Grabbing onto an alternative college education

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Grabbing onto an alternative college education

July 16, 2013

alternative education

By Ray Hughey

Looking at the educational landscape, Canby’s Melissa Weaver knew the path to getting back to school was going to be tough financially. The 45-year-old had for more than 11 years and with her kids getting older, the desire to get some schooling and jump back into the job market was strong. But how to afford it? Weaver found an interesting alternative to traditional big university or community college education.

Having been a stay-at-home-mom “I started looking at schools and noticed that the costs were such that I just couldn’t afford it,” Weaver said. “Online classes were too much, too.” That’s when her collegiate choices took an interesting detour toward Penn Foster.

Weaver wanted to get training in medical billing and coding and found Penn Foster offered a program that was affordable — very affordable. “The fact you could make a low initial payment and then payments each month was really attractive,” Weaver said. And so, for $39 down and $59 per month, Weaver earned a career diploma in the medical and billing field. She finished in July 2012 and owed nothing for her diploma. “It was nice to pay it off early,” she said. “It is also nice not to have the next 10 years of students loans to pay off.” Suddenly, getting career-useful training was affordable and very available. Penn Foster is located in Arizona and Pennsylvania. Weaver did plenty of research on the school just in case the phrase “It is too good to be true,” applied. What she found were plenty of positive references and an institution dedicated to affordable education.

“They send you a book and you can access information online, I loved it,” Weaver said. “It was a great experience. I took the exams online and I never had to send anything but my payments through the mail.” In fact, Weaver liked the program and cost so much, she went back and went through the administrative assistant program, submitting her final in May.

What she gets is a career diploma, which differs in many ways from a bachelor or associate’s degree. “Melissa’s certification is not the same as a bachelor degree,” explained Catherine Kellogg, account coordinator for Penn Foster. “What it does is certify you to go into that career track, whatever that might be. Melissa doesn’t have a bachelor’s, but she is qualified to do this work based on courses and training she has received. “Penn Foster’s goal is to set up people for careers,” Kellogg added. “Penn Foster does have associate and bachelor degree programs as well, however.”

Thanks to the affordability, Weaver is looking at a third program — culinary. “I’m starting a homebased bakery business and would like to learn more about the business aspect of that, which this course covers,” Weaver said. “If I were to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, it would cost me about $19,000 for one year, but Penn Foster is less than $1,000 and I can make payments on it.” To find out more about Penn Foster, check their website at

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