According to the 2018 U.S. Manpower Survey, one of the top reasons that employers have difficulty filling open positions is a lack of technically competent applicants. Training programs at the best trade and vocational schools in Arizona can teach you the skills you need to fill those technical gaps and get started on a fulfilling career.
Individual Arizona regions or cities may show an even brighter job outlook than the state at large, whether in specific occupations or throughout the job market. Construction workers or site managers might find good opportunities in suburban Phoenix, since its county of Maricopa was the fastest-growing county in the U.S. in 2018. Also in 2018, Business Insider named four Arizona cities — Gilbert, Peoria, Scottsdale and Chandler — among its five best U.S. cities to find a job.
Why is Arizona good for vocational/career schools?
Reports about the Grand Canyon State's career technical education (CTE) landscape suggest that students at career and technical schools in Arizona should have plenty of opportunity for employment once they graduate. For example, more than half of jobs that provide median annual earnings of around $55,000 are held by workers without a bachelor's degree.
On top of that, students seeking CTE certification in Arizona paid significantly less per year for their educations than their counterparts on university campuses. The average Arizona student at a two-year school paid less than $2,600 per year in tuition and fees in 2018-19, while university programs charged a yearly average of more than $11,500.
If you're thinking about applying to campus-based and online trade schools in Arizona, read on for information on the state's ten best institutions and a list of resources to help you on your search. We'll also talk about how to apply for financial aid in Arizona and introduce you to some initiatives designed to help trade school students succeed.
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in Arizona
In order to make our list of the best trade and vocational schools in Arizona, an institution had to offer no bachelor's degrees and be accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. The schools listed below scored the overall best in essential categories like affordability, flexibility of student schedules and the career success of graduates.
Rio Salado College operates a total of 12 campuses and satellite locations throughout the Phoenix metro area, including youth media centers for high school students and a military learning center on Luke Air Force Base. The student body here is one of the largest among Arizona trade schools — around 18,000 credit-seeking students enroll here each term — but its many locations and a strong online program keep it from feeling too crowded.
What vocational programs RSC offers: Close to 60 degrees and certificates can be earned at least partially online at RSC. The programs in sustainable food systems are offered in a hybrid format, blending online courses with in-person work at campus learning labs. Other subjects, such as digital design and computer programming, offer fully online options.
One measure of college affordability is average net price, which represents the amount left over once the expected amount of grant and scholarship aid is subtracted from the total cost of tuition, fees, housing, books and other essentials. Central Arizona College took the top spot in the state for its affordable average net price, charging students less than $5,200 for the year in 2018-19.
What vocational programs CAC offers: The catalog of vocational degrees and certificates at this Pinal County School contains around 120 options. Students who love horses can earn a certificate or an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in equine management and training, while those hoping to make their living in the classroom can choose from seven early childhood education study plans.
Known to students and faculty as Cochise College, this southeastern Arizona school might be a good choice for students who prefer an intimate learning environment. The average class size here is just 12 students, and the student-faculty ratio is a comfortable 16:1. The institution has also won several awards, including recognition as one of the top 150 community colleges in the country by the Aspen Institute.
What vocational programs Cochise offers: Trade programs here include carpentry technology, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and separate programs for residential construction and building construction technology. Students interested in a tech-focused degree can pursue A.A.S. degrees in cybersecurity, network technology, computer information systems and more, or earn their certificate in Cisco networking or Linux system administration.
This institution in the southwestern corner of the state features one of the largest catalogs of trade and vocational programs in Arizona, and just one other school in the state reported a larger percentage of graduates still gainfully employed six years after completing their programs. Students at Arizona Western College have the opportunity to live on campus while they study -- more than 300 students reside in campus housing.
What vocational programs AWC offers: A wide range of business degrees are on offer at AWC, including certificates in office administration, entrepreneurship and retail management, among others, and an associate degree in logistics and supply chain management. The list of classical trades programs features a drone piloting certificate and two A.A.S. plans in solar energy.
Based in Prescott, Yavapai College is the largest trade and vocational school in Northern Arizona and has been educating regional residents since 1968. Prospective students have six locations to choose from, including a second full-service campus in Clarkdale and a dedicated career and technical education center near the regional airport about ten miles from its Prescott flagship.
