In a world where a college degree has long been considered the traditional pathway to success, many individuals challenge this narrative by choosing trade schools over college. One woman, in particular, took to social media to share her perspective on why trade school can be a better option than pursuing a college degree, sparking a broader conversation. She compared her career path with that of her husband’s.
“I have a college degree; he has a high school diploma. He went to trade school right after high school…This past July, he had already bought home more than my gross salary…Come December, he will have more than quadrupled my salary…I have a master’s degree. He has a high school diploma. So that reason, right there, I will not push college on anyone….I don’t think enough people are talking about (trade school),” she said on social media.
Here are seven things to know.
Choosing a trade school over college can be met with skepticism, especially in families where higher education has been the norm.
“It is considered a second choice, second-class. We really need to change how people see vocational and technical education,” Patricia Hsieh, the president of a community college in the San Diego area, said in a speech at the 2017 conference for the American Association of Community Colleges, The Atlantic reported.
Statistics reveal a significant increase in both traditional college and trade school enrollments. While college enrollment rates have steadily risen, trade school enrollment has also surged, marking a shift in perceptions about the value of vocational education. This trend can be attributed to the changing demands of the job market, which increasingly requires specialized skills that traditional bachelor’s programs may not adequately address.
Traditional college enrollment rates in the U.S. increased from 13.2 million students enrolled in 2000 to 16.9 million in 2016. This is an increase of 28 percent, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Trade-school enrollment has also risen, from 9.6 million students in 1999 to 16 million in 2014. This followed a decline in vocational education in the 1980s and ’90s. That drop created a shortage of skilled workers and tradespeople.
Despite the positive outlook for middle-skill careers and the potential for job security, challenges persist in dispelling vocational and technical education misconceptions. Negative attitudes toward trade schools, fueled by a historical emphasis on college education, influence perceptions.
“Thousands of kids are going to college because they think they are supposed to go, because their parents and teachers said, ‘You need to get an education,’ so they borrow money to come out with a [general] degree that doesn’t point them in any particular direction,” Ken Rusk, a construction worker turned entrepreneur and self-described blue-collar millionaire, told Skill Pointe. He is also the author of the book, “Blue Collar Cash.” He added, “College has never been the right path for everybody.”
One compelling argument in favor of trade schools is the financial aspect. The rising cost of college tuition and the burden of student loan debt have prompted individuals to explore more affordable alternatives. Finance experts highlight the significant difference in debt between trade school graduates and their college counterparts. Trade school programs often cost less, take less time to complete, and provide a quicker entry into the workforce, contributing to a more favorable financial outlook.
As of 2018, student debt has reached a staggering $1.5 trillion, as reported by the Federal Reserve. The Pew Research Center notes that four in 10 adults under 30 carry student loan debt. Pursuing master’s and doctorate degrees often accumulates even higher debt levels. The return on investment is not always commensurate with the cost of these loans, with only two-thirds of degree holders considering the debt justified for their education. In contrast, vocational and technical education typically comes at a significantly lower cost than a traditional four-year degree.
According to Trent Hamm, Founder of The Simple Dollar, trade school students graduate with an average of $10,000 of debt, while college students have an average student debt of $36,327, after interest.
Trade schools offer hands-on education, a feature highly appealing to individuals interested in practical skills like auto mechanics, HVAC installation, and respiratory therapy. The emphasis on direct application of skills sets trade school graduates apart, making them job-ready and sought after by industries facing a shortage of skilled workers. The strong focus on job placement in vocational education ensures that graduates can secure employment in their chosen fields.
In the current job landscape, many positions demand specialized training in technology, a facet often beyond the scope of broad bachelor’s programs. This has led to a rise in “last mile” vocational-education programs designed to complement and enhance skills after the completion of a degree, according to the Center For Employment Trade.
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