Jobs for trade school graduates are on the rise all over the country, and the Palmetto State is no exception. The South Carolina Department of Commerce lists the advanced manufacturing, aerospace, advanced materials and automotive industries among the state's main economic sectors, and each one of those fields contains a range of vocational jobs at the entry level and beyond.
Matching your career goals to the right city or metro area can make your job outlook even brighter. The Charleston area is a hot ticket for registered nurses, for example, boasting an average annual wage that's around 15 percent higher than the statewide average. The state capital of Columbia, with its nearly 5 percent growth in manufacturing jobs from 2018 to 2019, could be a great place for machinists, CNC techs and similar workers.
Why is South Carolina good for vocational/career schools?
If you're more interested in furthering your career than getting a complete academic education, career and technical schools in South Carolina are probably a better fit for you than four-year colleges and universities. Career technical education (CTE) programs at two-year institutions typically take less time to complete, and attending a community college or technical school can help you save an average of more than $7,000 on your annual tuition bill.
Another advantage of attending a vocational school to earn your CTE certification in South Carolina is the variety of career-focused programs available. College and university catalogs may offer a few vocational study plans, but member schools of the South Carolina Technical College System often work to provide dozens of job training options both online and on campus.
Anyone considering a training program at campus-based or online trade schools in South Carolina should check out our list of the state's top career schools below. After the list, we've got some helpful information about how to apply for financial aid in South Carolina and a list of state initiatives designed to help vocational students succeed.
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in South Carolina
In order to figure out which institutions could be called the best trade and vocational schools in South Carolina, we pulled together a ton of data from U.S. Department of Education sources and scored each school on affordability, flexibility, student success and more. Here's some info about the best places to earn CTE certification in South Carolina:
Trident Technical College is the largest institution on our list by enrollment, educating more than 12,000 students each semester at its total of six campuses and learning centers. It has one of the highest rates of first-year student retention in the state, and the average salary of TTC graduates after 10 years in the workforce was higher than that of alumni from all other trade schools in South Carolina.
What vocational programs TTC offers: Associate degree programs in engineering and manufacturing at this Charleston school include an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) plan in electronics engineering technology and certificates in mechatronics and computer numerical control (CNC) operations. Criminal justice students looking for online trade schools in South Carolina can earn their A.A.S. here entirely online.
One of the more complete measures of college cost is the average net price, which factors in expected grant and scholarship aid to estimate the amount that students are likely to pay for tuition, fees, books, supplies, housing and other essentials. The average net price at Florence-Darlington Technical College was a manageable $3,565 in 2018 -- around 47 percent lower than the state average.
What vocational programs FDTC offers: Two programs for welders are available at FDTC, Certificate in Applied Science (C.A.S.) programs in general welding and pipe welding. Students hoping to learn the finer points of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) can choose a traditional daytime program or a flexible option that meets in the evenings.
Flexible scheduling can be a big help for busy working adults hoping to go back to school, and Greenville Technical College is dedicated to providing that flexibility. Approximately 46 percent of students complete at least some of their credits online, and evening and weekend courses are available on campus. What's more, the institution's Flex Start schedule features even more flexibility options.
What vocational programs GTC offers: A wide range of health care training programs can be completed at GTC, including a certificate in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), an A.A.S. in medical laboratory technology and a degree in occupational therapy assisting. Business-minded students can earn a certificate in small business management and an associate degree in supply chain management.
This medium-sized institution operates its main campus about 15 miles inland from coastal Myrtle Beach and maintains a total of three locations in the region. No other public trade school in South Carolina posted a higher graduation rate than Horry-Georgetown Technical College, and around 85 percent of former students reported being gainfully employed six years after finishing their training programs.
What vocational programs HGTC offers: The A.A.S. in criminal justice technology at this Conway institution features a study path in crime scene investigation that can train you in the techniques and procedures of forensic criminal justice. Students hoping to land a creative career can pursue an A.A.S. in digital arts, and advanced manufacturing programs include mechatronics, machine tool operations and robotics technology.
