Student loan debt has exceeded $1.7 trillion in the United States and is a constant burden for many Americans. Terry Kim and Jacob Hess, co-founders of NGT Academy, say a four-year degree isn’t the only way to a well-paying and rewarding IT career. Many companies prioritize skills-based training over degrees.

Education is expensive. Student loan debt now exceeds $1.7 trillion in the United States and a constant burden for many Americans, causing younger generations to wonder: Is it worth it? It’s essential to make sure an investment in education makes sense for your long-term career and financial goals before embarking on a four-year program that often comes with high student loans. While traditional college is the default for many young professionals starting out, it’s important to remember that education is not a one-size-fits-all business. Not all positions require graduate school, and many recruiters prefer hands-on experience and skills-based training over a framed degree. Knowing if your dream job warrants expensive training can give you a head start on success and protect your wallet for years to come.

Competence against diploma

Many college degrees are needed for doctors and lawyers, but skills-based training provides greater value for industries like software engineering, where self-taught coders can earn significant incomes.

In reality, Google, Apple and IBM are part of a growing contingent of power brands that no longer require a college degree for applicants. Skipping college isn’t the career killer it once thought, and for those dedicated to acquiring a tailored set of abilities to match their desired role, skills-based training can optimize their hiring potential and make them more attractive candidates than their college-educated peers.

In the growing IT industry, for example, many careers value this faster online certification training as much or more than a traditional four-year degree. The job description for these roles prioritizes a honed skill set, including:

Software engineer


  • Completion of a skills-based training program
  • Strong coding skills
  • Know-how to design computer applications that solve real-world problems

IT support specialist


  • Knowledge of coding language
  • Knowledge of common operating systems
  • Some experience in computer troubleshooting



  • Code debugging experience
  • Know how to create and maintain operating systems
  • Proficiency in computer languages ​​to modify and test computer programs

Cyber ​​Security Analyst


  • Completion of an online course
  • Solid understanding of scripting and coding
  • In-depth knowledge of operating systems, including mobile applications
  • Ability to recognize and anticipate threats to virtual infrastructure
  • Training in digital forensics
  • Awareness of regulatory guidelines

DevOps Engineer


  • Understanding of the software development life cycle
  • Excellent command of coding and scripting
  • Mastery of automation processes
  • Usually requires at least three years of hands-on experience

Network engineer


  • An industry certification demonstrates that you have the necessary skills, such as Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA). A degree in computer networking, network administration, computer science, or a similar field is helpful but not required.
  • Ability to design, build, maintain and troubleshoot a variety of computer network systems
  • Experience configuring network devices and components such as routers, switches, and firewalls, and maximizing network performance and security
  • Knowledge of disaster recovery as it relates to IT operations

To weigh the pros and cons

A conventional curriculum and competency-based training program have benefits and risks to consider. Four-year degrees offer a broader field of study, which means a greater variety of specializations to choose from and more flexibility for your ultimate career path, as well as time to clarify your selection goal. Connections with tenured professors, other students, and a directory of university alumni also create networking opportunities and potential job prospects after graduation. And, of course, there’s the unique college experience that a home or online education can’t replicate.

On the other hand, four-year degrees are time-consuming. Most of the teaching takes place in a static classroom environment, with minimal actual training or tools, and some of the teachers will have had little or no experience in the field before being certified to teach. Additionally, the first two years will likely be spent fulfilling a general course requirement that has nothing to do with the student’s chosen major.

To combat this slow education process and compete with increasingly popular skill-based training courses, many traditional universities are changing their process to reflect online certifications and programs, targeting students who are already working at full time and cannot dedicate years to a multi-faceted degree. While this change is significant, universities are often understaffed for these programs with technicians who have experience in the field. After completing these accelerated certification courses, students may find that universities do not have a placement program comparable to that provided by a well-connected skills-based training solution.

Learn more: Why your company’s training programs are failing

Students aiming for a four-year degree should also consider their long-term career opportunities. How likely is your major to be in demand in a decade or two? Does your career path offer a solution to a real and growing need?

Unlike a four-year degree, competency-based training courses can usually be completed in months rather than years, and everything taught will be fully applicable to the real-world scenarios that a graduate’s ultimate job would present. student. These targeted courses are highly tailored to a specific role, so if you’re studying computer programming, you probably won’t be required to take an art history session. Once completed, finding employment after graduation is often easier, as skill-based occupations are in high demand.

Graduates of these crash courses typically enter the job market quickly, which means earning a living will be less of a hassle at first. The compromise? This fast pace will require strong internal motivation and drive, and any future career pivot will be difficult as the education with these programs is very specific. Students should ensure that their field of study is exactly what they want before entering.

The high cost of higher education

The average cost of a four-year degree in a public school is now $41,000. Attend a private university and that number exceeds $152,000. These numbers have increased significantly over the past 20 years as in-state tuition fees increase at public universities. by 211% and tuition fees increase in private universities by 144%. At this rate, many potentially high performing workers will be deprived of their education. But affordability and education don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Upon completion of coursework, students face a competitive job market, especially in the in-demand IT sector. With some experience, the annual salaries of these professions are higher than the national average.

Interested in learning more about competency-based training options that offer certification in your chosen field of study? Discover the first part of this series here.

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