Young Americans now carry over $1 trillion in total student loan debt. And their parents — maybe you included — are forced to borrow against their futures to help pay for their kids' college educations.
Last week I told you about two revolutionary online resources that offer alternatives to crushing college debt: www.coursera.org and www.openculture.com. These sites allow you to take university-level coursework — for free.
This week I want to put forward another controversial idea: that an associate degree is far more valuable on a dollar-for-dollar basis than a bachelor's degree from a university.
An associate degree is an undergraduate degree that's usually awarded by a community college or technical college after a course of study usually lasting two years. A bachelor's degree, on the other hand, typically takes four years to complete and is awarded by a university.
It is amazing how poorly the distinction is understood. Most folks still believe associate degrees don't provide a meaningful gateway to a sustainable career path. But the evidence points to the contrary.
According to new research from The Hechinger Institute, 30% of associate degree holders earn more than those workers with bachelor's degrees.
For instance, in Tennessee the average associate degree holder makes $38,948 a year -- $1,300 more than the average bachelor's degree holder. And in Virginia, associate degree holders make $2,500 more a year, on average.
This actually makes perfect sense. Associate degrees tend to focus on real world skills, such as lab tech jobs, therapists, paralegals and machinists.
And the costs are WAY lower. A degree from a private university costs on average $172,000. According to the College Board, the average cost of a two-year associate's degree is $6,262.
In other words, the average bachelor's degree costs 27 times what the average associate degree costs.
These are important considerations. Grandparents are now the targets of 529 college savings plan ads. Mom and dad are tapped out. So the college savings cartels are turning to grandmom and grandpop.
My advice is to get your kids to take free college courses on coursera.org and openculture.com. When they have identified a clear interest, encourage them to consider an associate degree, if one is available.
Ignore the snobs who think a costly bachelor's is somehow "better" than an affordable associate degree. And remember that one of the first steps to building unconventional wealth is having the guts to ignore the mainstream view.