The labor market in Kentucky is expected to open up quite a bit over the next several years, with more than 80 percent of employers reporting strong job growth projections in a 2017 statewide survey. The catch is that many of those upcoming positions are in skilled labor occupations, and the vast majority of Kentucky employers have reported difficulty in finding appropriately skilled candidates to fill them.
The right trade school training program can help you qualify for many of the skilled jobs coming available, such as potential carpentry and construction positions in Bowling Green — the state's fastest-growing city — or licensed practical nursing jobs in the areas around Lexington and Owensboro, where the average salary in those careers is around 10 percent more than the statewide average.
Why is Kentucky good for vocational/career schools?
Career technical education (CTE) in construction, nursing and other fields can be a great way to speed your entry into the workforce. Programs that lead to technical certificates can often be completed in less than a year of full-time study, getting you career-ready in around one-fourth of the time that it takes to finish a full bachelor's degree.
Not only that, but CTE certification in Kentucky can be easier on your wallet than a university education. The average student paid just over $5,300 for a full year of tuition and fees at two-year community colleges and trade schools in Kentucky in 2018, while university student expenses averaged more than $10,700 — more than double the vocational school cost — the same year.
If a training program from one of the campus-based or online trade schools in Kentucky sounds like the right move for you, check out our rankings list of the state's top two-year institutions below. Stay tuned after the list, as well, for info about state initiatives designed to make vocational education more accessible and some tips on how to apply for financial aid in Kentucky.
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in Kentucky
We gathered U.S. Department of Education Data in important categories like program flexibility, affordability and student success after graduation and analyzed it to find out which institutions in the state could be called the best. Here's our list of the best trade and vocational schools in Kentucky:
This institution in the Ohio River city of Paducah turned in top-tier numbers in our student success categories. West Kentucky Community and Technical College saw the state's largest percentage of first-year students return to continue their programs the second year, and the graduation rate here was higher than those reported at all other schools on our list but one.
What vocational programs WKCTC offers: More than 40 degrees, certificates and other training plans are available here, including a diagnostic medical sonography program that can prepare you for one of the higher-paying careers in medical technology. Students in the classical woodworking trades can learn the skills of their future profession with a hands-on apprenticeship studies program that leads to an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree.
Average net price is a college cost figure that subtracts the average amount of grant and scholarship aid from the expected total expense of tuition, fees, books, supplies, housing and other essentials. Madisonville Community College posted the lowest average net price among all career and technical schools in Kentucky in 2018, charging students an out-of-pocket average of less than $5,400 for the year.
What vocational programs MCC offers: Certificate, diploma and A.A.S. study plans are available through the agriculture program at MCC, which covers approaches to industrial food production such as hydroponics, sustainability and agricultural technology. Aspiring paramedics can earn an A.A.S. or certificate in emergency medical services, and the A.A.S. in biomedical technology systems can teach you how to repair and maintain medical equipment.
Maysville Community and Technical College was another of the most affordable two-year schools in the state, posting an average net price of just over $5,400 for a full year of training. It's also one of the top online trade schools in Kentucky by enrollment — nearly 60 percent of its more than 4,100 students took at least some of their courses online in 2018-19.
What vocational programs MCTC offers: The construction technology program at MCTC offers a comprehensive diploma in construction carpentry and skills certificates in residential roofing, rough carpentry, site layout and more. Aspiring healthcare professionals have a range of study plans to choose from, including medical information technology, medical laboratory technology and respiratory care.
Just one other school on our list had a higher retention rate than Gateway Community and Technical College, and students here have access to career counseling and job placement services to help them successfully move from school to the workforce. This far-northern Kentucky institution also reports that more than 83 percent of former students remained employed six years after graduation, the second-highest such number in the state.
What vocational programs GCTC offers: Massage therapy is one of the fastest growing careers in the country, and the A.A.S. and certificate in massage therapy at GCTC can help you land one of the thousands of positions set to emerge. Students looking for a fast track to jobs in the manufacturing industry can kickstart their careers with an enhanced operator certificate.
