Now might be a better time than ever to think about getting an education from one of the many trade and vocational schools in Colorado. Roughly two-thirds of the key industries identified by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade offer positions for trade school graduates, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranked Colorado No. 4 in the nation for science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-based jobs in 2015.
A few individual cities in Colorado may present especially good opportunities for workers with vocational school credentials. Graduates of construction or construction management programs may have the best luck in Colorado Springs, which was named among the 20 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. by Forbes in 2018, and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) in Denver earned median annual salary nearly 15 percent higher than the national average.
Why is Colorado Good for Vocational/Career Schools?
It's common knowledge that a bachelor's degree can help you increase your earning power, but associate degrees and certificates from trade and vocational schools in Colorado can have a strikingly similar effect. Data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that 98 percent of career technical education (CTE) graduates in the state find jobs, apprenticeships or military service positions within six months of completing their programs.
Job quality is also high for graduates of career and technical schools in Colorado. A 2018 snapshot of the Colorado job market shows that 42 percent of "good jobs" — those that pay at least an average of roughly $55,000 per year — were held by workers without a bachelor's degree.
We've got plenty of information on how to make your transition into a trade school program, including a primer on how to apply for financial aid in Colorado, a rundown of the state's top vocational schools, and an intro to some initiatives designed to promote CTE certification in Colorado. Check out our school rankings and other resources below.
Highest-Paying and Fastest-Growing Careers in Colorado
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in Colorado
Colorado scholarships and grants aren't reserved for university students. Students in vocational and trade school programs can also find a wide range of financial aid programs that help them manage the cost of a college education.
Anyone looking for info on how to apply for financial aid in Colorado should start their search with the Free Application for Student Aid, or FAFSA. The information you provide on your FAFSA can be easily accessed by local, state and federal sources to determine your residency status and financial need for a wide range of different aid programs, so make sure to get it filled out and turned in before your school's FAFSA deadline. Take a look at our financial aid guide for more details about the FAFSA and other high-level financial aid info.
Here's a quick list of Colorado scholarships, grants and more that might help you reduce your tuition bill:
- Colorado Student Grant - If you take at least six credit hours per semester in a program that leads to a degree, you may qualify for this statewide program. Funding is based on enrollment and typically awarded on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Colorado Work-Study - This aid program provides part-time work either on or off campus, often related to a student's major subject of study. The amount of the award tends to depend somewhat on the type of work you do and the level of funding available through your school.
- Colorado National Guard Tuition Assistance Program - Most career and vocational schools in Colorado accept aid through this program, which provides up to $4,250 in tuition assistance to eligible members of the Colorado National Guard.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Colorado
Government agencies and other entities in Colorado also provide funding to help trade and vocational schools improve their programs and better serve their students. Here's a quick list:
Funding for vocational students in Colorado
- The Career and Technical Act (CTA) adopted by the Colorado General Assembly provides more than $25 million in funding for CTE programs at career and technical schools around the state.
- Colorado First and Existing Industry (CFEI) Customized Job Training Grant Programs allow in-state businesses to partner with Colorado Community College System (CCCS) schools and offer training programs targeted to their specific workforce needs.
Colorado policies that benefit vocational students
- Relevant Information to Strengthen Education (RISE) is a statewide system through which schools can gather and share educational data with the goal of producing comprehensive educational research and formulating improved policies.
- Launch My Career Colorado is a state-run jobs portal for Colorado residents that can help you explore various career paths and learn about trade schools, community colleges and universities in the state.
School-Specific Program Initiatives in Colorado
- First-time freshman students at Colorado Northwestern Community College can qualify for the $2,000 Vice-President's Scholarship or the $1,000 CCNC Dean's Scholarship if their cumulative GPA is 3.0 or above.
- Around $1 million in scholarship aid is available to students at the Community College of Denver, including a program designed specifically to help students who are the first in their family to attend college.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Colorado
- The Colorado Community College System website offers a wealth of info on the state's two-year schools as well as its active workforce incentives and other industry collaboration initiatives.
- The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment features a jobs portal, assistance in finding the right training and other resources for job seekers.
- Accreditation ensures that the education you receive either meets or exceeds the standard expected by employers. Public community colleges in Colorado are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, while private schools are accredited by a range of agencies that includes the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.
If you want to learn even more about trade schools in Colorado, check out the state page on Advance CTE. There's also some helpful info about trade and vocational schools in general at the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).
Expert Advice on Vocational Education in Colorado With Lauren Jones
Opting for a degree of any kind can be a tough decision. We wanted to know more about the importance of vocational education from an educator's standpoint. Lauren Jones is the Program Director for Career Guidance, Counseling & ACE for Career & College Readiness Initiatives through the Colorado Community College System. Here are her thoughts on the role of vocational and technical training in Colorado.
What is vocational education and why is it important?
First and foremost, we now refer to vocational education as Career & Technical Education (CTE). In Colorado our mission is: Colorado CTE delivers proven pathways to lifelong career success! CTE ensures a thriving Colorado economy by providing relevant and rigorous education that is connected, responsive and real. Nationwide CTE is defined as: to guide the future of education for all students. Its ultimate goal: to prepare students of all ages to succeed in education and careers -- and enable the United States to flourish in a dynamic and increasingly competitive global economy.
How do employers view graduates of CTE programs in Colorado?
In Colorado, in 2015, employers view graduates of technical colleges with utmost desire, respect and quick placement. With a growing economy and high need in skilled career fields, we are seeing more placement of graduates in fields such as Energy, Hospitality & Tourism, Advanced Manufacturing and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) related fields. This type of training for the right person can be done in a short amount of time and can either be employer funded or be affordable in cost for families who may be in or around the poverty line.
How can a CTE degree and training help students land a job?
These skilled workers/graduates typically graduate with a certificate (6 weeks to 1 year) or license and associate degrees. In Colorado, we focus on the national platform of Career & College Readiness (CCR) skills and interpret them to be Postsecondary Workforce Readiness (PWR) skills. A very teachable acronym for many in our secondary and postsecondary educational entities. PWR includes: problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, innovation, global & cultural awareness, collaboration, communication, work ethic, finding and using information technology and content/subject knowledge.
What should prospective students consider before selecting a program?
Begin with themselves — who they are, their values, personality, learning, and leadership styles. Explore themselves first. Then begin to explore the related career paths aligned to their interest then available to them, then begin to plan and manage their academic path working in some personal financial literacy (cost/benefits to education and employment salary).