Don't make the mistake of thinking you need a bachelor's degree to get a great job in Virginia. Earning a certificate, diploma or associate degree is all that's needed for many quality jobs in the commonwealth's key industries. Health technicians are needed in the life sciences field, CNC workers are employed by manufacturers to program machine tools, and transportation managers oversee distribution from Virginia's port of entry to locations across country.
None of these jobs require a four-year degree, and they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what's available to those with technical training. In northern Virginia, physical therapy assistants, medical assistants and dental laboratory assistants have some of the fastest growing jobs. Or head to the southwest region where EMTs and paramedics, billing clerks and medical secretaries are expected to be in-demand.
While you don't need a bachelor's degree for these positions, you will need some education past high school. For that, head to technical schools in Virginia. Many of the commonwealth's vocational colleges have affordable tuition rates and can have you ready to start a new career in less than two years.
Why is Virginia good for vocational schools?
In recent years, career and technical schools in Virginia have become the preferred choice for many students. People realize that pursuing a career-technical education, also known as CTE, is a smart move. Career schools in Virginia teach practical skills and aren't likely to saddle graduates with crippling student loan debt. There are even online trade schools in Virginia that make it easy for working adults to finish their education.
In 2015, nearly half of all jobs in Virginia required middle skills, according to the National Skills Coalition. Middle skills refers to training beyond high school but less than a bachelor's degree. While demand for middle skills jobs is expected to remain steady in the years to come, only 39% of the state's residents are qualified for them. That means graduates from vocational schools in Virginia may find they have plenty of employment opportunities, depending on their field of study.
Top Vocational Schools in Virginia
It can be overwhelming to look at a list of trade schools in Virginia. There are so many choices. We decided to narrow them down by analyzing data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the U.S. Department of Education's College Scorecard. We looked for schools that were accredited, had proven student success measures and a wide variety of program options. Based on our findings, we believe the following are the best trade schools in Virginia.
Reynolds Community College promises to provide students with an outstanding educational experience that will prepare them for successful careers. Founded in 1972, it is the youngest of Virginia's 23 community colleges and yet it has grown to be one of the largest. More than 15,000 students enroll annually in the programs it offers across three campus locations.
What vocational programs Reynolds offers: Reynolds Community College offers dozens of technical degrees, certificates and career studies certificates. Through Reynolds Online, a number of these programs can be earned entirely through distance learning. Others can be completed mostly online. For instance, the cyber security career studies certificate can be completed through online courses with the exception of a seminar and project course. Meanwhile, on-campus, one of the latest additions to the school is The Kitchens at Reynolds which will house the school's culinary arts program.
A beautiful setting is only one perk of going to school at Mountain Empire Community College. As one of the best trade schools in Virginia, it offers nearly 70 programs of study and smaller class sizes where you won't get lost in a crowd. MECC has a strong retention rate, and students in some health care specialties have a 100 percent success rate in certification and licensure exams.
What vocational programs MECC offers: The vocational programs at MECC range from the expected -- such as nursing -- to the unique. Mountain Empire Community College is the only school in Virginia to offer a two-semester career studies certificate in old time music. Some courses and programs may also be available through distance learning options.
Enrolling fewer than 5,000 students, Southside Virginia Community College offers a smaller learning environment. It was founded in 1970 and operates on the belief that everyone should be afforded the same educational opportunities. It provides dual enrollment for high school students, workforce development programs and academic options ranging from career studies certificates to associate degrees.
What vocational programs SVCC offers: Students can select from dozens of programs offered on two campuses, five centers and online. Options include an Administration of Justice AAS degree, skilled trades certificates and a diesel technician career studies certificate. SVCC offers its own online courses as well as some through a distance learning collaboration with Old Dominion University. Some classes may be completed entirely online while others have on-campus components.
Danville Community College has a long history that dates back to the founding of the Danville Textile School in 1936. Since that time, the school has evolved and merged with other institutions to create a comprehensive community college. Today, Danville Community College offers academic and technical programs across nine categories.
What vocational programs DCC offers: For workforce training, DCC offers technical degrees, diplomas and certificates. The school has a Fast Forward initiative that allows students to complete short term training in in-demand fields such as welding and computer support. These may result in a career studies certificate and typically take 1-3 semesters to complete. Longer diploma, certificate and degree programs are available in diverse fields such as food management, cosmetology and precision machining technology.