Big Sandy Community and Technical College is one of the newer trade and vocational schools in Kentucky, opening its doors to students for the first time in 2003. The average net price at Big Sandy Community and Technical College was more affordable than all but two other schools in our top ten, and it features our list's widest variety of academic and technical programs.
What vocational programs Big Sandy offers: If you want to leave your mark on the world by helping design cities, roads, bridges and other vital parts of the U.S. infrastructure, the A.A.S. in civil engineering technology can get you started down that path. The dental assisting and dental hygiene integrated program here can help you land a stable, under-the-radar healthcare job.
The roughly 2,750 students who attend Hopkinsville Community College have access to career and technical programs that are tailored to fit the workforce requirements of local businesses, giving a boost to your chances of landing a job after graduation. Flexible programs are available here as well, according to the numbers — more than 63 percent of students take at least one online course.
What vocational programs HCC offers: The manufacturing industry has become more and more high-tech in the last several years, and the computerized manufacturing and machining technology program here offers a comprehensive diploma and four skills certificates to train you on cutting-edge tools and concepts in the field. Aspiring police, corrections and security officers can earn a range of degrees and certificates in criminal justice.
Somerset Community College was the top online trade school in Kentucky by enrollment in 2018, reporting that more than 68 percent of its 5,800-strong student body takes advantage of digital distance education for at least part of their credit load. Students here also enjoy one of the largest degree catalogs in the state and an average net price that came in below the state average.
What vocational programs SCC offers: Mechanically inclined students at SCC have the opportunity to train on some of the world's most complex and fascinating mechanical systems with a degree, diploma or certificate in aviation maintenance technology. Four certificates and a diploma in air conditioning technology are also available, as well as training in automotive collision repair.
Elizabethtown Community and Technical College provides its students with career counseling and job placement services, and the numbers suggest that their approach is working. No other school in the state posted a larger percentage of graduates still employed after six years than the more than 85 percent at this central Kentucky school. Flexibility measures are in force here as well, with nearly 44 percent of students taking online classes.
What vocational programs ECTC offers: The human services program here provides a career-ready A.A.S. program and an Associate of Arts (A.A.) plan designed for transfer to an undergraduate social work program at Western Kentucky University. Degrees, diplomas and certificates in early childhood education can give you the skills you need for a rewarding teaching career.
Students who prefer a close-knit learning environment might feel right at home at this institution near the border with Ohio. Ashland Community and Technical College has a student body of around 2,500 learners, and its 2018 student-faculty ratio was 17:1 — the second-best such figure in the state. Whatever the reason, students seem to like going to school here. Just two other institutions posted a better retention rate.
What vocational programs ACTC offers: Numerous healthcare and medical study plans are available at ACTC, including programs in surgical technology and health science technology. Aspiring nurses have a range of options to choose from, as well, such as a diploma plan in practical nursing, a certificate for advanced nursing assistants and a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (A.D.N.).
This Bowling Green school took our list's top spot in one important category: average graduate salary. Former students of Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College reported earning higher average salaries ten years after graduating than graduates of any other school in the state. Nearly 4,500 students attend classes here each semester, and the student-faculty ratio is 20:1.
What vocational programs SKYCTC offers: Students at SKYCTC can earn their associate degree in computer and information technologies in just 16 months of full-time study, and valuable professional credentials such as the Cisco Networking Associate (CNA) certificate and the CompTIA A+ and Security+ certifications can be earned in two semesters or less. Numerous study plans in engineering and electronics technology are available as well, including a certificate or diploma in robotics and automation.
How to Apply for Trade School Financial Aid in Kentucky
Cost tends to be one of the biggest factors for prospective students of career and technical schools in Kentucky, but there's more financial aid available for trade school students than you might think. Not only can you qualify for grants and loans at the federal level, but student aid programs from state, institutional and private sources are also available to help shoulder the cost burden.
