7 Reasons Why People Choose Diplomas over Degrees

The world is changing rapidly, and today’s job market and workforce hustle to keep up. Need to upskill quickly to receive that promotion or opportunity? More frequently, people are choosing study options they can fit around their work, family and personal lives. They need practical skills they can implement immediately to stay current.   

Vocational education is as good as Uni

Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently said, “vocational education is as good as uni.”

The Morrison Government has created a Vocational Education and Training (VET) Stakeholder committee to drive its agenda of significant reform of the VET sector.

“We want to lift the status of vocational education in Australia,” the Prime Minister said. 

According to Mark McCrindle, social analyst, “Today’s new workers will have to be lifelong learners, with hands-on skills, not just academic qualifications, and a focus on productivity, not just theory.” 

Google trend data shows that in 2019, Australians have conducted searches for Diploma courses up to 60% more than for University Degrees. What is causing Diploma courses to be so popular? Do people find diplomas more attractive these days?

Reason #1. Diplomas cost less 

Diplomas are a more affordable study option, and students can also receive credit towards studying a related degree in the future. “It was cheaper, and I didn’t want to commit to the degree as I wasn’t 100% sure that’s what I wanted to do long term,” said Riley who completed a Certificate 3 in Child Care. There is nothing worse than spending tens of thousands of dollars on a degree when you’re unsure it’s the right course for you. 

For example, the cost per year for an undergraduate Business Management Degree at the University of Queensland is $10,700 currently, for three years. A Diploma of Business can cost an average of $5000 for a 1-year course, according to the Australian Government MySkills website. Some providers offer this course for less depending on study method, whether online or on campus. 

Richard Fimeri, our Training Manager, has a long history in VET education which began in 2000. He has trained over 2000 students in that time. Does he believe Diplomas provide a better return on investment than degrees? Yes. Thanks to Queensland’s strong economic growth and state funding initiatives means a low-cost Diploma qualification comes with excellent employment outcomes. In contrast, a university graduate with a substantial HELP debt takes much longer to see the financial return. “It makes a Diploma qualification a simple choice for those not set on and profession requiring a degree to enter into the sector,” Richard commented. 

Mark McCrindle agrees that in uncertain economic times, university degrees will increasingly need to deliver a return on investment, clear employment outcomes and stable career earning. It is the VET sector that provides solutions for these needs.   

Reason #2. Shorter time commitment 

Diplomas take 1-2 years or less to complete, depending on the training provider and how motivated you are. Degrees take a minimum of 3 years, and for working adults studying part-time, it will take twice as long. Anthony Rice is both a director of Redmako and a Course and Careers Advisor. He speaks to 300+ student prospects each month. “There’s a lot of factors at play such as time outlay, money outlay, a student’s learning experience and also the outcome,” he commented. “Education needs to be agile. It needs to be targeted and specific to what a person is trying to achieve.”  

Reason #3. Graduate salary for a Diploma is comparable to that of Degree Graduates

How much is the average graduate wage for a degree graduate? In 2018 the overall median starting salary for university graduates was $61,000. In 2017, the median full-time income for a VET graduate, including Diploma graduate, was $56,000. Interestingly the average starting salary for someone with a Certificate IV in Hazardous Areas – Electrical is $85,400, higher than that of a dentistry graduate $83,700. Both of which indicate the top end graduate salaries. It is a common myth that university graduates are paid significantly more than VET graduates.

Megan Sloan is our Diploma of Business trainer. She has a Bachelor of Business, Diplomas of Business, Event Management and Hospitality and over 20 years’ experience in business. “Degrees are a huge commitment. Job opportunities depend on how many graduates there are to how many jobs are available. A business degree can give anywhere between $37,000 to $100,000 in salary – which is pretty comparable to a Diploma of Business,” Megan said. 

Reason #4. Job-ready outcomes 

Do employers prefer diplomas or degrees when hiring staff? The 2018 Employer Satisfaction Survey (ESS) of university graduates reported that 40% of employers said the qualification could have better-developed graduates “technical and professional skills”. In July 2017 PwC Australia accepted its first group of school-leavers under the Government’s Higher Apprenticeships pilot program. These students will join PwC’s workforce and will earn a Diploma of Business while working. 

Nicholas Wyman, Skilling Australia CEO said, “when compared with employment outcomes for university graduates, VET continues to produce superior results. Given the rising cost of formal education, VET is also a more cost-effective training option for both businesses and individuals.”

Another common myth is that university graduates get jobs quicker than VET graduates. 78% of VET grads find work straight after they graduate compared with 68% of bachelor degrees grads finding work four months after completing their courses.

This table represents the employment outcomes for VET and University graduates.

Vocational Education often provides the student with immediate job outcomes, especially in fields where there are national shortages. “I chose a Certificate 4 in Education Support which is one of the highest qualifications for becoming a Teacher Aide. If I wanted to become a teacher, I’d have needed to do a degree in education. I’ve thought about it briefly however, it’s a tough gig, and I enjoy being a Teacher’s Aid.” Margaret completed a Certificate 4 in Education Support. 

Reason #5. Diplomas are practical vs theoretical

Rudi Tartaglia is our Diploma of Social Media Marketing trainer. Rudi holds a range of formal business qualifications including a Master’s Degree in Political Marketing, Diploma in Social Media Marketing, Diploma in Business, among other Diplomas. He has trained over 500 students in his career. “Diplomas provide context directly within a workplace environment, whereas bachelor and master’s degrees are more theoretical,” he said.

Lana Morgan is an HR consultant who commenced her Diploma of Business course when she was working for Toyota as an HR manager. “I chose a Diploma of Business as I was able to apply my current work to my course and use real-life examples for the projects. No exams as such, just submissions,” she said. For a full-time working Mum, convenience was paramount. 

Reason #6. Keep current with industry changes

Rudi reminds his students how important it is to keep current in this rapidly changing industry. In the digital and social space, change often occurs, even daily. “I’ve almost finished my Business / PR / Communications degree and my ability to apply and monetise social media marketing is lacking.” Anthony (Director and CCA) repeatedly hears from prospective students. They recognise the need for practical skills to fill this gap in their learning. A Diploma in Social Media Marketing can provide the means to keep abreast of the changes in this fast-paced industry. 

Reason #7. Career pathway entry

Is Vocational Education an effective way to dip your toe in the industry before committing too much time and money? According to Richard Fimeri, our Training Manager, the answer is yes. “For many, a Diploma can provide a solid foundation for testing a job or sector out at little to no cost, “he said. 

Richard’s comment reflects Riley’s experience who completed a Certificate 3 in Child Care. “I chose a Certificate 3 over a degree because, during my schooling, I found it quite hard to do exams and to focus on study. I thought if I did my Cert 3 and enjoyed it and wanted to progress to a degree, it would be a good stepping-stone.” 

This aspect of VET education inspires Richard. “Post-secondary school, many students are left disenchanted by the educational process, they are often left feeling left out and with no clear understanding of their worth.” He believes vocational education can provide a pathway that creates an appetite for lifelong learning. 

Employment Minister Cash said, “Our vision to create a strong VET sector is critical to our economy and to helping prepare Australians for the workforce of today and the future.”  

 ”A strong VET sector will support millions of Australians to obtain the skills they need to participate and prosper in the modern economy.” 


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