What vocational programs YC offers: The range of programs offered at YC contains some interesting and uncommon vocational degrees and certificates. Students here can earn an A.A.S. or any of three certificates in winemaking and vineyard management, also known as enology and viticulture, as well as a production horticulture certificate and two certificates or an A.A.S. in the art and science of gunsmithing.
Mohave Community College has one of the top technical schools in online trade schools in Arizona, according to enrollment figures. Close to 73 percent of students at this Kingman institution take at least some of their courses online. It's one of the few vocational schools in Arizona that consistently attracts students from other states -- its location near the Colorado River puts it in reach of prospective learners from California, Nevada and Utah.
What vocational programs MCC offers: More than a dozen degrees and certificates can be earned fully online at MCC. Students hoping to enter in the law profession can work toward a paralegal certificate or associate degree, and business-minded learners can earn an A.A.S. in business and entrepreneurship, a bookkeeping certificate and more.
Eastern Arizona College is the oldest institution among all trade and vocational schools in Arizona, beginning its mission in the spring semester of 1890 as an educational outpost of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. EAC is public and secular today, providing career training and academic programs to more than 6,000 students at its main Thatcher campus and three satellite locations.
What vocational programs EAC offers: Future police officers and other law enforcement personnel have several administration of justice programs to choose from, including three associate degree tracks and a law enforcement technology certificate that may be able to provide a leg up on other job candidates. EAC also offers several health and physical education programs, including three study plans in personal training.
The service area of Northland Pioneer College includes the Hopi, Navajo and Apache tribal homelands, which cover large swaths of open land in the eastern part of the state, so it may be no surprise that it reported the largest percentage of online enrollment among all career and technical schools in Arizona. Nearly 80 percent of students here take some of their classes online.
What vocational programs NPC offers: Students of cosmetology can choose from a wide array of programs at NPC, including individual certificates in makeup, hairstyling and nails and an A.A.S. program that covers all three and more. An A.A.S. in paramedicine can train you to work as a first responder, and students with high-tech ambitions can prepare for CompTIA's IT certification exams.
From its humble beginnings in a former department store in 1968, GateWay Community College has grown into a comprehensive institution that serves more than 5,000 students each semester. Business students may have a strong pull factor to GateWay's southeast Phoenix campus: the Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation (CEI), a full-service business incubator designed to help startup founders bring their ideas to market.
What vocational programs GateWay offers: Automotive technology students can earn skill-based certificates in drive trains, engine systems and air conditioning and electrical accessories, as well as manufacturer-certified programs that cover Honda and Toyota vehicles. GateWay's central Phoenix location features a rare training program in meat cutting that provides students with hands-on experience at the campus's working butcher shop and delicatessen.
Carrington College is a private, for-profit school that operates campus locations in six western states. The Phoenix campus features a close-knit student body — fewer than 500 learners were enrolled here in 2018 — which may be part of the reason that it took first place in the graduation rate category among schools that made our list. Carrington also offers job placement services for students once their programs are completed.
What vocational programs Carrington offers: The certificate program in medical assisting is the top degree by enrollment at Carrington's Phoenix campus, making up around 48 percent of all degrees and certificates conferred in 2018. The dental assisting certificate is popular as well, and students who want to work with animals can earn a certificate in veterinary assisting.
How to Apply for Trade School Financial Aid in Arizona
Earning a CTE certification in Arizona might be far less costly than getting a university bachelor's degree, but that doesn't mean that paying for college isn't still a struggle for some students. Fortunately, many financial aid programs in Arizona apply to trade school and community college programs as well as university degree plans.
The first thing you need to do on your quest for financial aid in Arizona is fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Not only is the FAFSA the only way to see if you qualify for federal aid programs, but programs at the state and institutional level also typically use the information on your FAFSA as all or part of their own eligibility process. We've got more information on the FAFSA and other important financial aid concepts in RWM's financial aid guide.
Here's a quick list of Arizona scholarships and grants that you might be able to use to reduce the cost of your trade school training:
Arizona Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (AzLEAP) - Grants from AzLEAP are based on financial need and awarded through individual institutions. The average yearly award is $1,000, with a maximum annual amount of $2,500.
