Students at career and technical schools in Alabama can look forward to a bright career outlook after graduation. The automotive, aerospace, chemical and metals industries are expected to play essential roles in the state economy over the next several years, as well as bioscience, agriculture and other fields accessible through trade school training.
On top of that, certain cities and metro areas in the Yellowhammer State show an especially bright outlook for trade and vocational school graduates. Tuscaloosa was named among the ten highest-paid cities in the country for manufacturing assemblers and fabricators in 2018, for one, and agricultural workers in the Montgomery area earned about 15 percent more than the statewide industry average.
Why is Alabama good for vocational/career schools?
Despite the expected surge in jobs that require vocational credentials, only 33 percent of degrees awarded in Alabama in 2017 came from career technical education (CTE) programs. That figure suggests that the skilled labor pool may be smaller here than in other states, opening up a wider range of jobs to qualified applicants.
One high-value example of CTE certification in Alabama comes in the tech sector. A recent study conducted by the AARP listed computer occupations as one of Alabama's five employment areas potentially at risk for a labor shortage by 2020.
It's also the case that trade school training is easier on the wallet than a full college degree. University students paid an average of more than $10,000 for a year of tuition and fees in 2018-19, while students at trade schools and community colleges reported an average tuition bill of less than $4,800.
We've got plenty more information on campus-based and online trade schools in Alabama on the rest of this page, including a quick primer on how to apply for financial aid in Alabama and a list of initiatives designed to help you get the training you need.
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in Alabama
The schools offering CTE certification in Alabama each provide a unique set of opportunities, so we gathered U.S. Department of Education data in important categories like schedule flexibility, student success and affordable tuition and analyzed it to see which ones came out on top. Check out our list of the best trade and vocational schools in Alabama and find out if one might be right for you.
Commonly known as Wallace State Community College, this Hanceville school is the largest of the three Alabama institutions that carry the George C. Wallace name and boasts the best graduation rate of any school in our top ten. Students here earn their degrees through a system called Pathways, which gives them the freedom to choose a general subject category as well as a specific subject for their major.
What vocational programs WSCC-Hanceville offers: Wallace State students have access to one of the more robust technical schools in online trade schools in Alabama, with around half of their available programs featuring an online or hybrid option. Subjects available in the virtual classroom include sports medicine, health information technology (HIT) and religious studies.
Northeast Alabama Community College reported one of the more affordable average net price figures among our best trade and vocational schools in Alabama. Students at the Rainsville school paid an out-of-pocket average of less than $3,200 for a year of study in 2018-19, after any financial aid from grants or scholarships was deducted from their bill.
What vocational programs NACC offers: If you're hoping to go into advanced manufacturing or another modern industrial career, NACC offers several Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree tracks in high-tech industrial systems. Degree-seeking students can focus on machine tool technology, multi-skilled maintenance, welding or mechatronics, among others. The catalog of nearly 60 certificate programs includes multiple specializations in drafting and design technology, healthcare and industrial systems technology.
Formed when two area colleges merged in 1947, John C. Calhoun State Community College has grown considerably in the decades since its founding and now educates more students per semester than any other vocational school in Alabama. The student body here consists of more than 9,700 learners, of which roughly two-thirds attend their programs on a part-time basis.
What vocational programs Calhoun offers: Students looking for hands-on work in the aviation industry can earn an A.A.S. in aerospace technology at Calhoun, learning how to weld, braze and cut essential components of planes, rockets, helicopters and more. Programs for aspiring healthcare workers include a certificate in medical laboratory assisting and a diploma or associate degree in surgical technology.
The Gadsden campus of Gadsden State Community College was once the home of the first public trade school in the American south. Alabama School of Trades, as it was called then, offered training in just four career fields -- carpentry, electrical, masonry and printing -- but its merger with three other area institutions expanded its catalog of programs and today offers more than 70 study plans.
What vocational programs GSCC offers: Associate degrees in subjects like precision machining and air conditioning and refrigeration at GSCC take five semesters of full-time study to complete. Certificate plans can take anywhere from two to five semesters and must contain at least four academic courses. Subjects available in certificate programs include mechanical design technology and salon and spa management.
