Students and Parents Should Consider Vocational Schools

Posted By: Jeff Krause, Chief Executive Officer, SME on May 22, 2018

Over the next few weeks, high school seniors across the country will graduate and receive their diploma. Nearly 70 percent of those graduates will move on to college or a four-year university, while few choose vocational or trade school; in 2015, 20 million Americans attended degree-granting postsecondary institutions, while only 412,000 attended non-degree-granting institutions or those that offer career and technical programs.

On the surface, this may not seem extraordinary; for more than a generation we have been led to believe that a college degree is necessary for finding rewarding and lucrative careers. But four-year college degrees do not always lead to higher average wages and often cost students a lifetime of debt. According to the New York Fed, in 2017 around 44% of college graduates aged 22 to 27 were working in jobs that do not require a college degree. Given the cost of their degrees, many wonder whether there might have been a better option that didn’t leave them underemployed and facing crippling debt.

Such alternatives exist. Vocational schools provide valuable education that offers secure career opportunities, and takes less time and money to acquire. According to the Washington State Auditor, tuition and fees for in-state students to attend a technical college in that state come to less than half the cost of a four-year public university. And attending a vocational school can put students on a solid path to a good job. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce found there are around 30 million “good” jobs in America paying an average of $55,000 per year that do not require a bachelor’s degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average manufacturing total compensation is around $85,000 – yet Deloitte projects that 2 million manufacturing jobs will go unfilled by 2025.

We must eliminate the myth – often held by both students and parents – that skilled trade careers are a subpar career choice. With the impending skills gap, it’s time we encourage students’ parents and guidance counselors to consider vocational schools after high school graduation, and time for state governments and industry alike to recognize the benefit of vocational training in high schools before graduation.

Career and technical education programs (CTE) benefit both America’s workforce and its young people. Studies by the Association of Career and Technical Education have shown that high school students involved in CTE are more engaged, perform better in school, and graduate at higher rates. However, over the last 18 years the overall student participation in high school CTE course taking has declined. The success of CTE programs in high schools is well documented, with programs preparing students for seamless transitions to vocational schools and/or entry-level jobs post-graduation.

Thankfully, many state governments have noticed both the shortage in skilled trade practitioners and excessive enrollment in degree-granting institutions, and they’re taking action. Michigan, California, and Florida are among the many states implementing plans that support CTE and vocational education. And Tennessee has even seen significant return, as its high school CTE programs return $2 for every $1 invested, according to the Association of Career and Technical Education.

It’s time to rethink the career planning information we give our children and students. Manufacturing professionals can make a difference by volunteering to speak with local high school students and parents about the opportunities available in the skilled trades. Get involved; together we can set students up for successful and rewarding careers while tackling the skills gap challenges we all face.

Tags: "Association of Career and Technical Education", "career and technical education programs", CTE, manufacturing, "skilled trade careers", "skilled trades", "skills gap", SME, "The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce", "trade schools", "vocational schools", "Washington State Auditor"