With 2017 underway, the presidential inauguration rapidly approaches, and Donald Trump looks to take his seat in the oval office. As is always the case with a change in leadership, there is a level of uncertainty before a new leader assumes his or her role. Among the bounty of questions that come to mind, many wonder what direction the state of education will head towards. Millions of Americans will speculate whether the trend of post-college student loan debt will continue, or if there will be a shift in the education structure. While many will lust for the days of free tuition to a public university, a more realistic line of thought will show that we are not quite there yet and may not arrive at that point for years to come. Although this may be discouraging, there is one alternative to a traditional 4-year college/university that has been overlooked by much of the population for the past several years: trade school. From kindergarten to high school, students have had the message hammered into their heads that they need to go to college after graduating high school, from parents, teachers, and even the media, to lead a successful life. What they rarely tell you is that there is another option. You don’t have to go to college to become a doctor or a lawyer but instead, you could attend trade school to learn the skills necessary to be an electrician or carpenter, or some other skilled trade worker.
Trade school is a viable alternative to the traditional 4+ year university experience and it offers a lot of benefits. For one, trade school costs less and takes fewer years to complete than a university. On average, a four-year university will gouge your pocketbooks for over $125,000, with several top institutions amounting to over $200,000. That number can be quite daunting to countless parents and prospective students throughout America. Conversely, a 2-year trade school averages a little over $30,000, less than 25% of the average university and less than 12% of many top universities. That significantly minimized tuition also comes with a reduced term of enrollment. The average length of trade school is two years whereas most universities take a minimum of 4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree, with numerous students adding a year or two because of dropped classes or transfer from another school. This means that anyone completing trade school can enter the workforce at least two years earlier than a university graduate, allowing the skilled trade worker a head start on their student loan payments. And that doesn’t even touch on the additional time and expense consumed by graduate, medical, or law school.
Another big draw for trade school is job demand. How many times have we heard that our waiter at Chili’s was a psychology major or that the cashier at Petsmart was a fine arts major? Several paths in college look great on paper and truly do allow an individual to follow his or her passion. But there are more than a few degrees that come with a low-demand job market that make it difficult for recent graduates to begin careers relevant to their major. Those include psychology, fine arts, and history, to name a few. On the flipside, professions such as electricians, plumbers, and carpenters have typically been filled by the older generation which is now beginning to retire. This movement is creating a vacancy that is waiting to be filled by an eager, young workforce. Those completing trade schools have taken advantage of this opportunity and typically have had an easier time finding a job than many college graduates. Take, for example, HVAC technicians. They can provide year-round service for a market that won’t go away anytime soon. Homeowners and renters alike will always want the comfort of heat in the winter and the refreshment of air conditioning in the summer. It’s safe to say that’s a high demand field.
Although I did not mention other benefits of trade school such as the joy and reward of creating with one’s hands or that it caters to a variety of learners I will wrap up this blog post with a quote from an experienced judge. He once said, “The world needs ditch-diggers, too.” This statement is not meant as a slight to the skilled trade worker, but rather as a commentary on the balance and diversity of skill sets required for a well-oiled industry. We need competence on all levels – from our designers to our builders, all the way up to management. In our industry, if the skilled workers implementing our plans are inadequate, then it won’t matter how good of a design we have created – something will likely go amuck in the build process. We are only as strong as our weakest link. So if you or someone you know wish to be productive in your career (and avoid the looming cloud of student loan payments), do not look singularly at a 4-year university. Broaden your scope and consider trade school as a viable option for your future. But if you decide to go to college, engineering is never a bad major to take.