When it comes to affordability, this northwestern South Carolina institution has a lot to brag about. Its average net price of just over $2,300 per year wasn't just the most affordable such figure in the state of South Carolina in 2018, it also earned Spartanburg Community College a spot among the five most affordable trade schools in the entire country. SCC also posted our list's best student retention rate.
What vocational programs SCC offers: Training in computer technologies at SCC includes an Associate of Science (A.S.) plan in computer science and certificates in software development and networking operations. Students with a green thumb can turn their talent into a career with a degree in horticulture, a certificate in sustainable agriculture and a flexible evening/online program in landscape management.
Affordability and student success were two of the brightest spots on the stat sheet for Aiken Technical College. The Graniteville school had a better retention rate than all but two other schools on our list, and its 2018 average net price of around $4,100 per year was third best in the state and among the 40 most affordable schools nationwide.
What vocational programs ATC offers: Students hoping to make a living in the booming healthcare field have several options at this Graniteville school, including an A.A.S. or certificate in radiologic technology, a medical coding certificate and a diploma or certificate in dental assisting. ATC also offers training in nuclear energy through its programs in nuclear fundamentals, nuclear quality and radiation protection and control.
Around 9,900 students attend courses each semester at Midlands Technical College. The centrally located school is based in West Columbia but operates campuses throughout the Midlands region, in cities such as Winnsboro, Irmo and Batesburg-Leesville. MTC awarded more degrees in 2018 than all but two other trade schools in South Carolina, and more than 86 percent of former students report being employed six years after graduation.
What vocational programs MTC offers: Training for several creative professions is available here, with programs in photography, videography, interior decorating, audio engineering and more. Students looking to enter the tech sector after graduation can earn certificates in high-value fields such as database analysis, full stack Web development and database and server administration.
Central Carolina Technical College is one of the top online trade schools in South Carolina by enrollment, with a distance education participation figure of more than 64 percent that landed it among the top 50 two-year schools in the country in that category. Students here also tend to stay engaged in their training programs -- only four other schools in the state posted a higher retention rate.
What vocational programs CCTC offers: The more than 50 programs of study are available at this Sumter school cover a wide range of career sectors. Students can train to enter the paralegal profession, provide infant and toddler care or learn computer-aided design (CAD) fundamentals in the engineering design technology program.
This institution in the western part of the state is another hot destination for students seeking online trade schools in South Carolina. More than 62 percent of students took at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom in 2018. Students who prefer a close-knit learning environment might like it here, as well, thanks to the comfortable 16:1 student-faculty ratio.
What vocational programs PTC offers: The program in diversified agriculture at PTC offers the only associate-level training of its kind in the state, providing comprehensive, hands-on study of today's high-tech agricultural practices. Another field of study unique to the catalog here is funeral service, where students can earn certificates in embalming and funeral directing or an A.A.S. that covers both areas of expertise.
York Technical College is a mid-sized institution of around 4,200 students, located near the intersection of I-77 and the border with North Carolina. Students here have access to a wide range of training and education programs, and an open enrollment plan ensures that you'll be admitted to the program of your choice regardless of past academic performance.
What vocational programs York Tech offers: Aspiring registered nurses can learn how to address the healthcare needs of diverse populations of patients in the Associate Degree in Nursing (A.D.N.) program at York Tech. The business administration department here offers A.A.S. degrees in accounting, management, logistics and more, as well as certificates in financial services, entrepreneurship, human resource management and payroll and income taxation.
How to Apply for Trade School Financial Aid in South Carolina
Even though trade school programs are generally far less expensive than university degrees, finding room in your budget for the cost of training isn't always an easy task. Fortunately, there are dozens of South Carolina scholarships, grants and other student aid programs that can help take some of the sting out of your tuition bill each semester.
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, is probably the most important document in the financial aid process. You'll need a completed FAFSA to qualify for any available federal aid, for one thing, and most grant and scholarship programs at the state and institutional level also make use of the FAFSA as part of their application process. We've got more information about the FAFSA and other important student aid concepts in the financial aid guide we prepared to help students better understand their options.
