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Education or Application? The $1m Question for Today’s Students

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As I sat on my couch watching primetime TV a character from a comedy show uttered the following words, “I’m not going to college. Why should I load up on debt just to binge drink for four years when I could just create an app that nets me all the money I’ll ever need?”

Those two lines had me reaching for the remote so I cold rewind the DVR and make sure I heard him correctly. I had indeed and that struck a cord with me. I began to wonder if the sentiment that was coming out of my TV represented the way today’s younger generation perceives the value of an education.

We live in a world where seemingly overnight someone with a great idea can strike it rich and have never cracked open a text book. Then again for every Mark Zuckerberg there is a Lauran Fretwell, a Dental Assistant graduate of Carrington College in Sacramento, California. When the world presents another Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, it also gives us a Karen Levy, a graduate of the Institute of Business and Medical Careers (IBMC) School of Massage in Ft. Collins, Colorado. For every Andrew Mason, the brains behind Groupon, one of the fastest-growing companies in history, there is a William Huether, an Accounting graduate of Briarcliffe College in Long Island, New York.

What Zuckerberg, Yang and Mason all have in common is that they didn’t finish college but are known for creating something that has impacted each and every one of us on a global level. Their names can be added to the list of others who didn’t feel college was for them. That list includes Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin, to modern day financial success stories such as cooking star Rachael Ray, Apple’s Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and the Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson.

Today’s students are growing up in a world where memorization of Steve Job’s 2005 commencement address at Stanford University is a code of honor. A Google video search to watch it brings back 4,289,000 results ranging from a three-minute snippet to the entire 15-minute speech. Addressing the crowd of graduates and faculty, Jobs tells them to “love what they do,” “don’t settle,” and, probably the most quoted lines from young people to their parents who decide to drop out or not attend at all, is about connecting the dots of your life and trusting them. Jobs says, “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

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The stories of today’s Internet billionaires has been told numerous times in countless publications, TV news specials and in Mr. Zuckerberg’s case an Aaron Sorkin feature film called The Social Network. What isn’t being told often enough are the success stories of those like Fretwell, Levy and Huether.

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Many of today’s students realize that an education is something they not only need to get ahead but experience in the workplace is also important. The career school model does provide this education and allows the student the opportunity to experience the “real world” through an externship as well as having instructors from the field teach them. In most cases, this is an experience the student would not receive if they had chosen a traditional four-year college. “Most of my friends are stressing over what classes to pick and the large amounts of homework. I never had that,” says Fretwell. “What I liked best at Carrington was I had a set schedule, Monday through Thursday, 7:30am until Noon. I knew from July to May my schedule and I was able to work my job around it.” This flexibility ensured that she could meet other financial obligations, but also allowed her to spend extra time at her externship, which hired her shortly after graduation. A Dental Assistant education isn’t the end of the road for Fretwell. She wants to earn her Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions (RDAEF) degree, which would increase her responsibilities at the orthopedic clinic she is currently employed with, not to mention her financial outlook.

While the opportunity to make money on her own terms played a big part in Levy’s decision to enroll at IBMC, the experience of helping others was equally as important. “The sooner you finish your education, the better. Then you are out there making money and doing the things that have always been your goal in the first place.” Levy who enrolled in the Massage Therapist program with a Bachelors of Science Degree, allowed her to transfer credits making the 15 months program only 10 months to complete. “Since I had a four-year degree, I have to say that the 10 month program went by very quickly. I feel like I was able to optimize my time and education to the best of my potential but at the same time it was very quick.”

The fast pace to graduation does put students out in to the work place faster than a traditional college but this quickness also gives this new workforce an opportunity to bring to the public the latest techniques and skills that they most recently learned in college. After graduating and a few odd jobs, Levy is now working exclusively in the Massage Therapy field. She has returned to IBMC in the role of the Massage Clinic Coordinator at the graduate clinic on campus, sees patients at the clinic and has been sharing a room with another MT at the Integrative Acupuncture Clinic in Ft. Collins. “I feel like this is just the beginning of my future in the health field.”

William Huether earned his Associate in Applied Science Degree in Business Administration from Briarcliffe College where he graduated Summa Cum Laude. While at Briarcliffe, Huether continued to work at his day job, managing a Family Fun Sports Center and was happy to be on the road to completing a two-year degree. That was until a conversation outside of the classroom with a professor became a turning point in Huether’s academic career.  “That conversation really brought to my attention that I should really focus myself and go in to a filed that is more specialized.” Huether’s associate degree was just the beginning to making something of himself. “The people that work there (at Briarcliffe College) are there to really inspire you.” Inspired they did, after graduation, Huether continued his education to earn a Bachelor of Business Administration Degree in Accounting (Summa cum Laude) and is currently pursuing his Master of Business Administration Degree in Corporate Finance and his C.P.A. license in New York State.

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Today’s students are aggressively focused on success now. They are, after all, the fast food, high speed Internet, “I expect it now” generation. A chance to make more money than they could ever imagine is an opportunity that is hard to pass up when not considering the long-term impact an education can bring to one’s life. “The college experience I had is something everyone should have. It enriches your life socially and academically,” says Huether, which in the end will bring bigger bank accounts and a diploma.

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