Enterprise State Community College might be one of the top destinations for Alabama students hoping that a return to school will help increase their income. The U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard reports an average annual salary of nearly $43,000 for ESCC graduates -- good enough to rank it in the top 50 nationwide in that category. Around 1,700 students attend courses at this southeastern Alabama institution each year.
What vocational programs ESCC offers: Students hoping to make their living working on flying machines have several study plans to choose from at ESCC's Alabama Aviation College (AAC). Programs in airframe and powerplant, avionics and more are available at the AAC site, as well as certificates in turbine engines, airframe structures, basic industrial electronics and more.
The oldest of the institutions that would combine to become Lurleen B. Wallace Community College first opened its doors to a class of just 116 students in 1965, but it's grown into a medium-sized rural college of nearly 1,800 students. Along with its vocational and technical training, LBWCC provides no-cost community education opportunities to adults seeking ESL classes, GED preparation, career counseling and more.
What vocational programs LBWCC offers: Programs available at the Andalusia campus of LBWCC include EMT and paramedic training and a relatively rare study plan in forest technology. The location in Opp offers additional training in allied health professions such as surgical technology and diagnostic medical sonography, and its nursing program is recognized by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
George C. Wallace Community College, known locally as Wallace Community College, is a medium-large institution of roughly 4,600 students. No other institution on our list reported a lower average net price than WCC, where students had just over $3,000 remaining on their annual bill after subtracting financial aid from grants and scholarships. Schedule flexibility is a high priority here, as well, with academic classes available on weekends, in the evening, online and in hybrid formats.
What vocational programs WCC offers: Training in classical trades like masonry and cabinetmaking is available here, as well as programs in automotive technology and small engine repair. Students hoping to work in an office environment can study business technologies, and an engineering graphics and animation program can train aspiring drafters.
This institution headquartered in the heart of the panhandle is the youngest of all career and technical schools in Alabama by a large margin. Coastal Alabama Community College was formed in 2016, when the region's Faulkner State, Alabama Southern and Jefferson Davis Community Colleges were consolidated. CACC controls nearly a dozen campuses throughout southern Alabama and delivers career, technical and academic education to around 7,500 students each semester.
What vocational programs CACC offers: Aspiring registered nurses can earn an A.A.S. in nursing that trains them to succeed in one of the healthcare industry's most valuable professions. Students hoping to find work in the film or video gaming industries have an exciting option here: a degree or certificate in computer animation production.
J. F. Drake State Community and Technical College, known as Drake State for short, has one of the most intimate learning environments of any school that made our list. Fewer than 850 students attend classes here each term, and the student-faculty ratio is a comfortable 15:1. Despite its small stature, Drake State features high-tech learning devices and facilities such as an advanced welding lab, 3D printing hardware and an Anatomage table for training healthcare workers.
What vocational programs Drake State offers: Advanced manufacturing programs here include associate degrees or certificates in welding, mechatronics, engineering design and more. No fewer than seven distinct certificate plans are available for information systems technology students, as well as a 72-credit A.A.S. in computer information systems.
Only one other trade school in Alabama serves more credit-seeking students each semester than Jefferson State Community College, which reported a total student body of more than 9,000 learners in 2018. The institution maintains four campuses in north central Alabama -- one in Pell City, one in Clanton and two locations in metropolitan Birmingham.
What vocational programs Jefferson State offers: If you've always wanted a job working with animals, Jefferson State offers an A.A.S. degree in veterinary nursing that can be earned via online classes and clinical work at approved veterinary facilities throughout the state. Students at the Culinary and Hospitality Institute at Jefferson State have the opportunity to work and study at Bistro ProVare, a "classroom café" operated by an award-winning chef.
How to Apply for Trade School Financial Aid in Alabama
Financial aid is an important part of any college education, whether you're earning a vocational certificate or a university degree. In order to find out if they qualify for federal, state or school-based financial aid programs, students at campus-based and online trade schools in Alabama should start by filling out the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA.
The FAFSA is a simple document designed to gather information about your income, your dependency status and some other basic financial information. Filling it out is the only way to qualify for federal funding like Stafford Loans and Pell Grants, and many state and local programs also require it as a part of their application process. Find out more about the FAFSA and other high-level pathways to student aid in our financial aid guide.