Here are just a few of the South Carolina scholarships that may be able to help you get the training you need:
South Carolina Workforce Industry Needs Scholarship (SC WINS) - Fully enrolled college students as well as those dual-enrolled at state high schools may be eligible for assistance through SC WINS, which provides up to $600 in funding per semester.
Lottery Tuition Assistance - South Carolina residents who take at least six credit hours per semester can qualify for this aid program, which awards part-time students up to $95 per credit hour and $1,140 per term to full-time students.
Legislative Incentive for Future Excellence (LIFE) - This merit-based scholarship provides an award that covers the cost of tuition up to $5,000 at state technical schools and includes a $300 textbook allowance.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in South Carolina
South Carolina legislators and policymakers understand the value of a skilled workforce. Take a look at this list of initiatives put into place by government and college system officials to help trade school students get trained and find work:
Funding for vocational students in South Carolina
The South Carolina Tuition Tax Credit is an initiative designed to ease some of the cost burden on students and their families by providing income tax credit for tuition paid at South Carolina colleges.
The Workforce Pathways Scholarship provides tuition assistance for students in eligible programs at South Carolina Technical College System schools.
South Carolina policies that benefit vocational students
Apprenticeship Carolina works to provide employers with assistance in creating registered apprenticeship programs that allow students to earn while they learn.
A workforce training initiative called readySC aims to provide a range of services to companies looking to relocate or expand in the state, helping create more positions for skilled workers.
School-specific program initiatives in South Carolina
Williamsburg Technical College features the William H. Chandler Memorial Scholarship, which awards up to $1,000 over the course of an academic year to a student with a GPA over 2.0.
Students enrolled in construction-related programs at Northeastern Technical College may qualify for the $1,000 FBi Construction Scholarship, which requires a 2.5 GPA and demonstrated financial need.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in South Carolina
The website of the SC Technical College System is a great place to learn more about the best trade and vocational schools in South Carolina.
Once you're ready to look for work, SC Works can help. The statewide initiative provides job seekers with access to job postings, labor market information and other assistance.
There are two types of accreditation to look for at career schools in South Carolina. Institutional accreditation is provided by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), and accreditation for specific programs comes from industry groups like the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) and the National Association for Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
The career technical education portal Advance CTE also features some interesting info on career and technical schools in South Carolina. For more broad-based information about CTE, check out the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE).
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, South Carolina Department of Commerce, accessed September 20, 2019, https://www.sccommerce.com/industries
- Columbia, SC Economy at a Glance, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed September 20, 2019, https://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.sc_columbia_msa.htm
- South Carolina, Advance CTE, accessed September 19-20, 2019, https://careertech.org/South Carolina
- Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time, Trends in Higher Education, The College Board, accessed September 20, 2019, https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-over-time
- South Carolina, College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, accessed September 20, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=SC&ct=1&ic=2