Anyone applying for financial aid in Kentucky should definitely be familiar with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. The FAFSA helps aid agencies determine your financial need, which is used as part of the eligibility criteria for all federal programs and most at the state and institutional level. Check out our financial aid guide for more detailed information about the FAFSA and other general tips about how to manage your student aid.
Here's a little detail on a few Kentucky scholarships that might be available to students at trade and vocational schools in the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS):
KCTCS Presidential Scholarship - Students who hold a minimum GPA of 3.0 and demonstrate adequate financial need can qualify for up to $1,500 each semester through this institution-level program.
KCTCS Commonwealth Scholarship - Kentucky residents with a record of high academic achievement in high school, represented by an ACT score of 24 or higher and a GPA above 3.49, can qualify for up to $3,000 per year.
Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship- This program provides GPA-linked awards of between $125 and $500 per year and includes bonuses for eligible students who scored well on college placement tests and qualifying high school exams.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Kentucky
Policymakers and legislators in Kentucky have put in place a range of initiatives designed to help state residents get the training they need and find the job they want. Here are a few such initiatives that students, graduates or employers can take advantage of:
Funding for vocational students in Kentucky
The 15 to Finish Scholarship is an aid program that provides students who take at least 15 credit hours in a semester with a $500 award applied to their next enrolled semester.
College Access Program Grants, available through the Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority (KHEAA), can award up to $2,000 for Kentucky residents enrolled at least half time in programs that last two years or more.
Kentucky policies that benefit vocational students
KCTCS-TRAINS is an initiative that provides existing Kentucky companies and those hoping to move to the state with financial support to offset workforce training expenses.
A KCTCS partnership known as Ready to Work (RTW)provides working low-income parents with support, mentoring services, work study opportunities, child care assistance and more while they go to school.
School-specific program initiatives in Kentucky
The BCTC Alliance Annual Scholarship at Bluegrass Community and Technical College provides college funding to a student who demonstrates financial need or who is involved in the LGBTQ* Alliance student organization.
The Anne Biven Nursing Textbook Fundhelps Associate Degree of Nursing (A.D.N.) students at Jefferson Community and Technical College by providing assistance with the cost of textbooks for one semester.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Kentucky
Check out the Kentucky Community and Technical College System site for information and resources about CTE certification in Kentucky.
The Kentucky Department of Education has information about knowledge areas and program standards for the CTE school-to-work pipeline.
Career and technical schools in Kentucky, as well as the programs they offer, can be accredited by independent industry groups to show that they meet or exceed a national set of educational standards. Institutional accreditation for KCTCS schools comes from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), while program accreditation is awarded by groups like the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation(NATEF).
Kentucky's page on Advance CTE has some stats and other data about trade school training in the state, as well, and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) can clue you in to national CTE initiatives and provide other helpful information.
