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Training at vocational and trade schools might be one of the best kept secrets in the Golden State. Not only can trade and vocational programs prepare you for high demand jobs in California, but six of the state's top ten industries -- including information technology, manufacturing, construction and real estate -- have direct employment connections to vocational school programs.
Because top industries can vary from region to region, vocational school graduates in certain areas may have access to extra job opportunities. Silicon Valley and the surrounding area, for example, is home to a dense concentration of technology manufacturing jobs. Construction graduates may have an easier time finding steady work in Sacramento than in other cities, since the state's capital ranks among the fastest-growing large cities in California.
Why is California good for vocational/career schools?
California works hard to ensure that workers in its Career Technical Education (CTE) programs have the tools they need to succeed. Since 2013, the state has invested more than $1 billion in regional career pathways through various initiatives. Student outcomes have been strong, with close to 80 percent of the roughly 900,000 CTE college students finding jobs or enrolling in further training within six months of graduation. Also, as recently as 2018, California legislators made budget available for a California Community Colleges project called the Online Education Initiative, which is meant to increase availability of career-oriented distance education programs in the state's community colleges.
There's a gap between the number of available jobs and the workers needed to fill them, despite how many vocational and technical schools there are in California. The Golden State's economy is made up of around 50 percent middle-skill jobs -- positions that require some formal college-level training but don't require a bachelor's degree -- for which less than 40 percent of the state's workforce has the necessary qualifications. New initiatives, such as California's first fully online community college, Calbright College, open to students starting in October 2019, could help this issue.
If you're not sure how to get a CTE credential in California, the advising office at one of the state's community colleges or vocational schools is a great place to start. Take a look at our list of top vocational schools in California to find out which ones stand above the rest.
The 10 Best Trade Schools in California
In order to determine the best vocational schools in California, we took a hard look at data in eight categories that students care about. The top accredited technical schools in California turned in good numbers across the board, on metrics like affordability, program variety, flexibility and successful student outcomes. Find out who took the top spots below.
Originally founded in 1946, Mt. San Antonio College offers more than 260 degree and certificate programs and features over 50 student clubs. Younger vocational students should have a fairly large peer group here -- the majority of the student body in 2016-17 was under 24 years of age.
What vocational programs Mt. SAC offers: Two distinct types of certificate are offered at Mt. SAC. "Certificates of achievement" function as standard non-degree programs, while "skills certificates" require fewer credits and teach specific skills. Associate of Science (A.S.) plans in fashion merchandising, psychology and kinesiology and wellness are a few of the options in the Walnut institution's two-year degree catalog. Multiple certificates in animation, architectural design and aircraft and airframe maintenance are also available.
More than 26,000 students attend classes at City College of San Francisco. An online career match survey can help you narrow down what program might be right for you, and several Transfer Admissions Guarantee (TAG) programs are available for students who need a bachelor's degree before hitting the workforce.
What vocational programs CCSF offers: Automotive technology subjects are among the most popular certificate programs at this San Francisco school. Automotive students can choose from a list of six specialties that includes hybrid and electric vehicle technology, which can be especially helpful for mechanics in a regulations climate that's tough on emissions. Associate degree students can pursue an education in biological sciences, child development and visual media design, among other subjects.
School initiative to note: The Basic Skills Initiative at City College of San Francisco focuses on generating student success by improving general learning and study skills as well as reading, writing and math abilities. Instruction is provided in developmental education classes as well as across the entire curriculum.
Santa Rosa Junior College maintains two full-service campuses, two instructional centers and a 365-acre outdoor learning lab that provides hands-on instruction to students in agriculture and natural resources programs. Known as Shone Farm, the outdoor lab is located in the Russian River Valley and features a 90-acre winery.
What vocational programs SRJC offers: Wine-loving students can take advantage of SRJC's expansive agricultural land through an associate degree or certificate program in viticulture, which teaches them about how wine grapes are grown and vineyards are managed. Certificates for aspiring emergency personnel are among the most popular non-degree study plans here, with more than 800 graduates in 2017-18 completing emergency medical technology (EMT) programs.
This long-standing institution in Los Angeles County welcomed its first class of 139 students in 1928, and it's grown in leaps and bounds since then. Today, more than 25,000 students are enrolled in GCC programs and two new learning facilities have opened up to better serve students in the area.
