With the price of education rising to ridiculous heights, making sure that the student realizes a return on this huge investment is becoming more and more critical. In an earlier article, we talked about finding practical courses in a liberal arts institution where vocationally oriented courses are scarce. In this article, we will push the decision point back a bit and look at your choice of institution to allow the greatest chance of taking useful courses for work and life.
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The category of college that probably offers the greatest range of courses is the large state-affiliated institution. These mega universities offer everything from the arcane and impractical to courses that are almost on-the-job training. As recipients of substantial government funding, such universities are under an obligation to train the residents of the state in all the job descriptions that will be needed for the state to function and prosper.
This means that they often have departments, or whole schools, of agriculture, hotel and hospitality management, forestry, and allied medical professions. Most states have one very large campus, and many have satellite campuses, scattered throughout the state. Historically, when teacher’s colleges and other small colleges, including some historically Black institutions, fell on hard times, they were incorporated into the state university system.
This extended the reach of these universities substantially. Another outreach is the Cooperative Extension Service, which brings the resources of the agricultural department of a university into communities that would be too far away otherwise. Cornell University and Purdue University both have remarkably wide-reaching Cooperative Extension Services, for example, that bring classes in nutrition and horticulture, among other subjects, out into rural towns and villages in New York State and Indiana.
If you can find your way clear to attend such a state school, you will have a choice of pursuing liberal arts courses such as History, Anthropology, Art History, and Philosophy and signing up for courses in other departments that have more vocational orientation. You might have to sweet-talk your way into some of these, but that is a matter of a meeting with your advisor and the heads of these other departments or schools. If you decide to change your major and take something with an assured job opening at the other end of the four years, these convenient institutions are the place to be.
The areas of the economy that seem to be recession-proof include almost all the allied medical professions and related specialties, and computing. Environmental engineering and business are still strong, as well. These jobs generally require a Bachelor’s level degree in the discipline, although Associate’s degrees will get you in the door in some areas. This means that to compete for these jobs, you need to commit to the field at some point and take all the courses that the major demands. One course will probably not be enough to get you a position, although it may demonstrate your interest and open the door for an interview or internship (trying for internships, by the way, is a good strategic move in most fields).
Hot medically-related jobs right now include biomedical engineering technician, nursing, nurse’s aide, home health aide, dental assistant or hygienist, pharmacist and pharmacy technician, biochemist, physical/occupational therapist aide, physician assistant, medical assistant, and athletic trainer. One might add an ultrasound technician to the list. Most of these positions require at least an Associate’s degree, and the pay-off is considerably higher the more education you have. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics maintains useful comprehensive lists of jobs and their responsibilities and prospects at http://www.bls.gov/oco/oco1002.htm#diag.
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You will need science courses to prepare for most allied medical professions course work. After all, you need to know how organisms function, and how chemical and physical processes work. This means taking Biology, and perhaps Chemistry or Physics (this is necessary for ultrasound technician certification, for example). Unfortunately, these courses are also the requirements for pre-medical students. Such committed schoolmates are notoriously likely to be quite competitive and perhaps even cut-throat about getting a good grade in these crucial courses. It is wise to avoid taking the pre-med suite of courses at a place and time that includes a sizable proportion of pre-med students if you possibly can.
This material is difficult enough without worrying about someone spitting in your lab set-up and spoiling your results. If you need these courses, take them in the summer or at night, or another less academically demanding school (check up on transfer credit beforehand). Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a great job (meaning one that pays well, in this case) that requires no preparatory serious work, unless you can be discovered as a reality show personality!
On the other hand, long term care nurse’s aides do not need much in the way of a degree beyond a high school diploma. There is, instead, is a specific rather light-weight curriculum that each state requires for their certification. Here is an example of the requirement for Texas http://www.dads.state.tx.us/providers/NF/credentialing/NATCEP/cna.pdf. The Pennsylvania requirement calls for 160 hours of accredited training, divided between 80 hours of lecture and 80 hours of instruction in a clinical setting. (http://www.ccac.edu/default.aspx?id=145723).
This is strenuous work, but there is always, always a demand for this job description, both in facilities and in the home. The pay is not fabulous, but the need is great and your clientele will be deeply grateful. There are a variety of accredited institutions that offer this training, including community colleges.