Many people who grew up in the 80s, 90s or early 2000s remember that they were strongly pushed to attend a four-year college after high school. Usually, their parents’ generation said that going to a traditional college or university was something you just did after high school, and it was the only way forward to get a decent career. Many of these pushes came with the same story: “I was the first one in my family to graduate, and I ended up with a way better-paying job than my parents, who worked with their hands”.
The reputation of four-year colleges as “the only way forward” has been rethought recently, and it’s causing many students to reverse course. Even though 10-20 years ago it would be unthinkable in some families for a high school graduate to ditch college for tech or trade school (sometimes called vo-tech schools), many students in the U.S. are finding that vo-tech career training programs are a much better fit for their personal ambitions.
A recent article in The Atlantic describes how student Toren Reesman took a pivot after an unfulfilling first year at West Virginia University. Instead, he’s pursuing a woodworking certification.
The article also mentions a couple that met while one of them, Marsha Landis, was enrolled in a four-year college. The other, her now husband, had already entered the cabinetmaking profession. “He came to the marriage with no debt and a marketable skill,” Landis reflects about her husband, “something that has benefited our family in huge ways.”
Data from recent grads reinforces this tale. In 2018, 85% of vo-tech program graduates were employed, compared to just 72% of Bachelor’s recipients.
Being able to get a good job is just one reason that more students of all ages are considering career-focused training instead of an academic-focused four-year degree. Career training programs from vocational, tech, and trade schools offer many benefits to students seeking real training for real jobs, including the following.
Hours Built around a Real Life
Of the students who started a four-year college program in 2012, just 58% had earned their degree by 2018 — six years later.
The everyday grind of traditional college contributes to burnout, especially among students who need to support themselves by working. Students who have a family, daytime obligations, or other schedule conflicts have limited options for night classes or online courses (although both are growing in the traditional academic world).
Career training programs like the ones at CET offer accelerated courses that allow you to complete your certification and move on to a career, often in the span of less than a year. This compressed timeline asks much less of you compared to four-year schools, minimizing the time you have to spend away from work, your family, or new possibilities for your future.
Smaller Class Sizes
Trade and tech schools have another advantage thanks to their diverse options for taking the same courses: it avoids the huge class sizes that many college courses draw. As traditional four-year schools scramble to inflate enrollment class sizes, some of the biggest “barrier” courses students face have the worst student:teacher ratios. Tough intro courses for subjects like biology and political science are often taught in massive lecture halls with classes of hundreds of students.
Vocational school courses typically have smaller class sizes in the dozens of students, not hundreds. You get more involved instruction from your teachers, more opportunities to ask questions, and more personalized learning as a result.
Many four-year college graduates feel unprepared for their intended job field even after getting a four-year degree. A gap in recent graduate skills has led to a rise in “soft skills” training for simple tasks like photocopying a memo or negotiating a deadline.
Vo-tech college courses prepare you for the actual job you’ll be doing, taught largely through hands-on experience. Dental hygienists in training actually clean teeth instead of just memorizing their names. Mechanics and welders put their hands on the tools they could be using in a shop mere days after they graduate.
Contrast that with the often bloated and scattered course work you’re required to take in a four-year Bachelor’s program — some of which teaches you things that never get used in your professional life — and you can see why vocational school graduates are better prepared and more likely to be employed, on average.
Accelerated Path to a New Career
Speaking of bloated coursework, most four-year college students won’t even take classes for their actual major until their second year. In the meantime, they take intro courses and other basic courses until they are eligible for upper-level classes.
The effect is that students may not know anything about their intended job or the major-related work they’ll be doing until the last few years before they graduate. Some students may not get that far, considering the lowering rates of completion. Worst of all, a student may not even discover that a particular major or career path is not right for them until they have reached the upper levels of their program.
Vo-tech career training programs aim to get students ready for the workforce and out looking for jobs within just 1-2 years. Students dive into their actual field almost from the onset, giving them the experience they need to decide whether or not the chosen career path could be right for them.
Typically Less Expensive
Four-year colleges really hurt students the most in their pocketbook. Tuition for traditional academic colleges is rising at a rate eight times faster than wages. A single semester can cost thousands, with out-of-state students or private college attendees getting hit even harder.
Technical and trade school programs tend to cost less than four-year programs per semester, and they’re over quicker, meaning you pay a fraction of the total cost of a normal Bachelor’s degree.
Vo-Tech Programs: Real Training for Real Jobs
With all of these advantages, it’s not hard to see why so many students are looking to an alternative to the traditional college path. It may have been the right move for their parents, but times are different now. It may be the right move for their friends, but they know that a four-year institution just can’t offer what they need.