Flexible learning options are part of what make Eastern Shore Community College one of the best vocational schools in Virginia. The school offers weekday, weeknight and weekend classes that make it easier to schedule school around work. That's undoubtedly a benefit for the nearly 80 percent of students who attend ESCC on a part-time basis.
What vocational programs ESCC offers: The career and technical programs at ESCC result in associate degrees, certificates and career studies certificates. These can prepare you for careers in nursing, business and medical assisting. Internships are offered for some courses of study. There are also online classes available through ESCC and in partnership with Old Dominion University. Other distance learning options are made possible by a collaboration with the Northern Virginia Community College Extended Learning Institute.
This military-friendly institution makes it easy for service members to use their education benefits to launch a new career. Advanced Technology Institute is a Yellow Ribbon School, meaning it can offer lower costs to veterans, and the school offers information on Virginia scholarships and other financial aid that can offset the price of tuition.
What vocational programs ATI offers: The programs at ATI are taught by qualified instructors who provide hands-on training. The school's HVAC/Refrigeration program houses an authorized ESCO and Nate Testing center and lets students learn using a variety of residential and commercial units. Meanwhile, the ATI automotive technology program is Master Certified by the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation. Other education options at ATI cover commercial driving, heavy vehicles and maritime welding.
While most of the best trade schools in Virginia are public community colleges, Eastern Virginia Career College is different. The school is a private institution dedicated to adult career education. It has a focus on health and wellness fields. Some general education courses are also offered. To help busy adults enter a new career quickly, Eastern Virginia Career College offers accelerated programs that can be completed in 2-12 months.
What vocational programs EVCC offers: Students can prepare for several health, beauty and wellness occupations at EVCC. Among the offerings are a diploma for medical assistants and an Associate of Applied Science in nursing. Beauty and wellness programs teach the skills needed to be a massage therapist, nail technician, wax technician or esthetician. Students receive hands-on instruction, and evening classes may be available.
At Richard Bland College, you get the prestige of going to a school associated with one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the country: William & Mary. Richard Bland is also the only two-year residential college in Virginia. It is offers the campus experience of a university without the high price.
What vocational programs RBC offers: Unlike other schools on this list, RBC is known more for its academic and liberal arts degrees than its vocational programs. However, it does offer technical education options. For instance, there is a logistics management certificate that can be either earned alone or stacked with other credentials toward an associate degree. There are also associate degrees in clinical lab sciences, business administration, arts and sciences.
Centura College started out as a career placement service in 1969 and launched its first school in 1983. Today, it is known for providing vocational training at five locations in Virginia as well as online. Its focus is on allied health and skilled trades. At its main campus in Richmond, students get access to support resources such as tutorial services and career advising to help them be successful in the classroom and beyond.
What vocational programs Centura offers: In Richmond, Centura currently offers five diploma programs. These are for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, building maintenance and repair, combination welding, medical assisting and construction electrician. Students gain hands-on experience and, in some cases, the opportunity to earn professional credentials. The construction electrician diploma, for instance, includes OSHA safety certification as well as preparation for a future Journeyman's Electrical certification.
The Norfolk campus was the first school opened by Centura College. The college grew out of a career placement service founded in 1969. Then, in 1983, the company opened the Electronic Institute of Technology in Norfolk. The school took the name Centura College in 2008. Today, the Norfolk campus is one of five locations offering allied health and skilled trades training.
What vocational programs Centura offers: Centura's Norfolk campus offers four diploma programs: construction electrician, dental assistant, medical assistant and health information technology. All programs can be completed in one year or less, and both daytime and evening classes may be available. Students learn hands-on skills from qualified instructors. Some programs include externships to provide real-world experience prior to graduation.
Financial Aid for Vocational Students in Virginia
The best vocational schools in Virginia have more going for them than great degree, diploma and certificate programs. They also charge significantly less than other schools in the commonwealth.
Consider this: the total cost for a school within the Virginia Community College System was $4,620 in 2017-2018, according to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. If you went to the College of William and Mary, you would have spent $23,400 in tuition alone and then another $12,236 for room and board. Even at Virginia State University -- the cheapest of the commonwealth's public universities -- you'd pay $20,264 for tuition and room and board.
