For those who aspire to find success in life, achieving at least an undergraduate degree at an accredited university tops the list of challenges. The idea that our desired endeavors of the future are contingent upon earning a diploma, has been ingrained in our minds from an early age. Questions of what we would like to be one day were routinely followed by the obligatory reminder warning that unless we complete a four-year degree, our dreams and aspirations will be all but impossible. But such vital importance shouldn’t be placed on post-high school enrollment, especially as the cost of investing time and money into higher education seem to be outweighing the benefits more and more.
Today the remnants of truth to this societal assumption face an increased median tuition cost and diminishing job placement percentages for recent college graduates. This, coupled with an over saturation of bachelor degree-holding job applicants, has recently driven more employers to seek out candidates with specialized certifications and graduate degrees. This quality control measure seems to be hitting the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) domain the worst, but can be witnessed in nearly every specialty. A push towards preference of these previously over-qualified workers has increased competitiveness in many fields resulting in a sweeping shift of standards. Because of this, more college graduates with non-STEM degrees are not only finding it harder to place in their fields of interest, but are actually suffering from unprecedented, albeit still very low, rates of unemployment.
There has however, always been an alternative to the traditional four-year degree. Trade, or vocational training schools have long been the best way to translate skills learned in the classroom to real-world job experience. Trade programs prepare students to understand and work in their chosen trade by integrating skill training into the classroom. Career training in such fields as dental hygiene, plumbing, welding, HVAC, computer programing, to name only a few, are provided at low cost, and new programs are being instituted annually.
If rising tuition rates have you re-thinking another year as an undergrad, the affordability of a trade program has the potential to offer some serious reprieve. As of 2016, private colleges reported an average tuition of $33,000 per year including living costs. Public universities were significantly lower at around $10,000 a year and $24,000 for out of state attendees. Trade programs however average about $2,500 a semester.
Another deterrent from the appeal of a bachelors program is the length. The traditional four-year window that most students need to complete their degrees stems from university policies that require several semesters of general courses not pertaining to a major. Trade schools remove the need for general requirements and focus directly on applied coursework, making their length significantly shorter at about one to two years.
If starting average pay is your top priority, a four-year degree might not meet your needs. In addition to having substantially higher job placement outcomes, trade schools and their applied technical training, provide applicants the resources and skills to place into surprisingly high paying fields. According to Anthony Carnevale, the director of the Education and the Workforce Center at Georgetown University, some trade vocations actually pay more on average than those filled by traditional college graduates. In an NPR interview in 2015, Carnevale claimed that electricians made an average of $5,000 more a year compared to their counterparts with undergraduate degrees.
So before young adults commit themselves to the “necessary” track of traditional schooling, it may be best to consider that there’s more than one route to success. And with rising numbers of college graduates lending to significant decreases demand, opting for the benefits of a trade school may even prove more beneficial in the long run.