Here are a few of the Alabama grants, scholarships and more that are exclusively available to students attending college in the state:
Alabama Student Grant Program - High school graduates pursuing their first undergraduate degree or certificate in an eligible program can be awarded up to $1,200 through this state-sponsored initiative.
Alabama Student Assistance Program (ASAP) - This need-based grant program can provide up to $5,000 per academic year to qualified students. Close to 80 Alabama institutions participate in the program, including some trade schools and community colleges.
Alabama G.I. Dependents Scholarship Program - Children, stepchildren and spouses of Alabama military veterans are entitled to up to ten semesters of tuition assistance at the rate of $250 per credit hour and $1,000 for textbooks and fees each term.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Alabama
Multiple state initiatives exist to provide funding, guidance and other resources to students and administrators of trade and vocational schools in Alabama. Here are just a few of the programs in place to help aspiring members of the state's workforce get the training and employment they need:
Funding for vocational students in Alabama
The Alabama National Guard Educational Assistance Program (ANGEAP) provides up to $5,080 tuition and fees funding per semester to students who are active members in good standing of a federally recognized unit of the Alabama National Guard.
The Police Officer's and Firefighter's Survivors Education Assistance Program (POFSEAP) permits dependents and eligible spouses of police and fire service personnel who were killed in the line of duty to apply for college funding. Special eligibility criteria may apply.
Alabama policies that benefit vocational students
An initiative called Go Build Alabama, created by an industry recruitment group established by the Alabama Legislature in 2009, works to connect students with opportunities for training and employment in the skilled trades.
The Alabama Industry-Recognized and Registered Apprenticeship Program (AIRRAP), created in 2019 by the legislature and Governor Kay Ivey, provides tax credits to help employers more easily hire students whose training has included a formal apprenticeship.
School-specific program initiatives in Alabama
Coastal Alabama Community College students whose parents were first-generation graduates of the institution can receive up to 82 credit hours' worth of tuition and fees assistance as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA or better.
Students at Central Alabama Community College seeking a certificate in fields such as computer science, welding, manufacturing technology, cosmetology and more may qualify for Career Technical Honors Scholarships of up to $4,500.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Alabama
Career and technical schools in Alabama are covered under the administrative umbrella of the Alabama Commission on Higher Education, where you can find information on individual schools, specific majors, state-focused funding approaches and more.
All of the state's best trade and vocational schools are in the Alabama Community College System, which provides information on fast-track employment programs and other ways to speed up your transition to a new career.
The Alabama Department of Labor gives students an easy way to find their local One-Stop Career Center and explains the benefits that the centers can provide.
Public career schools in Alabama are regionally accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, while individual programs may earn accreditation from industry groups like the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
If you're interested in some raw statistics about trade school education and employment in your state, point your browser toward the Alabama page on Advance CTE. The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) also offers loads of general information on vocational programs and the jobs they can lead to.
Using the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard, we generated a list of schools that met the following criteria:
- Institution type is less than 2 years, greater than 2 & less than 4 years
- Accredited by at least 1 agency (institutional accreditation)
- The school falls under one of the following classifications: (Carnegie Classification 2015: Undergraduate Instructional Program)
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with 30-49% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Associate's Colleges: High Vocational & Technical
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with more than 50% of awards (degrees and certificates) in career & technical programs.
- Special Focus: Two-Year Institution
- These institutions awarded associate's degrees but no bachelor's degrees with typically more than 75% of awards in a single career & technical program
- Associate's Colleges: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
We ranked the resulting colleges on the following criteria:
- Cost of attendance, based on the average net price for students receiving scholarship and grant aid, and the total cost of tuition, fees, books and supplies, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Number of Associate degree and undergraduate Certificate programs offered, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
- Percent of undergraduate students enrolled in any distance education classes, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017
- Full-time student retention rate & part-time retention rate (if full-time retention rate is not available, then use part-time retention rate), National Center for Education Statistics, Fall 2017
- The graduation rate in 150% time, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Percent of students working and not enrolled 6 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Flexibility and student services, based on whether the school offers the following services, National Center for Education Statistics, 2017-18
- Academic and career counseling
- Job placement services for graduates
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
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