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Higher Education, Lower Cost

In our last post we started a discussion about whether a four-year college degree is really the right path for all the young people who are being pointed in that direction (if you missed it, read it here). It’s no secret that college costs and the corresponding debt have skyrocketed, and the statistics around transfer and graduation rates would indicate that not everyone should be pursuing a four-year college plan. This whole topic has grown out of my own experience interviewing many college graduates who simply are not prepared for a real-world work environment.

So that leaves two questions: if an undergraduate degree is the right path, how do you make it work financially; and if not, what are the alternatives? We’ll cover the first of those questions here and the other one in the third and final post.

With average college debt now surpassing $25,000 and job prospects in many fields less than rosy, some serious reflection is in order for the young person choosing the college route. And there’s the trouble: getting your average 17-year-old to do that kind of long term, big-picture thinking is a challenge at best.

Some of the means and methods to defraying the cost of an education are well-known: lots of research to find every available scholarship, staying at home and doing the first two years of basic requirements at a community college, and working one or more jobs while in school to pay some of the bills and keep debt down.

I would suggest that the most important choice comes before all of that, though, and that’s the field of study. Nobody wants to break the heart of a high school student by suggesting that a major in French Literature or Vocal Performance might lead to trouble in finding gainful employment, but there’s too much at risk to not have that conversation. The right play here might be to major in a field that’s in demand and minor in your “passion.”

Many local students have benefited by choosing a field of study not offered in the Maryland college system, allowing them to attend out-of-state schools with in-state tuition. This not only means huge savings but can apply to niche fields that are in big demand, like Pharmacy or Insurance Studies.

It all comes down to the individual, of course, and no one should make a decision based on finances alone. There’s a huge shortage of nurses looming, for example, but if the sight of a paper cut makes you queasy then that’s probably not the way to go.

Finally, your high-schooler might decide that college simply isn’t the right choice. And then what options are left? We’ll cover that in the next post.

Mike Popowski is President of PBI Restorations. Reach him at