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Education: How to Get a Great ROI Cheaply



subject matter expertise

Education often flies under the radar as one of the top returns on investment. As an intangible asset, education stands apart from investments like real estate, equities, and cryptocurrencies. However, no one should ignore the income returns from a strong education, especially as economies are shifting toward creative work and subject matter expertise.

For instance, a bachelor’s degree from a top 100 university has a median return of $420,000 over 20 years. Additionally, a World Bank report found that for every year of education, you can expect a nearly 9% increase to your salary.

Along with traditional education, alternative (sometimes more lucrative) forms of education exist, including MOOCs and technical certificates. Many certifications can earn you six figures upon completion. Education and specialized expertise command the best salaries in our knowledge economy.

Savings for Traditional Education

A report published by the AGB found that college grads earned 70% more than those with only a high school education. In addition, the earnings gap between high school graduates vs. college graduates is growing every year. However, many pundits are coming to the conclusion that the skyrocketing costs for bachelor’s degrees wash away any financial benefits that they confer.

Though the earnings potential clearly outpaces those for only high school graduates, the price tag remains shocking. In an interview with CNBC, Ray Franke, a professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, said:

“If you look at the long-term trend, [college tuition] has been rising almost six percent above the rate of inflation. That’s brought immense pressure from the media and general public, asking whether college is still worth it.”

This does not mean all hope is lost or that college is a sunk cost that students must eat one way or another. Instead, they can apply common-sense tips when it comes to keeping the cost down.

college costs

Save on college costs

College Costs: Ways to Keep Them Down

Keeping down college costs doesn’t have to be complicated. These tips include common-sense approaches that any student can take advantage of, such as:

  • Taking the required core classes at a community college to save on tuition fees
  • Sticking to in-state colleges the whole way for lower tuition (Time Magazine found that income minus debt is often better for public school graduates vs. private school graduates).
  • Applying to scholarships every year during your free time. Check out CollegeData’s scholarship finder for this.

In other words, college students need to get scrappy to find every opportunity to save on costs. Whether you complete a college education or technical certification, you can stay competitive as specialized knowledge grows in demand.

Alternative Education Options Are Now More Lucrative and Respected

With the expanding costs of college, many alternative educational routes are cropping up or getting back into focus, such as the skilled trades.

I’d like to draw attention to some lesser-known but well-respected technology certifications. Since universities have a hard time keeping up with the latest technologies, a certification can be a quick path to gaining a competitive edge.

Not all certifications are created equal, however. So do your own research. Depending on what industry you are interested in–whether it’s networking, information security, or software engineering–you want to make sure that the credential is respected in that industry.

For example, in networking, RedHat’s networking certification is still renowned for its breadth and challenge. Amazon’s Cloud Architect certification has also quickly become popular as companies seek professionals to maintain their cloud infrastructure. Additionally, the CompTIA Network+ certification remains a highlight for anyone’s resume.

With in-person and online classes that accompany many certifications, you gain real-world experience and expertise in a short time. The respected ones are no easy feat and don’t substitute subject matter knowledge since they make you apply what you learn.

Plus, at a fraction of the cost of tuition, you save much more money if you decide not to take the college route.

While many of the certifications, plus their labs and classes, can be grueling, you’ll be able to command a six-figure salary out the door, even without a four-year degree.

Online MOOCs and Study Groups

In addition to formal certifications, online courses are another avenue to gain in-demand skills. While MOOCs like Udemy and Coursera are mainstays, many other online services exist. Their interfaces and workflows can better accommodate those of us who have different learning styles.

For example, has an interface to learn programming languages by applying them in real-time. Each course has a console to apply the material learned from each lesson. This interface maps to the way that you would write code for production applications, so you can be ready to start making software. So if lectures are not your learning style, Codecademy is a great alternative that allows you to skill up quickly for popular markup and programming languages, such as HTML, CSS, and Javascript.

Even if you don’t plan on software programming as a profession, Markdown knowledge has become a near necessity in the software industry. That’s because documentation, software repositories (like Github), and blogging platforms run Markdown as the main formatting language. To begin, check out the Markdown Tutorial site, which is a free way to become familiar with the Markdown syntax in a few hours.

If you learn better with others and on a specific regimen, is a lesser-known avenue to learn new skills with groups. A search for any technical or professional network gathering turns up many results in urban areas. Since the gatherings have a topic and recommended study material, they could help light a fire under your desire to gain skills, in addition to meeting like-minded people.


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Keep Learning on the Cheap for Top Salaries

In summary, there are inexpensive ways to get the training you need without breaking the bank. The 21st century has marked a global shift towards a knowledge economy. What you know and what you can create matter more than your physical brawn. Innovation requires knowledge.

Thankfully, we are no longer dependent on brick-and-mortar schools to get us up to speed. It’d be a pain to return to college every couple of years in order to stay competitive. Certifications, online courses, and lectures, online forums are new avenues to become an expert and command a bigger salary with each passing year.

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