The Value of a 2-Year Degree

With four-year education in flux right now and crushing student debt on the shoulders of a generation, many learners are turning to community colleges, where they can get two-year associate degrees for a fraction of the cost of a traditional four-year degree.

For many families with kids in college, the decision to forgo the four-year experience came quickly in the wake of the pandemic and was driven by both practicality and finance. It was about making smart financial decisions, pivoting on a dime, and realizing that a large part of the hefty price tag for a four-year degree is the on-campus experience that helps kids transition to a more independent, adult life. As most colleges and universities are implementing a mix of online and on-campus learning, with the majority of it coming online, parents were left wondering why they're paying that hefty price tag, or students taking out student loans, without the full experience to justify the cost. 

Take, for example, the University of Chicago, which is conducting a mix of online and in-person instruction for some classes, while other classes will be entirely remote. Students are still required to pay the full tuition price, which comes in at a whopping $59,298 for the 2020-2021 school year. Many parents doubt the wisdom of their child racking up that kind of student debt for an experience that will happen on laptops at their kitchen tables or home offices.

According to CNBC reporting, financial experts are advising students to explore less expensive options, like community college and trade schools. Many are turning to digital credentials in job-specific skills to supplement that education.

After laying the foundation with a two-year degree, students are free to pursue the skills they need to qualify for positions in their chosen fields via digital credentials. It's about shorter bursts of learning, with online classes designed to develop specific skills and competencies, and the stacking of those learning modules to build on and enhance those skills. Rather than earning a broad, four-year degree that encompasses a broad range of subjects, students who choose a two-year option supplemented with digital credentials will be getting a more job-relevant education.

Students who choose this path will be homed in on specific learning outcomes and goals that are designed to make them qualified to enter specific positions.

Could a two-year degree plus online skills development be the new normal? And if so, what does that mean for hiring managers and HR pros in businesses who are staffing new positions? It means that the shift toward skills-based hiring will be even more important going forward, since a wide swath of candidates will be job seeking with skills-based digital credentials.

But there's another facet to focus on. It's that we should be wise to learn from history. According to the Community College Resource Center, the Great Recession has much to teach us about how students, both those just out of high school as well as adult learners, respond to financial uncertainty. Based on the CCRC's research, it's common for older learners to turn to community colleges and other venues for upskilling in a recession or an economic upheaval. For them, it's about getting the concrete, relevant skills they need to thrive in the workforce. For hiring managers, it's about hiring for those skills based on verified digital credentials. For your current employees, it's about keeping their own skills relevant in order to compete with young people entering the workforce with freshly learned, up-to-the-minute knowledge and skills.

Any way you look at it, earning digital credentials is the future for many segments of the workforce. At Credly, we're committed to helping you do just that. Contact us today.

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By Patricia Diaz