amount of school loan debt for traditional college graduates is $35,000. While the cost of education has skyrocketed in recent years, wages have remained stagnant. That means that many recent graduates are unable to make more than minimum payments on their loans.

Even with a low-interest rate of 6%, that monthly payment will be $250.00, which is about the same as the monthly payment for a reliable car. Making minimum payments over 20 years, the interest on a $35,000 loan adds up to a whopping additional $25,180. That means that the total amount a graduate will repay is $60, 180.

Another factor that today’s students preparing for traditional education careers have to consider is the rapid rate of technological change. In many technical fields, subject matter learned in a student’s sophomore year can become obsolete before they reach their senior year. That’s why many students are opting for new educational strategies. One of those strategies is for students to acquire basic skills in shorter programs offered by technical schools and continue acquiring new skills on the job. Keeping pace with new technologies, software, and applications is a challenge, for employers seeking qualified workers as well as for students.

The cost of a technical program is a fraction of that of a traditional four-year college. A degree from a trade school costs an average of $33,000, compared to the average cost of a bachelor’s degree at $127,000. That’s a difference of $94,000, which is why so many millennials are now opting for solid skill certification programs.

Many technical schools also have relationships with employers who need graduates with specific skills. Training executives from corporations like Huawei, IBM, and Cisco often help develop curriculum to ensure that graduates will have skills and experience with specific widely used applications such as Salesforce.

Another potentially successful traditional education strategy is for students to take classes that will make them more marketable, with or without being formally enrolled in a certification program. Every relevant course becomes something that can be added to a resume. Technical schools that work with corporations know exactly which courses contain the skills and material that’s most in-demand with employers at any given time.

Although millennials have a reputation for being self-centered, they are also self-directed, open and teachable. However, they are less likely than previous generations to spend time and money being taught material that they don’t view as immediately practical or beneficial in some way.

Even the relatively economic conservatives at Business Insider agree that the substantial investment required to earn a post-graduate degree may not provide a high enough return to justify it. However, the technical field is one of those in which continued education pays substantial dividends on the investment.

A recent “Hard Times” report compiled by the prestigious Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, examined data about unemployment and the salaries of both experienced college graduates and those aged 35 to 54 who had earned graduate degrees. Looking at approximately 50 different professional fields, they attempted to calculate the difference in earnings that earning a graduate degree would make.

The right traditional education strategy can make it possible to continue gaining knowledge and experience, without accumulating debt, and that’s a winning combination. In a world in which education too often means decades of debt repayment, getting ahead means finding creative ways not to get behind.

Choosing the right type of education today can make all the difference in building a more balanced and fulfilling tomorrow.


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