With the issue of high student loan debt on everyone’s minds recently, skepticism of college is growing. Many students who decide to go to college end up having second thoughts about their majors or about college altogether. A Department of Education study showed that about 30% of undergraduates changed their major within three years. One in 10 students changed majors more than once. Meanwhile, about 26% of college freshmen starting in fall 2017 ended up dropping out, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.
For Joseph Schmoke, former chairman at Andrew Jackson University, these numbers were impossible to ignore. “I saw all these things and, along with a whole bunch of other people, realized the old college dream is not what it used to be,” Schmoke told Parentology. His realization led him to develop Alternatives to College, a website dedicated to connecting people to non-degree career and technical education and college alternative courses.
Providing Access to Alternative Courses
After leaving his position at AJU, Schmoke decided to help those who decided college wasn’t for them. “For years, if you didn’t go to college, it carried kind of a stigma that, boy, that’s a sure sign of a potential loser,” Schmoke says. “That’s just not the case.”
Around the same time, Schmoke came upon the book A New You: Faster and Cheaper Alternatives to College, by Ryan Craig. “In the back was a directory of a couple hundred organizations that provide non-degree, college alternative courses like coding boot camps, instructions in logistics or multimedia, auto body repair, computer programming, and things like that,” Schmoke recalls. “I’d been trying to find something like that for a couple of years, or creating one myself.’”
Inspired by Craig’s book, Schmoke decided to create an online version of the directory. Within a few years, Alternatives to College was born. Currently boasting 20,000 courses taught by 2,300 different organizations, the site provides access to training in a variety of fields. Among them: aircraft mechanics, video editing, animal training, business analytics, cardiovascular technology, computer programming and more.
Rethinking ‘The Old College Dream’
“Too many people had an idea in their mind — you go to college, come out with a degree and are set for life,” Schmoke says. “That doesn’t happen anymore.” In fact, Forbes reported last year 43% of recent college graduates work in jobs that don’t require college degrees. In some cases, graduates stayed in these jobs for up to 10 years. Meanwhile, the Association for Career & Technical Education reported 27% of people with career or technical licenses or certificates earned more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient.
In light of these statistics, Schmoke’s goal with Alternatives to College is to help people avoid a costly college investment that isn’t guaranteed to benefit them. “It gives them choices,” he says. “Should they take four to six years of their life and go into debt that averages somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000, then can’t get jobs? Or they can get jobs that don’t require a degree?”
Creating Stronger Alternatives
Looking forward, Schmoke hopes to use Alternatives to College as a means of evaluating non-degree programs. “Kind of like colleges have accreditation, these organizations that are non-degree need something to validate what they do is good, and the students are making wise investments.” Until then, Schmoke remains committed to facilitating opportunities outside of those aligned with higher education. “College provides something very important for people around the world. Is it for everybody? Of course not.”
It’s also crucial, he believes, to remove the stigma of not going to college. “The very best thing a parent can do for a child is to open their mind to the world of possibilities,” Schmoke says, “and not decide for that child, ‘This is the path you should take.’ That just doesn’t work. It’s not smart or humane, and it’s not in the child’s best interest.”