What vocational programs GCC offers: How do market forces influence housing prices? What is a grant deed in California? A real estate broker certificate from GCC can help answer these questions and set you up for an exciting and lucrative career in the property business. Students who are interested in careers like finance and management can look into the school's most popular degree: an Associate of Arts (A.A.) in business administration.
The San Diego Community College District works hard to provide college access for students in its service area. Through the San Diego Promise Program, eligible full-time students who are fresh out of high school may qualify for two full years of tuition-free study at Miramar or one of its two sister schools in the city.
What vocational programs Miramar offers: Automotive technology, child development and biotechnology are a few popular certificate programs at Miramar. All three subjects can also be taken as Associate of Science (A.S.) degrees, and child development students may also choose an A.A. plan. Two-year degrees for first responders -- in fire protection technology, EMT and administration of justice, as they're called in the catalog -- are also common among students here.
The stated goals of Long Beach City College focus primarily on closing achievement gaps and improving college readiness for the students it serves. One way it does this is through Viking Advantage, a program for incoming students that offers registration assistance, transitional support and a special first-year course designed to promote college success.
What vocational programs LBCC offers: The transportation technologies of tomorrow are on the menu at LBCC. Students can pursue an A.S. degree or certificate in electric vehicles or alternative fuel technology. Health care degrees are common here as well, including an associate degree in nursing for aspiring RNs, an A.S. in diagnostic medical imaging and an A.A. or certificate in medical assisting.
San Diego City College is another San Diego Promise institution, so recent high school graduates planning to attend college full time may qualify for a break on tuition. It's also one of the oldest trade schools in California, having celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014. Roughly 17,000 students attend classes here each semester.
What vocational programs City College offers: Programs in machine technology, such as an A.S. in computer-aided manufacturing and a certificate in computerized numerical control (CNC) technology, are available for students who want to angle their training toward the machine shop. Cosmetology and esthetician training are also popular certificates at City College, and associate degrees in electricity and the construction trades can help expand your journeyman skills.
A few vocational or technical schools in California can claim 100 years of history, but Fresno City College has got them all beat. This San Joaquin Valley institution was founded in 1910, earlier than all other two-year schools in the state. It also offers a tutoring service called Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS), which recently won an award for its innovative approach.
What vocational programs FCC offers: Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) is one of the top technical subjects offered at FCC, along with industrial control systems technology and telecommunications engineering. Students seeking office-oriented vocational programs can enroll in A.S. or certificate programs that train paralegals, accountants, computer network administrators and more.
Located less than an hour from the gates of Sequoia National Park, the area around College of the Sequoias offers extra value to students who love natural beauty. It's also the smallest of all the California vocational schools that made our list, educating just over 12,200 students in the 2017-18 academic year.
What vocational programs COS offers: The training programs in child development attract a high percentage of enrolled students here, especially at the certificate level. In fact, more than 50 percent of all one-year certificates earned at COS in 2017-18 were in child care disciplines. Criminal justice is one of the top associate-level vocational plans at this Visalia institution, and the wide range of available agricultural programs includes ornamental horticulture, equine science and agribusiness.
Founded in 1974, Ventura County's Oxnard College is a relatively recent addition to the roster of California vocational schools. Its student body is fairly young, as well: the average student age here is 25, but more than half of the student population is 22 years of age or younger.
What vocational programs OC offers: Firefighting and fire technology are big programs at Oxnard -- so big, in fact, that the college features its own regional fire academy that's accredited by the Office of the California State Fire Marshal. It's also a top destination for culinary arts hopefuls seeking hands-on experience, thanks to a campus restaurant that serves three-course, fine dining lunches and is run and staffed by Oxnard students.
School initiatve to note: The Oxnard College Promise is an initiative designed to remove barriers to entry from incoming first-time Oxnard students by waiving the cost of tuition and fees and placing them in supportive programs during their first year.
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in California
It may be clear that top vocational school programs are available here, but how does financial aid work in California? What is Cal Grant, and how can it work for you? We'll give you answers to those questions and more, as well as providing a rundown of student aid resources that can make it easier to find the help you need.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, works like a skeleton key for most high-level financial aid programs, so be sure to fill it out and submit it as soon as possible. Check out our financial aid guide for students nationwide to learn more about the FAFSA and other important concepts in the world of student assistance.
