Robert Bayus, 26, of Cortland, recently bought his first home and now lives happily ever after with his wife, Michelle. The kicker? Bayus has created a successful career for himself without ever going to college.
Bayus is a state-certified sprinkler designer with North Coast Fire Protection, where he designs fire protection sprinklers for commercial buildings such as Wal-Mart stores, hospitals, and office buildings. He began working for North Coast Fire Protection when he was 18. He started out preparing materials in the store, moved up to processing orders in the purchasing department, and now designs sprinkler systems, which he has been doing for more than five years.
The decision not to go to college was a fairly simple one for Bayus. "I didn't go to college because it wasn't economically right for me," he said.
When Bayus began working, the only specialized knowledge he had came from a semester in high school in which he learned how to use AutoCAD, design and drafting software that he now uses to design sprinklers. "There's no school for what we do," said Bayus. "The only way you can learn it is to actually work with a company." Bayus explained that it takes about a year and a half to learn how to design sprinkler systems, but the state certification requires a minimum of five years of experience, and applicants have to pass certain examinations administered by the National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies.
Bayus isn't alone in his decision. With rising college costs and alarming freshman dropout rates, more and more students are looking at alternatives to college. Suzanne Markle, director of admissions at the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, explains why some students opt not to go for a four-year degree. "A four-year degree program generally is going to cost more than an associate degree program, at the same time keeping the student out of the workforce for a couple more years."
PIA, which has a branch campus at the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, offers technical degree programs and career-focused programs. The programs' durations range from just a few weeks to two-year associate degree programs. Markle said that PIA graduates generally earn more in their first year of full-time work than they paid for their entire program. "It's a very quick return on investment," she says.
Deciding against college
Jeff Haig explained some of the reasons that students decide against or don't complete a four-year degree program.
Money. Many students think they can't afford college or simply don't want to spend the money on it. However, Haig points out that between government grants, student loans, and other sources of aid, money is available to those who really want it.
College isn't the right choice. Some students decide not to go to college because they didn't like high school, had a bad high school experience, or feel burned out after high school.
Too many responsibilities. If students take a year or two off after high school, it can be harder to return to school later. "They never go back to school because they get caught up in life," said Haig, noting that these people might have spouses and children to support or just don't want to give up a steady paycheck to go back to school.
Lack of support. Falling in with the wrong crowd, having no mentor to give guidance, or lack of support from the student's family are all reasons that students can be turned off from college.
Maturity. Someone who has too much fun partying might not care about school enough to make it a priority. Getting mixed up with drugs and alcohol can also keep a person from finishing a degree program or from going to college in the first place.
Another appeal of such programs, Markle said, is the structure. Students typically spend about 30 hours a week in class, but their time outside of class is their own. "There aren't as many outside assignments, writing papers and that kind of thing," said Markle. The general education courses are also more limited than at a university. "It's not knowledge for knowledge's sake. It's very targeted training," Markle said.
There's also a strong market for graduates from such programs. "The job outlook for aviation and also industrial and electronics technicians is continuing to grow, and we are very successful in placing our graduates," Markle said.
Whatever students decide to do, it's important to get some kind of post-high-school training or education. "Going beyond high school is really important," said Jeff Haig, co-owner of the educational consulting company Maximize Your Education and co-author of "Unlock Your Educational Potential." "A high school degree is not really what it was last generation." Haig encourages students to figure out their interests as well as long-term goals. "This is a very competitive environment, so it's really important that students go beyond high school and get some sort of expertise."