As fall falls, summer is gone and the new school year is once again upon us. Invariably the conversations with our clients move away from paying for summer vacations and planning house renovation projects to tuition bills and choosing colleges. This is an exciting time for us and we enjoy these conversations. Having known many of our clients for a decade or more and seeing their children grow from kids to young adults, it is inspiring to see them pursue higher education. 

The college conversation is quite a bit different than it was ten years ago. With tuition costs skyrocketing and many college graduates finding it difficult to find a suitable job after graduation, parents are struggling to provide the correct guidance to their overwhelmed high schoolers. The solution might be that you haven’t looked at all of the options yet. 

More and more young adults are taking the path of 2-year associate degrees. Institutions that offer associate degrees can be less intimidating to an income freshman with smaller class sizes and a more manageable campus. Another attractive factor is cost. Generally speaking, the tuition costs of a 2-year program are significantly lower than that of a “garden variety” 4-year institution. 

This shouldn’t be looked at as an argument that a 2-year associate degree a better than a 4-year degree. As a matter of fact, many of the credits earned in an associate degree program may be transferable towards a 4-year degree should the student decide to pursue that degree in the future. Madison College is one local school that has a transfer program with UW-Madison. One thing is apparent: the pay gap for college graduates versus high school has been widening, while costs have been trending upwards for college tuition. Perhaps we will start to see a decline in enrollment in college admissions and the wage gap, but our feeling is that we will see an increase in shorter duration education to teach specific skill sets. 

Associate degrees can also have a sharper focus on specific vocations and fields of studies such as healthcare, apprenticeship programs, or technology. Students who have a clear understanding of their desired career post-graduation may find the associate degree to be a more efficient path as they may be able to bypass elective courses required by many universities. 

Associate degree programs are simply another option to be looked at and discussed between parents and students. Our recommendation is to research and be open-minded to as many options as possible for higher education as the correct outcome may be different than you anticipated.  

Nate Condon