Here's a quick list of grants and scholarships that you may want to apply for as a California student:
- Cal Grant - Eligibility requirements for this statewide award include a completed FAFSA or California Dream Act Application (CADAA), at least one year of California residency, demonstrated financial need and a program that leads to a degree. Check the program's website for info on how to apply for a Cal Grant.
- Pine Cone Foundation Scholarship - Learning-disabled students who want to attend California vocational schools might qualify for this award, which can total up to $3,500 over a three-year period.
- CTA Scholarships - The California Teachers Association (CTA) has several scholarships available for California students, including five awards of up to $5,000 for children of members and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Scholarship Program that awards up to $6,000 for ethnic minority students hoping to become teachers, school counselors, school nurses or school therapists.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in California
California residents can take advantage of several statewide and regional initiatives designed to help vocational students succeed.
Funding for vocational students in California
- The California Career Pathways Trust (CCPT) has contributed more than $500,000,000 in funding to promote CTE in the state since 2013. CCPT focuses on guiding students from elementary school to college, helping institutions develop relevant study plans for high demand jobs in California and promoting collaboration among different career sectors to create more effective CTE programs.
- The Strong Workforce Program aims to help member schools of the California Community Colleges system produce better student outcomes in CTE programs. Its contribution to California vocational schools totals nearly $250,000,000 each year and is designed to boost efforts toward innovation and data-driven outcomes.
California policies that benefit vocational students
- The California Partnership Academies (CPA) model is a new approach to high school that incorporates CTE concepts into the standard academic curriculum. Students in CPA programs learn in small groups with a committed team of teachers. Partnerships with regional businesses as well as trade and vocational schools in California can help them prepare for the next step.
- The California Career Resource Network (CalCRN) was created by the California Department of Education to provide career development information and resources to state residents. The career exploration tools provided by CalCRN can help students decide on a career and create a plan to get there.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in California
- The California Department of Education provides a wealth of information and resources for potential vocational students, specifically those seeking training in agriculture or business and marketing.
- Statewide Career Pathways has worked hard since 2006 to build a database of California articulation agreements and provide support to CTE faculty and administrators as they develop workplace-relevant courses and programs. It also produces helpful infographics like this industry sector map.
- Having an inside line to CTE accreditation agencies can help you stay on top of which programs are worth considering and which you should avoid. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) and the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) are the two biggest accreditors of California CTE schools.
Expert Advice on Vocational Education in California
We wanted to know more about the role of vocational and trade schools in today's industries. Most authoritative sources, such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, claim that earning a degree can improve your chances at getting a job. But is a vocational degree enough? We sat down with Sean Lynch, Public Affairs Manager for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), to get his opinion on vocational education in California.
|Sean Lynch is the Legislative and Public Affairs Manager for the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science and German from St. John's University.|
Employers are definitely getting more involved with CTE in greater numbers as they recognize the opportunity that these programs represent for their industry. A great example of this is in IT, which is predicted to be the fastest growing career cluster by 2018. This field requires professionals who can demonstrate to their employer that they have the skills they will need on-the-job - things like industry recognized certifications and credentials. And since employers are the ones that understand their needs for those qualifications, we're seeing them come to the table in a great way to partner with educational institutions and communicate how they can do what's best for students.Do vocational degrees help graduates get jobs?
Absolutely, CTE degrees and credentials help graduates get into valued careers in growing fields. I think it's important for students to begin with the end in mind - to think about what career they hope to obtain, and then identify what the best path to get there is. For many of those careers, it's going to mean some form of postsecondary education - for example, by 2020 82 percent of health care careers are only going to be available to individuals who have obtained some form of postsecondary education, and a healthy portion of those are best suited to those with associate degrees or postsecondary certificates.How does the state of California view CTE?
California is doing some really interesting things related to CTE — many institutions are implementing the Linked Learning model, which contextualizes academic and technical curricula with a real-world profession to engage students. According to the U.S. Department of Education's data from 2012-13 (the most recent numbers available), there are 1,911,694 CTE students in California, and we're excited to see how those students are preparing themselves for their future.
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