Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Diversity in Post-Secondary Education Choices Important for Students

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Diversity in Post-Secondary Education Choices Important for Students

Article excerpt

Adam Jackson discovered that the path to a career can be more complicated than simply deciding whether to attend a four-year college.

Unsure right out of high school about what to study, he kept his tuition costs down while exploring options in 2007 by taking community college courses before transferring to Slippery Rock University for his ultimate goal: a bachelor's degree in business.

But that degree alone was not enough to land him a job in a still-recovering economy, so he returned to Community College of Allegheny County, and in 2014, finished a certificate in surgical technology that has started him on the road to what he now hopes will be a future selling medical devices.

"I got a job right after I graduated," said Mr. Jackson, 27, of Upper St. Clair, who worked first at UPMC Montefiore as a surgical technician and now is employed by Medtronic Inc. as a case specialist.

Experts say job success is linked like never before to post-secondary education, and for many high school graduates, that will mean pursuing a four-year degree.

But depending on interests and short-term needs, others looking to get into the workforce faster will aim for two-year programs, diplomas or certificate training in various careers and trades, even if they eventually decide that moving up their field necessitates going back for a bachelor's degree, and perhaps more.

For Mr. Jackson, it was a combination of credentials and schools that paid off.

In Pennsylvania alone, there are nearly 300 post-secondary and higher education institutions -- both public and private, non-profit and for-profit. They range from sprawling public research campuses and private liberal arts colleges to vo-tech centers, trade and professional schools and seminaries, among others.

That diversity is needed because while more than 60 percent of jobs by 2020 will require some form of post-secondary education, not all will require a four-year degree, according to a study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

About a third of those jobs will require a bachelor's degree or higher, according to research the center did for the State System of Higher Education. Other jobs will require a variety of credentials, among them industry certificates, diplomas or an associate degree.

"We're encouraging students, as well as education providers, to consider what we call 'stackable" credentials," said Julie Kane, higher education associate with the state Department of Education.

"Life happens," she explained. "Some students might come out of high school and decide to begin their career with a certificate or associate degree, and then they realize at some point they want more."

That's not surprising, given data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows a correlation between higher incomes and degree attainment.

The agency reports that the median weekly pay earned by those 25 years and older was $1,138 for bachelor's degree holders; $798 for associate degree earners; $738 for those with some college but no degree; $678 for those with high school diplomas, and $493 for those who did not finish high school. …

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