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Comparing Similar Benefits Among Apples, Oranges and Bananas

By Bob Park

Every day we know less about more. With technology advancing at an ever-increasing pace, we are instantly behind if we don’t keep up with change.  Nowhere is this more important than how we earn our living.  Protecting your career, and therefore your livelihood, should be at the top of everyone’s list as the world grows more complex.  One way to do that is by developing a new skill that can take your career to the next level or even in a completely different direction.

Given the prolific increase in “skill-development programs” over the past ten years, it’s clear that a lot of people are doing their best to adapt to the times. Whether it’s technology, software development, aviation maintenance or any number of other professions requiring specific, industry-based training, enrollment at skill-based programs is increasing.

These programs can be found in a variety of venues, from traditional universities to immersive boot camps to online education. But one thing they all have in common is that they aren’t cheap.Acquiring new skills for a specific job can be an expensive proposition, so if you are going to invest your time and money into one of these programs, you’ll want to conduct thorough due diligence in making your decision.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Quality matters, but the Goldilocks Rule applies. Take some time to understand the program’s curriculum and the quality of the content. More importantly, think about how the content is delivered. For example, immersive programs with hands-on opportunities to learn are often the most substantive approach to obtaining a new skill quickly. However, the immersive approach can have a steep price tag and typically doesn’t allow students to work a part-time job while enrolled. If the immersive program is right for you, then be prepared to pay for tuition as well as living expenses for its duration.Alternatively, you could consider an online program that offers more flexibility and a lower cost, but you might not get the substance needed to be successful when you finish. The trick is to find a program that works just right for you. If you don’t have the funds for an immersive program but prefer an in-person experience, then perhaps a blended approach or flipped classroom (lectures online, homework in-person) is a good option.

Alternatively, you could consider an online program that offers more flexibility and a lower cost, but you might not get the substance needed to be successful when you finish. The trick is to find a program that works just right for you. If you don’t have the funds for an immersive program but prefer an in-person experience, then perhaps a blended approach or flipped classroom (lectures online, homework in-person) is a good option.

 

  1. Consider the school’s faculty structure. Whether to hire full-time faculty or independent adjunct instructors is a business decision for academic institutions that can have an impact on the quality of a program. Full-time faculty are a dedicated resource for the school and can give students more of their time. If a school you are interested in hires full-time instructors, then make sure their skill set is not outdated. Skill requirements change frequently, and someone who has been in academia for too long may no longer be on the forefront of best practices. Conversely, adjunct instructors are more likely to be on the cutting edge of particular skills, but may not be as available to students, so consider what works best for you.

 

  1. Is the program built end-to-end with outcomes in mind? Unlike a traditional undergraduate degree where its value extends beyond just getting a job (i.e., social development, educated population), skill-development programs are designed for one specific goal – improving your career options. Do your homework and ensure employment outcomes are taken seriously. This means looking beyond placement rates (we will get to those in a minute). A school that takes employment outcomes seriously will have rigorous admissions standards in place, offer real-work opportunities during the academic program, such as clinical rotations or internships, and possess a well-funded placement team to help with the job hunt. This last one might seem like it’s easy to confirm since most skill-development programs are required to publish gainful employment rates.  However, there aren’t reporting standards in place which means measurement varies from school to school.  When reviewing outcomes, proceed with caution and ask these questions:

 

  • What percentage of students land new jobs before the program is complete?
  • How do students most likely find jobs? On-campus recruiting?  Alumni network?
  • How strong is the alumni network, and do students have access to it?
  • What percentage of students are still looking for jobs 90 days after the program is complete?
  • What kind of support do students receive if they don’t secure a job within 90 days?
  • Do you count students that land jobs outside the field of study?

 

  1. Cross the “t” and dot the “i.”There is one more important step to help you make a sound decision: Conduct a reputational and regulatory risk review of the school.  Find out what other students are saying about the program. Look into the administrators’ backgrounds to ensure there are no red flags.  Determine whether the school is accredited (although this still doesn’t guarantee quality) and if they are in compliance with the higher education act.  Make sure there aren’t any legal actions against the institution or the administrators.  A simple Google search can go a long way to help you avoid making a costly mistake.