There is, of course, financial aid in Virginia, and this money can be used at both four-year and two-year schools. For 2019, the commonwealth earmarked more than $99 million of its general fund for the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. That money includes a significant amount for Virginia grants and other aid.
To apply for Virginia grants for college as well as some scholarships and loans, you need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). We have more information about how to apply for financial aid in Virginia in our financial aid guide.
Once you submit your FAFSA, you could be in line for the following
Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program: Many people wonder: what is VGAP grant? Virginia offers these grants to residents who are enrolled full-time in a public two-year or four-year school. Recipients must have demonstrated financial need, and the award amount varies depending on someone's situation. However, it can be as much as the full cost of tuition, fees and books.
Virginia Commonwealth Award: Similar to the VGAP, the Virginia Commonwealth Award provides assistance to residents enrolled in public universities, colleges and career schools in Virginia. However, you don't have to be enrolled full-time. Half-time students can also receive awards, which are based on financial need.
New Economy Workforce Credential Grant: To promote CTE certification, Virginia offers these grants which will cover up to two-thirds of the cost of an eligible training program. Applications are processed through participating institutions.
Initiatives for Vocational Students in Virginia
Career-technical education is supported in many ways within Virginia. Here's a closer look at what that means.
Funding for vocational students in Virginia
High school students can access the best vocational schools in Virginia early thanks to dual enrollment programs. These allow high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit prior to graduation. Depending on the school district, dual enrollment classes may be offered free of charge. When a fee is assessed, it is often much less than the normal tuition rate.
The children and spouses of military members killed in the line of duty or 90-100% permanently disabled as a result of military operations can apply for the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program. It waives the cost of tuition and fees at public Virginia colleges and universities and provides an annual stipend of up to $1,900.
Virginia policies that benefit vocational students
Students who decide to continue their education at a four-year school may find that easy to do thanks to Guaranteed Admissions Agreements. These guarantee that anyone who graduates with an associate degree from one of Virginia's 23 community colleges will receive admission to 30 commonwealth colleges and universities, so long as they meet minimum GPA requirements.
Offered at a handful of community colleges around the state, Middle College is a unique program designed to meet the needs of 18 to 24-year olds who didn't finish high school. It allows these students to earn a GED while also completing workforce readiness training or community college classes.
School-specific program initiatives in Virginia
The Career and Technical Education Center in Hampton has been providing CTE training for more than 40 years. Students from 21 area high schools spend half their day at the center to get training for industry certifications or to prepare for college.
The statewide Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back Initiative (G3) has led to innovative programs at a number of schools. For instance, Thomas Nelson is using its grant money to expand programs and create career pathways in ten different disciplines. At Central Virginia Community College, G3 funds will be used to develop a Career and Technical Education Academy that will serve dual enrollment students, unemployed adults and others.
Expert Advice on Vocational Schools in Virginia
To learn more about the role of vocational education in Virginia's job market, we sat down with Jerry Stewart, Workforce Development Coordinator for the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development. He has 28 years of experience in workforce development and is currently the chair of the Virginia Beach City Public Schools General Advisory Council for Career and Technical Education.
|Jerry Stewart is the Workforce Development Coordinator for the Virginia Beach Department of Economic Development.|
What are the benefits of career and technical education?
Career and Technical Education programs provide skill sets and knowledge opportunities for all students, whether they are considering careers after graduation, pursuing higher education or seeking a combination of both. If the student's interest is going directly into the workforce, the industry certifications available with Career and Technical Education program provide verification of the skills applicable to the employer. CTE programs also offer the students opportunities to explore multiple career pathways of interest.
How does CTE support workforce and economic development in Virginia?
CTE is a vital partner in the success of workforce and economic development across the country. In Virginia Beach, several of our high-performance manufacturers need highly skilled employees to work in their advanced manufacturing facilities. CTE, and often times, post-secondary training, prepare graduates to go directly into these businesses with industry recognized certifications. With the expansion of dual enrollment at the secondary level, many high school graduates will have several credit hours upon graduation. CTE, along with their economic development partners, can increase the awareness of the availability of high paying jobs in the many different technical fields
Are there any CTE career clusters more in-demand than others in the state?
Manufacturing skills appear to be in demand in many parts of the United States. The integration of even more Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machines in manufacturing facilities is driving the demand for higher skills. In Virginia Beach, new clusters identified by economic development and implemented with CTE programming, include entrepreneurship and cyber security.
