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Although traditionally seen as a last resort, enrolling in trade school is increasingly becoming a viable option for students.

Why Trade Schools Are Becoming a More Viable Choice for Students

For many years, trade schools -- also called career schools, vocational schools, or technical schools -- have been considered a last resort for some students who couldn't make the grade for admission into a four-year college or university.

And that's a notion that Frank Britt, the CEO of Penn Foster, would like to change.

"There is a viable, quality alternative pathway for students that come out of high school who may or may not think that traditional four-year college is the best place to start. We try to say that one of the big challenges is that there's very bad branding for people who decide they don't want to go to college. If we were king for a day, we would build a 'Got Skills' campaign, instead of a 'Got Milk' campaign, to build greater appreciation for the power, the promise and the potential for people who decide to take an alternative path," Britt said. "While self-discovery and self-actualization -- which is sort of the iconic notion of why you go to college -- is important, it's important in the 21st century to be well-positioned for employability."

Although the negative perception of trade schools still exists, there is a growing paradigm shift as the need for skilled workers becomes evident in an economy where many traditional college graduates cannot get employment in their fields of study. In fact, many of these graduates end up working in jobs that do not require college degrees at all. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 17,000,000 college graduates are in jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree, including 300,000 restaurant servers, 80,000 bartenders, and 18,000 parking lot attendants.

Because of statistics like these, Britt says that enrolling in a vocational training program can be a solid choice for some students since it could decrease the risk of students getting buried underneath school loans to pay for four-year degrees that they may not get the opportunity to use -- or may decide that they don't want to use.

"The idea that you have to have it all figured out if you're 18 years old is just dated. What we think is that people need time to figure out what they're going to do with their lives, and so a benefit of a career program is that it de-risks the student from having to go to a four-year program that they may or may not fully understand, and taking on all the financial obligations that almost universally come with going to a four-year program," he said. "So it's a combination of economic de-risking and giving yourself time to grow up a little bit."

In addition, Britt notes that another benefit of attending a trade school is it gives students the opportunity to earn a professional certification when they graduate, which can go a long way toward successfully competing in the job market.

Choosing the right trade school for you

Although the choice to attend trade school is a viable one, the choice of which one to attend should be handled with the same care that you would if you were choosing a four-year college. Be wary of schools that make unsubstantiated claims regarding the number of jobs and the salary potential that graduates can expect in a certain field, the qualifications of the staff, or quality of the facilities, equipment, or business contacts that students have access to.

In order to avoid falling victim to these kinds of deceptive statements, the FTC suggests that students exercise their due diligence and investigate the following aspects of any school.

  • Licensing and accreditation. In order to ensure that a school is reputable, ask about what organization has issued accreditation to the institution, as well as which state agencies the school is licensed with. Then check with these organizations to ensure that the licensing and accreditations are up-to-date. By doing this, you can determine the quality of the education that a school provides and whether or not it has been sanctioned by the industry you want to work in.
  • Classes and instructors. The FTC suggests that students find out about the class sizes in the program they're interested in, as well as the qualifications of the professors. Also, try to sit in on classes and talk to other students about their experiences in the program.
  • Facilities and teaching tools. When you visit a school, find out what kind of facilities and equipment is available for training students -- especially if the program you're looking at requires a lot of hands-on training.
  • Cost. Cost is of course a huge factor when students decide to take on the financial responsibility of attending any school. Find out what the tuition cost is for the program you're looking at, what kind of financial aid will be available to you, and what additional fees you may incur on top of tuition.
  • Complaints and contracts. Before enrolling in a school, be sure to review its contract so you understand the terms of being a student there. Also, keep in mind that reputable schools do not use hard selling techniques to get you to sign up for a program. In addition, check with the attorney general's office in the state where the school is located to find out if students have filed complaints against the institution.

Sources:

Another Option After High School: Trade/Vocational Schools and Career Colleges, Quintessential Careers, Accessed July 25, 2014, http://www.quintcareers.com/vocational_school.html

Career Colleges and Technical Schools -Choosing a School, U.S. Department of Education, Accessed July 25, 2014, http://www.aapc.com/certification/

Choosing a Vocational School, The Federal Trade Commission, Accessed July 25, 2014, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0241-choosing-vocational-school

Frank Britt, personal communication, July 25, 2014

Medical Certification Overview, AAPC, Accessed July 25, 2014, http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/consumerinfo/choosing.html

"Vocational High Schools: Career Path or Kiss of Death?", U.S. News & World Report, Allie Bidwell, May 2, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/05/02/the-return-of-vocational-high-schools-more-options-or-the-kiss-of-death

"Vocational Schools Doing The Job For More Students," CNBC, Rob Reateman, December 20, 2010, http://www.cnbc.com/id/40680866#

"Why we need vocational education," The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss, June 5, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-we-need-vocational-education/2012/06/04/gJQA8jHbEV_blog.html

Vocational & Technical Schools by State

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