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: Mixed Transfer/Vocational & Technical
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
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
- No. 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
- Mean annual earnings for students working 10 years after entry, College Scorecard, 2014-15
- Op-ED: Skilled-Workers Law Would Be a Boon for Kentucky Businesses, The River City News, September 15, 2019, accessed September 19-20, 2019, https://www.rcnky.com/articles/2019/09/15/op-ed-skilled-workers-law-would-be-boon-kentucky-businesses
- Kentucky's fastest-growing city? Look no further than Bowling Green, Courier Journal, April 14, 2017, Jeffrey Lee Puckett, accessed September 19-20, 2019, https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2017/04/14/bowling-green-boom-states-fastest-growing-city/100411806/
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 19-20, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292061.htm
- Kentucky, Advance CTE, accessed September 19-20, 2019, https://careertech.org/Kentucky
- Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, Trends in Higher Education, The College Board, accessed September 19, 2019, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time
- Kentucky, College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, accessed September 19-20, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=KY&ct=1&ic=2
- School pages, accessed September 19-30: Program Finder, Western Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Diagnostic Medical Sonography, Western Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/diagnostic-medical-sonography.aspx; Apprenticeship Studies, Western Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://westkentucky.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/apprenticeship-studies.aspx; Agriculture, Madisonville Community College, https://madisonville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/agriculture.aspx; Emergency Medical Services, Madisonville Community College, https://madisonville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/emergency-medical-services.aspx; Biomedical Technology Systems, Madisonville Community College, https://madisonville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/biomedical-technology-systems.aspx; Program Finder, Maysville Community and Technical College, https://maysville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Construction Technology, Maysville Community and Technical College, https://maysville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/construction-technology.aspx; Massage Therapy Technology, Gateway Community and Technical College, https://gateway.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/massage-therapy-technology.aspx; Enhanced Operator, Gateway Community and Technical College, https://gateway.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/enhanced-operator.aspx; BSCTC, University of Pikeville sign memorandum of agreement for Optometry School, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, https://bigsandy.kctcs.edu/news/20171106_Upike.aspx; Civil Engineering Technology, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, https://bigsandy.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/civil-engineering-technology.aspx; Dental Assisting and Dental Hygiene Integrated Program, Big Sandy Community and Technical College, https://bigsandy.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/dental-hygiene.aspx; Hopkinsville Community College, https://hopkinsville.kctcs.edu/; Air Conditioning Technology, Hopkinsville Community College, https://hopkinsville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/computerized-manufacturing-machining-technology.aspx; Criminal Justice, Hopkinsville Community College, https://hopkinsville.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/criminal-justice.aspx; Aviation Maintenance Technology, Somerset Community College, https://somerset.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/aviation-maintenance-technology.aspx; Air Conditioning Technology, Somerset Community College, https://somerset.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/air-conditioning-technology.aspx; Collision Repair Technology, Somerset Community College, https://somerset.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/collision-repair-technology.aspx; Human Services, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, https://elizabethtown.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/human-services.aspx; Interdisciplinary Early Childhood Education, Elizabethtown Community and Technical College, https://elizabethtown.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/interdisciplinary-early-childhood-education.aspx; Program Finder, Ashland Community and Technical College, https://ashland.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/index.aspx; Nursing - Practical Nursing, Ashland Community and Technical College, https://ashland.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/nursing-lpn.aspx; About, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://southcentral.kctcs.edu/about/index.aspx; Engineering and Electronics Technology, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://southcentral.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/engineering-electronics-technology.aspx; Computer and Information Technology, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://southcentral.kctcs.edu/education-training/program-finder/computer-information-technology.aspx; KCTCS Presidential Scholarship, Jefferson Community and Technical College, https://jefferson.kctcs.edu/affording-college/paying-for-college/scholarships/offered/kctcs-presidential.aspx; KCTCS Commonwealth Scholarship, Jefferson Community and Technical College, https://jefferson.kctcs.edu/affording-college/paying-for-college/scholarships/offered/kctcs-commonwealth.aspx; 15 to Finish Scholarship, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, https://kctcs.edu/15tofinish/; Funding Workforce Training, Owensboro Community and Technical College, https://owensboro.kctcs.edu/workforce-solutions/customized-workforce/funding-workforce-training.aspx; Ready to Work, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, https://kctcs.edu/education-training/initiatives/ready-to-work/index.aspx; Scholarships, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, https://bluegrass.kctcs.edu/affording-college/paying-for-college/scholarships/scholarships/index.aspx; Anne Biven Nursing Textbook Fund, Jefferson Community and Technical College, https://jefferson.kctcs.edu/affording-college/paying-for-college/scholarships/offered/biven.aspx; Accredited Academic Programs, Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College, https://southcentral.kctcs.edu/about/accreditation/index.aspx; Accreditation, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, https://kctcs.edu/our-colleges/accreditation.aspx;
- Massage Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 30, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
- KHEAA-Administered Programs, Kentucky Higher Education Assistance Authority, accessed September 19-20, 2019: Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES), https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/kees?main=1; College Access Program Grant, https://www.kheaa.com/website/kheaa/cap?main=1
- 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/