The Rotary Vocational Fund of Arizona (TRVFA) - Eligible vocational students can receive a one-time grant of $2,000 to help with the cost of college-level career training programs, provided they're sponsored by a regional Rotary Club and enrolled in a qualified program.
Association for Career Technical Education of Arizona (ACTEAZ) Scholarship - CTE students in high school or college can be recommended for this award by an ACTEAZ member. The amount of the award can range from $500 to $2,500.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Arizona
Arizona also features a range of initiatives designed to help students and institutions bridge the gap from traditional school programs to the workforce. Here are a few such initiatives active in the state as of 2019:
Funding for vocational students in Arizona
The Arizona Community Foundation offers more than 100 Arizona scholarships, as well as grant and loan opportunities for organizations working to empower communities within the state.
State Farm Insurance Emergency Student Assistance is a program that pledges up to $500 in one-time funds for eligible students who need help with the cost of housing, transportation, food and books at any Maricopa Community College.
Arizona policies that benefit vocational students
The Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES) features a hub for apprenticeship programs that can provide on-the-job learning and supervised work experience for students in electrical, masonry, pipe fitting and other classical trades.
Untapped Arizona is an independent non-profit organization that works to improve inclusion and accessibility in workplaces by assisting employers with recruitment, hiring and professional development for individuals with disabilities.
School-specific program initiatives in Arizona
High school seniors who plan to attend a program at the Arizona campus of Universal Technical Institute (UTI) may be eligible for a $1,000 award offered in partnership with the Arizona Private School Association (APSA).
Students at private trade schools such as Arizona College and The Refrigeration School can apply for the APSA's $500 LifeLong Learning Student Scholarship. A combination of financial need and strong career potential are used to determine eligibility.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Arizona
If you're thinking about getting your trade school education at a public college, you can check the Arizona Community Colleges website for information on institutions in Arizona's 10 community college districts. The Arizona Private School Association has similar info on the state's private trade schools.
Students and graduates can tap into Arizona@Work, a workforce development network that aims to connect job seekers with employment opportunities statewide.
Regional accreditation for public trade and vocational schools in Arizona is provided by the Higher Learning Commission. Single-career schools and individual programs are typically accredited by national industry groups, such as the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools, while the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges accredits institutions with locations in other states.
Arizona's state page at Advance CTE is a good resource for statistics and general info on career and technical education statewide. Another great destination for information seekers is the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), which features self-paced online courses and a scholarship portal for students seeking CTE certification in Arizona.
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
- Industries in Arizona, Arizona Commerce Authority, accessed August 23, 2019, https://www.azcommerce.com/industries/
- Best cities for finding a job in 2018, Business Insider, June 1, 2018, Rachel Gillett, accessed August 23, 2019, https://www.businessinsider.com/best-cities-for-finding-a-job-2018-1#2-scottsdale-arizona-19
- Az expected to add 153k jobs by 2019, with 80% in Maricopa County, Tucson Sentinel, March 15, 2018, Betty Beard, accessed August 23, 2019, http://www.tucsonsentinel.com/local/report/031518_job_projections/az-expected-add-153k-jobs-by-2019-with-80-maricopa-county/
- Census: Maricopa County fastest-growing in U.S., Phoenix Business Journal, April 18, 2018, Tim Gallen, accessed August 23, 2019, https://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/news/2019/04/18/maricopa-county-still-fastest-growing-in-country.html;
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, accessed August 30, 2019: Arizona, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=AZ&ct=1+2+3&ic=2; Carrington College-Phoenix North, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=103893;