In Virginia, how do employers view individuals with CTE or trade education?
CTE graduates are in high demand, particularly students with industry certifications. Employers are confident with the skills of these potential employees. Virginia Beach City Public Schools' students obtained over 10,000 industry recognized certifications for the 2014-2015 year, and Economic Development markets this information to existing and new business prospects.
Are career fields that require CTE training expected to grow?
As a result of my involvement in workforce development, CTE at the local level, and CTE at the state level, I agree with the projections for education required for future jobs. I suspect that past 2020, even a higher percentage of jobs will require some postsecondary education. I believe CTE training will continue to grow because quality CTE programs have the ability to quickly adapt and change to different training/skill needs in a business community. Strong CTE and economic/workforce development partnerships facilitate this because economic development can inform CTE administrators of the needs of their business community.
Do you have any advice for new CTE students?
Explore the CTE programs offered at your school. If you are uncertain of your career aspirations or plans for higher education, CTE can prepare you with skills that get you a high paying job that will allow you time to explore potential careers prior incurring substantial college debt. Additionally, if you are certain that the four-year college track is your aspiration; many CTE programs can better prepare you to be successful in college/university. Industry credentials have also been proven to better prepare you for the college experience, often times even opening up part-time job opportunities while attending college.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Virginia
There are plenty of resources available to help you learn more about vocational education and skilled jobs in Virginia:
The State Council of Higher Education for Virginia is the government agency that oversees public institutions of higher learning.
At Virginia's Community Colleges, you can learn more about the commonwealth's 23 public two-year schools, scholarships in Virginia and more.
For comprehensive information on both education options and careers, visit the Virginia Education Wizard. Managed by Virginia's Community Colleges, it is a comprehensive resources for students and jobseekers alike.
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
- 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/
- Key Industries, Virginia Economic Development Partnership, Accessed June 2019, https://www.vedp.org/key-industries
- Labor Market Data for Download, Trailblazers, Accessed June 2019, http://ctetrailblazers.org/labor-market-data-for-download/
- Virginia's Forgotten Middle, National Skills Coalition, Accessed June 2019, https://www.nationalskillscoalition.org/resources/publications/2017-middle-skills-fact-sheets/file/Virginia-MiddleSkills.pdf
- Tuition & Aid: In-State Tuition and Fees, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Accessed June 2019, https://www.schev.edu/index/tuition-aid/in-state-tuition-fees
- State Financial Aid, State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Accessed June 2019, https://www.schev.edu/index/tuition-aid/financialaid/state-student-aid
- Office of Education Appropriations, Accessed June 2019, http://dpb.virginia.gov/budget/buddoc18/partb/OfficeOfEducation.pdf
- The Reynolds Promise, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Accessed June 2019, http://www.reynolds.edu/who_we_are/about/default.aspx
- Reynolds Snapshot, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Accessed June 2019, http://www.reynolds.edu/who_we_are/about/snapshot.aspx
- Student Achievement at Mountain Empire Community College, Mountain Empire Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.mecc.edu/about-mecc/consumer-information/
- General Information, Southside Virginia Community College, Accessed June 2019, http://southside.edu/general-information
- Careers & Programs, Danville Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://danville.edu/careers-programs
- Mission Statement of the College, Danville Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://danville.edu/mission-statement-college
- Career and Technical Programs, Eastern Shore Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://es.vccs.edu/academics/programs-and-courses/distance-learning/
- About, Eastern Shore Community College, Accessed June 2019, https://es.vccs.edu/about/
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Accessed June 2019, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator
- Military, Advanced Technology Institute, Accessed June 2019, https://www.auto.edu/military/
- Wellness & Beauty, Eastern Virginia Career College, Accessed June 2019, http://evcc.edu/wellness-beauty/
- Our History, Eastern Virginia Career College, Accessed June 2019, http://evcc.edu/about-us/
- RBC by the Numbers, Richard Bland College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.rbc.edu/why-rbc/rbc-by-the-numbers/
- Programs & Degrees, Richard Bland College, Accessed June 2019, https://www.rbc.edu/academics/programs-degree/
- Norfolk, Virginia, Centura College, Accessed June 2019, https://centuracollege.edu/campuses/norfolk/
- Richmond, Virginia, Centura College, Accessed June 2019, https://centuracollege.edu/campuses/richmond/