Why We Need to Increase Access to Affordable College Education
Graduates earn more and have more opportunities for career advancement
by Adrian Ridner
It’s no question that earning a bachelor’s degree is one of the most important things someone can do in their life. College graduates earn an average of $1 million more than high school graduates over their lifetime and have more opportunities for career advancement. This becomes particularly important as the cost of living rises, especially in major metropolitan areas.
I’ve seen first-hand that there are many benefits to earning a college degree, and yet doing so remains out of reach for many. My family moved from South America to the U.S. to give me a chance at a better college education, but I found that even in the U.S. there are obstacles to higher education and a lack of resources to help students. In fact, only a third of adults in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree. This inspired me to start Study.com as a way to help students with college decisions and provide an alternative, affordable pathway to a college degree.
The obstacles to earning a degree become even more evident in nontraditional learners who are oftentimes trying to balance family and job responsibilities with pursuing their education. They can’t go to school full-time and class schedules don’t always work for them, so they have even more of a disadvantage. And without full-time status, they often don’t qualify for financial assistance or grants.
The Barriers to Earning a College Degree
While there are many things that can get in the way of earning a college degree, some of the most common reasons I’ve seen include:
- Cost. Tuition is expensive and the cost of earning a degree only gets higher as you factor in associated expenses, like supplies and room and board. Students often take out loans to cover the cost, with 2017 graduates averaging almost $40k in student loan debt.
- Convenience. For many, it’s not possible to be a full-time student at a traditional college right after high school. Getting a degree can feel unattainable when you need to provide for your family, have a job with hours that can’t accommodate class schedules, or have other life obligations.
- Confidence. Taking college-level classes can be daunting for anyone and can seem even more intimidating for someone who had to take time off in between high school and college. And the more time you let pass, the harder it gets.
How Online Education Can Help Bridge the Gap
The good news is that alternative credit options can help address all three of the biggest barriers to earning a college degree. One of the best-kept secrets in higher education is that some credits can be earned online, making getting a degree faster and more affordable. Alternative pathways to college credit can help with the lack of access to higher education, but unfortunately, not enough people know about them. Options like the College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) give students the opportunity to use online exams to test out of general education requirements.
Students can save thousands of dollars on the cost of a degree by earning college credits online. With Study.com, for example, we’ve made it possible for students to earn college credit at about one-tenth the cost of traditional college courses. Students can finish their general education requirements online and transfer to one of 1,500 colleges and universities – essentially earning the same degree for less.
Earning credit online can also be far easier for those with busy schedules. Students aren’t tied to a class schedule and can log in to review materials at a time that makes sense for them – even on their mobile phones. There’s no need to cut down on work hours or sacrifice time with family.
Finally, self-paced online courses are a great way for students to test drive the college experience and prove to themselves that they’re academically and personally ready for college. It’s a way to practice self-directed learning, which is a key difference between the high school and college experience.
Ways to Encourage Change
If we want to see more individuals earn their college degree, then we have to do all we can to help them get there. A big part of this is ensuring students everywhere are aware of alternative pathways to college and how it can help them reduce college costs.
Teachers and administrators should help spread the word to students and to parents about alternative credit. As they start to plan for their futures, talk to them about how college doesn’t have to be out of reach, and educate them about methods for saving time and money on earning a degree. They may seem like small conversations, but they can have a huge impact.