- School pages, accessed September 20-30: Campus and Site Locations, Trident Technical College, https://www.tridenttech.edu/about/locations/index.htm; Electrician Construction & Industrial, Trident Technical College, https://www.tridenttech.edu/academics/divisions/engcon/engcon_elecind.htm; Programs Offered Online, Trident Technical College, https://www.tridenttech.edu/academics/online/ac_onprog.htm; Criminal Justice, Trident Technical College, https://www.tridenttech.edu/academics/online/ac_oncrim.htm; Electronics Engineering Technology, Trident Technical College, https://www.tridenttech.edu/catalog2019/Division-Engineering%20and%20Construction/Electronics%20Engineering%20Technology.html; Program List, Florence-Darlington Technical College, https://www.fdtc.edu/academics/programs/list; Course Schedules, Greenville Technical College, https://www.gvltec.edu/academics_learning/course-schedules.html; Flex Start Option, Greenville Technical College, https://www.gvltec.edu/why_GTC/flex-start.html; Alphabetical list of Degrees, Diplomas & Certificates, Greenville Technical College, https://www.gvltec.edu/academics_learning/academic-program-list.html; Medical Laboratory Technology, Greenville Technical College, https://www.gvltec.edu/academics_learning/academic_catalog/health-sciences/Medical_Laboratory_Technology_Associate.pdf; Campus Locations, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, https://www.hgtc.edu/about_hgtc/campuslocations/index.html; Academic Programs, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, https://www.hgtc.edu/academics/academic_programs/index.html; Criminal Justice Technology, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, https://www.hgtc.edu/academics/academic_departments/Public_Service_Tech/Criminal_Justice.html;Schools of Learning at SCC, Spartanburg Community College, https://sccsc.edu/schools-list/; Computer Technologies, Spartanburg Community College, https://www.sccsc.edu/computers/; Programs of Study, Aiken Technical College, https://www.atc.edu/Study/Programs-of-Study; Dental Assisting, Aiken Technical College, https://www.atc.edu/Study/Programs-of-Study/Health-Sciences/Dental-Assisting; Radiologic Technology, Aiken Technical College, https://www.atc.edu/Study/Programs-of-Study/Health-Sciences/Radiologic-Technology; Medical Coding, Aiken Technical College, https://www.atc.edu/Study/Programs-of-Study/Health-Sciences/Medical-Coding; Campuses, Midlands Technical College, https://www.midlandstech.edu/campuses; Training, Midlands Technical College, https://www.midlandstech.edu/learn/training; Database Analyst, Midlands Technical College, https://www.midlandstech.edu/learn/training/computers/database-analyst; Full Stack Web Developer, Midlands Technical College, https://www.midlandstech.edu/full-stack-web-developer; Programs of Study, Central Carolina Technical College, https://www.cctech.edu/academics/programs-of-study/; Enginereing Design Technology, Central Carolina Technical College, https://www.cctech.edu/program-of-study/engineering-design-technology-engd/; Schools & Programs, Piedmont Technical College, https://www.ptc.edu/academics/schools-programs; Diversified Agriculture, Piedmont Technical College, https://www.ptc.edu/academics/schools-programs/agriculture/diversified-agriculture; Funeral Service (A.A.S.), Piedmont Technical College, https://www.ptc.edu/academics/degrees-diplomas-certificates/associate-degree/aas-funeral-service; About York Tech, York Technical College, https://www.yorktech.edu/about/; Business Administration, York Technical College, https://www.yorktech.edu/Major/Business-Administration/; Nursing, York Technical College, https://www.yorktech.edu/Major/Nursing/; Workforce Pathways Scholarships, Trident Technical College, https://www.tridenttech.edu/ce/funding/pathways-scholarship.htm; Scholarships/Other Aid, Northeastern Technical College, http://www.netc.edu/admissions.php?Admissions-Financial-Aid-Scholarships-Other-Aid-35; College Accreditation, Central Carolina Technical College, https://www.cctech.edu/about/institutional-effectiveness-and-planning/college-accreditation/; Accreditations, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, https://www.hgtc.edu/about_hgtc/accreditations/index.html;
- South Carolina Technical College System, accessed September 20, 2019: Lottery Tuition Assistance, http://www.sctechsystem.edu/students/lottery-tuition-assistance.html; SC WINS, http://www.sctechsystem.edu/students/sc-wins-scholarship-program.html; Income Tax Credit, http://www.sctechsystem.edu/students/income-tax-credit.html; About, Apprenticeship Carolina, https://www.apprenticeshipcarolina.com/about.html; About, readySC, https://www.readysc.org/about.html; Our Services, readySC, https://www.readysc.org/our-services.html;
- South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, accessed September 20, 2019: Lottery Tuition Assistance, https://www.che.sc.gov/CHE_Docs/StudentServices/LTAP/LTAP_QA.pdf; LIFE Scholarship, https://www.che.sc.gov/CHE_Docs/studentservices/life/FAQ-LIFE-3_2016.pdf;
- KHEAA-Administered Programs, South Carolina Higher Education Assistance Authority, accessed September 19-20, 2019: South Carolina 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
- SC Works Online Services, accessed September 20, 2019, https://jobs.scworks.org/vosnet/Default.aspx
- 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/