- School pages, accessed August 30, 2019: Locations, Rio Salado College, http://www.riosalado.edu/Locations/pages/default.aspx; Certificate Programs, Rio Salado College, http://www.riosalado.edu/Programs/pages/default.aspx; Sustainability Degree, Rio Salado College, http://www.riosalado.edu/programs/sustainable/Pages/default.aspx; About Central, Central Arizona College, https://centralaz.edu/about-cac/about-central/; Degrees & Certificates, Central Arizona College, https://centralaz.edu/academics/degrees-certificates/#tab-id-7; About, Cochise College, https://www.cochise.edu/about/; Areas of Study, Cochise College, https://www.cochise.edu/#1463170230803-933ea9c5-cc3e; Why AWC?, Arizona Western College, https://www.azwestern.edu/about/why-awc; Degrees and Certificates, Arizona Western College, https://www.azwestern.edu/academics/degrees-and-certificates; About YC, Yavapai College, https://www.yc.edu/v6/about/index.html; The Schools at Yavapai College, Yavapai College, https://www.yc.edu/v6/aos/index.html; About, Mohave Community College, https://www.mohave.edu/about/; Online Education, Mohave Community College, https://www.mohave.edu/online/; History of EAC Facilities, Eastern Arizona College, http://www.eac.edu/About_EAC/Get_to_Know_Us/Fact_Book/History_and_Profile/Facilities/default.shtm; Facts at a Glance, Eastern Arizona College, http://www.eac.edu/About_EAC/Get_to_Know_Us/Fact_Book/History_and_Profile/AtAGlance.pdf; Programs of Study, Eastern Arizona College, http://www.eac.edu/Academics/Programs_of_Study/default.shtm; About NPC, Northland Pioneer College, https://www.npc.edu/about-npc; Direct Work Programs, Northland Pioneer College, https://www.npc.edu/interest/direct-work-programs; About GateWay, GateWay Community College, https://www.gatewaycc.edu/about; GateWay History, GateWay Community College, https://www.gatewaycc.edu/history; Center for Entrepreneurial Innovation, GateWay Community College, https://www.ceigateway.com/; Programs, GateWay Community College, https://www.gatewaycc.edu/programs; Locations, Carrington College, https://carrington.edu/schools/; Phoenix, Arizona Campus, Carrington College, https://carrington.edu/schools/phoenix-arizona/;
- Scholarships & Grants, Universal Technical Institute, https://www.uti.edu/financial-aid/scholarships-grants; Accreditation, Phoenix College, https://www.phoenixcollege.edu/about/accreditation; Institutional Accreditation, Rio Salado College, https://national.riosalado.edu/about/accreditation; Accreditations and Approvals, Carrington College, https://carrington.edu/accreditation/; Accreditation & School Affiliations, Arizona College, https://www.arizonacollege.edu/accreditation-affiliations/;
- Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed June 29, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/diagnostic-medical-sonographers.htm
- Scholarships, Association for Career Technical Education of Arizona, accessed August 23, 2019, https://www.acteaz.org/scholarships/
- Grant Eligibility Requirements, The Rotary Vocational Fund of Arizona, Inc., accessed August 23, 2019, https://clubrunner.blob.core.windows.net/00000101502/en-us/files/homepage/grant-eligibility-requirements/Grant-Eligibility-Requirements-Rev.2.08.2019.pdf
- Arizona Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (AzLEAP), Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, accessed August 23, 2019, https://azgrants.az.gov/arizona-leveraging-educational-assistance-partnership-azleap
- State Farm Insurance Emergency Student Assistance, Maricopa Community Colleges Foundation Scholarships, accessed August 23, 2019, https://mcccdf.academicworks.com/opportunities/11665
- Scholarship Opportunities, Arizona Community Foundation, accessed August 23, 2019, https://www.azfoundation.org/Scholarships/ScholarshipOpportunities.aspx
- About Us, Untapped Arizona, accessed August 23, 2019, http://untappedarizona.org/about-us/
- Apprenticeship, Arizona Department of Economic Security, accessed August 23, 2019, https://des.az.gov/services/employment/registered-apprenticeship/apprenticeship-job-seekers
- Arizona Private School Association, accessed August 23, 2019: APSA Scholarships, http://arizonapsa.org/scholarships/; LifeLong Learning Scholarship Application, http://arizonapsa.org/dev/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/LifeLong-Learning-Scholarship-Application-2019.pdf; Current School Member List, http://arizonapsa.org/membership/current-school-member-list/;
- Resources, Arizona Job Connection, accessed August 23, 2019, https://www.azjobconnection.gov/ada/r/resources
- About, Arizona@Work, accessed August 23, 2019, https://arizonaatwork.com/about
- Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
- Most Recent Cohorts (All Data Elements): 2014-15, College Scorecard, U.S. Department of Education, https://collegescorecard.ed.gov/data/