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When A Traditional College Degree Doesn’t Make Sense

by Fred Hurst
Senior Vice President

December 05, 2013

Northern Arizona University launched Personalized Learning in May 2013 and became the first public university in the nation to offer degrees based on competency, not the credit hour.

The credit hour was devised more than a century ago to make the most of the learning tools available at the time. Today, we have the technology to break down barriers of distance, of income, and even of learning styles.  

Competency-based education isn’t going to replace the traditional university model, but it does fill a void.   

More than 60% of college students today are working adults or otherwise outside the 18-22 residential campus demographic. While it obviously still serves a clear need, the traditional higher education model is not serving the majority of students. 

The truth is this: the traditional college education is not always the right choice. Here are five circumstances when a traditional college degree doesn’t make sense. 

1.     Traditional Classes Bore/Terrify You

You’re past the age where college sports and a good dining hall are priorities, and the thought of spending weeknights in a classroom is paramount to reliving high school horrors. The traditional classroom experience is not for everyone. That’s why many universities have begun to offer a range of distance learning and online alternatives. I’m proud to say NAU is a leader in this field. 

2.     You Have More Than Enough Experience

Today, a college degree is a litmus test for entry- and mid-level positions. While it never hurts to further your education, the return on investment late in your career is often much lower for a bachelor’s degree. A graduate degree, however, can boost your earning potential 22%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

3.     A Certificate Will Do

Certifications can add relevant experience and expertise to your credentials without the time and cost of a degree program. A psychology degree won’t do you much good when applying for technology-related positions, many of which ask for particular IT certifications. If you’re certain about your career specialty, sometimes a specialized certificate is enough. Extension schools are also an affordable option. 

4.     You Want To Enter A Skilled Trade

Job growth for masons, electricians, plumbers, and other tradespeople is outpacing the national average and income for these positions is comparable to jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree. Trade school or a formal apprenticeship is often the first step toward such a career. 

5.     You Just Want To Learn

At NAU, hundreds of non-degree seeking students take classes simply for the joy of learning. A rigid degree program gives you new knowledge and skills but it doesn’t offer you the flexibility of following your interests. And there’s a lot you can already do with a library card. 

With Personalized Learning, NAU is working to create an education system that works for everyone. It will take much time and effort but, in the long run, will help to create a better educated, more productive, and more engaged society. 

And that makes total sense. 

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NAU-Extended Campuses