The cost of higher education has increased exponentially in recent decades. Since the 1999-2000 academic year, the net price of tuition, fees, and room and board at a public, four-year college has increased by 68%.

Student loan debt has soared along with these rising expenses, hitting millennials and Generation Z particularly hard. More than 44 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt totaling more than $1.6 trillion.

Even though student loan debt has become the new normal, a four-year college degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee a career after graduation. Apprenticeships, like those offered in the MAT² Apprenticeship Program, provide an attractive alternative for students who want to learn in-demand skills and graduate debt-free. MAT² apprentices receive hands-on training at one of the network companies, while earning a debt-free associate degree. And most apprentices go on to work full time at their network company after completing the program.

How has the MAT² Apprenticeship Program made a difference in the lives of apprentices and their families? Read what a few have to say:

Joy Vandekerhove, parent of recent MAT² graduate, Hannah:

“The number one benefit is having a paid education and no student loan debt. Beginning a career with no financial debt is huge. This is a great opportunity to start 401k investments at an early age and better prepare for the future.”

The MAT² program is beneficial for both parents and students who don’t have to worry about how they’ll pay for college. Students also are no longer burdened with paying back loans and they can begin their career debt-free and plan for the future.

“Now that our daughter is working full-time and has graduated, she is considering purchasing a home or furthering her education. This is a position that not many recent graduates are in and she’s very fortunate.”

Graduate, Alejandro Rodriguez:

“The program was incredibly valuable for me. College debt was one of my biggest concerns and all I could think about was ‘How am I going to take care of this later?’ The idea of spending four or more years in school just to work to pay off my debt was daunting.”

The MAT² program allows students to work and receive hands-on experience while also getting the classroom knowledge and working towards a college degree.

“The MAT² Apprenticeship Program allowed me to focus on my schooling as well as the job. Since graduation I have paid off my car and am working on building a new computer. These are both things I wouldn’t have been able to do if I was paying off debt.”

Graduate, Logen Okoniewski

“Completing the program and beginning my career debt-free has made a huge difference. I have three siblings and my parents had enough saved to send us all to school for a two-year degree, but because my school was paid for my parents were able to help my siblings more. This has been a blessing for all of us.”

Because of the MAT² Apprenticeship allows students to earn while they learn, students not only receive a debt-free associate degree but are earning a salary during the three-year program.

“Since graduating in August I have been working full-time and bought a condo. I’m 21 and bought a condo so I’d say I’m doing pretty well.”

Learn more about how to apply for the MAT² Apprenticeship Program.