By Dianna Muldrow

As the cost of a college education is skyrocketing, students are looking to alternative options that will save them from spending years paying off crushing debt and provide flexibility while they fulfill other needs. Non-traditional higher education methods are growing in popularity as knowledge of other options increases.

One somewhat unexpected new option is the ability to “test out” of a degree. While many high achieving students have taken AP courses in high school, allowing them to earn college credits, many of these students are not aware that almost the entirety of a college degree can be completed through these exams. CLEP and DSST exams are two less familiar methods that can also be used to complete a degree by exam, although there are numerous others. AP exams are familiar and understood by many, but even GRE subject tests are capable of counting as undergraduate credit.

These other opportunities arose as needed for many individuals that required specially tailored programming. DSST exams began as a program for the Department of Defense, allowing soldiers to earn toward their college degree even when they were unable to attend classes. AP courses originated – as many know – to allow intelligent and hardworking high school students to use their time more efficiently and get ahead in their education.

Today, while these excellent purposes are still being fulfilled, other groups are also finding what they need through these programs. Single parents who want to go back to school but cannot quit their job are discovering that they can study on their own and earn most of their college credit cheaply and quickly. Students in school that are underperforming can now be rewarded for hard work and self-study. Homeschool students are realizing that their more flexible schedules are complemented by these exams and that through using them they can supplement their curriculums with college courses.

There are several major draws for these programs, one of which is the ability for the student to self-direct their learning and take the subject at their own pace. Students who are interested in higher education are a rapidly changing demographic. Some are returning to school after other careers, others are already balancing careers and family but are interested in advancing. This evolving demographic has different needs than the traditional student, and they are finding that alternative methods better fit those needs.

Additionally, the cost of these exams is negligible when compared to the cost of a college course, even one at a local community college. This is incredibly important to the many students that are trying their best to balance budgets and their education.

Colleges and universities should take note of the number of students that are abandoning them for affordable, flexible options. The ‘student body’ is changing and higher education will be changing with it.