Career and technical schools in Washington are a big part of the state's skilled labor force. Training programs at the state's two-year institutions cover 75 percent of the key industries identified by the State of Washington Department of Commerce, and fields like green energy and information technology feature some of the fastest-growing jobs in the state.
Students in specific trade school programs may have even more opportunity in certain cities or metro areas in the state. Aspiring plumbers, carpenters and construction managers should be in high demand throughout the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett metropolitan area, which ranked No. 2 on the Forbes list of fastest-growing U.S. cities in 2018, and AMN Healthcare named Seattle among the top ten cities for nursing jobs in a recent survey.
Why is Washington good for vocational/career schools?
Thanks to the surge in emerging technologies across nearly all employment sectors, thousands of new jobs for candidates with specialized career technical education (CTE) degrees have come onto the job market in the last several years. At this point, earning the right CTE certification in Washington can carry about as much employment upside as earning a bachelor's degree while taking half the number of credits (or less) to complete.
Students seem to be catching on to the value of an education from the best vocational schools in Washington, also; associate degrees made up more than half of all college credentials awarded in the state in 2017. What's more, U.S. Department of Education data shows that students seeking CTE certification in Washington graduate at a nearly 100 percent rate.
This page is a one-stop shop for Washington students considering a vocational degree or certificate in the state. We've compiled a list of the best trade schools in Washington to help you narrow down your decision, and you'll find some basic info toward the bottom of the page about how to apply for financial aid in Washington.
The Best Trade and Vocational Schools in Washington
We gathered U.S. Department of Education data in categories like affordability, schedule flexibility and student success to put together our list of top trade schools in Washington. Read on for a brief description of each institution and a sampling of the degree plans they offer.
Students looking for affordable career and technical schools in Washington should definitely have Bates Technical College on their list. Students here paid an average of less than $3,900 for tuition, fees, books, supplies and other essentials in 2018, after grant and scholarship aid was applied to their bill. BTC also posted the top graduation rate among all trade and vocational schools in the state.
What vocational programs Bates offers: Students here can choose among more than 40 degree and certificate plans. Allied health training available at Bates includes dental lab technician and occupational therapy assistant programs, and apprenticeships in fields like construction and aerospace technology are available for trade school students hoping to learn on the job.
Founded in 1967, Walla Walla Community College maintains two locations in southeastern Washington. Most students attend classes at the main campus in Walla Walla, but more than 400 learners were enrolled at the satellite location in Clarkston as of 2019. Career-focused programs make up around 53 percent of the degree plans here, and more than half of the student body is 24 years old or younger.
What vocational programs WWCC offers: The catalog at WWCC includes all types of training programs, from traditional trades like carpentry and welding to enology and viticulture programs for aspiring winemakers. Mechanically inclined students have a unique option here, as well: the Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) degree in John Deere technology trains students in the finer points of the iconic company's line of machinery.
Graduates from Shoreline Community College tend to do well in their careers, according to the numbers. The U.S. Department of Education reports that graduates from the Seattle-area school earn a median income of $46,500 after spending a few years in the workforce -- the highest such figure among all traditional and online trade schools in Washington. More than 37 percent of students at SCC take at least some of their courses in the virtual classroom.
What vocational programs SCC offers: Several of the programs offered here can train you for creative careers, such as the certificate in Web design and multiple study plans in electronic music. Future auto mechanics can take advantage of an electric vehicle technician program approved by Tesla.
This central Washington institution could be a great choice for students who like having a peaceful setting in which to study and learn. The student body at Big Bend Community College was just over 2,000 strong in 2018, and its home city of Moses Lake has a comfortably small population of around 24,000 residents.
What vocational programs BBCC offers: Aspiring aviators and aviation mechanics can get the training they need at BBCC. The arid environment gives students in the airline pilot program as many as 350 safe flying days per year, and instructors in the aviation maintenance technology program have a wealth of professional knowledge to draw upon. A certificate in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drone piloting, is also available.
Students hoping to secure some financial aid help might like to know that South Puget Sound Community College awarded nearly $16 million in scholarships in 2018, with an average award per student of more than $5,800. Close to 5,000 students attend classes here each semester, and the ratio of 15 students per faculty member suggests a close-knit learning environment.
What vocational programs SPSCC offers: The A.A.S. degree in advanced manufacturing offered here provides training in computer numerical control (CNC) programming and computer-aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM). Students hoping to take their vocational education in a different direction can earn a 103-credit associate degree in craft brewing and distilling that covers production, sourcing, safety, maintenance and product quality analysis.
Located a few miles from the state's southern border with Oregon, Lower Columbia College has been educating members of its community since 1934 and welcomes roughly 2,800 students each semester. It took the statewide No. 1 spot for online trade schools in Washington by enrollment percentage, with more than 42 percent of its students taking some distance education courses in 2018.
What vocational programs LCC offers: The certificate of proficiency in multicraft trades at LCC works to train students effectively for various skilled trade careers, such as advanced manufacturing and diesel equipment technology. Several health care and nursing programs are offered here as well, including a nursing assistant certificate and a popular associate degree in registered nursing.
Everett Community College deserves a mention as one of the top online trade schools in Washington, reporting that more than 2,600 of its nearly 8,000 enrolled students took at least one of their classes via distance education. Students in the traditional high school and college age brackets are likely to feel fairly comfortable here -- 42 percent of the 2018 student body was 20 years old or younger.
What vocational programs EvCC offers: Students looking for specialized advanced manufacturing programs may find what they're after at EvCC, which offers training in composites, mechatronics, advanced avionics and more. Health care career programs available here include phlebotomy, medical assisting, radiologic technology, occupational therapy, diagnostic ultrasound and pharmacy, among others.
Trade School Financial Aid in Washington
Student loans and other financial aid programs are widely known to be a major factor in university education, but not everyone is aware of the wide range of aid options available in associate degree and certificate programs. Aspiring trade school students can seek out grants, scholarships and other assistance in the same way that university students do.
The first step toward qualifying for financial aid in Washington is filling out a form called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Also known as the FAFSA, this document serves as a baseline source of financial information for aid agencies at every level, from federal government programs to state-based initiatives and school-specific Washington scholarships and grants. Check out our financial aid guide to learn more about the FAFSA and other common elements of the financial aid process.
Here's a short list of aid programs available to eligible Washington trade school students:
Washington College Grant - This long-standing state program was given a new name and an increased maximum award for 2019. Trade school students with significant financial need may receive up to roughly $3,700 in annual aid through the WCG.
Opportunity Grant - Washington residents with a 2.0 GPA or higher can apply for aid through this program, which provides up to one year of funding for students seeking certificates in high-wage, high-demand careers.
Passport to College - A maximum of $4,500 per year in scholarship funding and access to additional college support services are available to eligible Washington students who have been in foster care programs past the age of 15.
Initiatives for Vocational School Students in Washington
State legislators and policymakers work hard to ensure that career and technical schools in Washington have the resources they need to provide top-quality training to their students. Here's a rundown of some of the initiatives currently in place:
The Job Skills Program (JSP) Grant, administered by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, provides matching funds for programs designed to address specific training needs for existing businesses.
The Hospital Employee Education and Training (HEET) Granthelps community and technical colleges develop training programs in collaboration with healthcare employers in the state.
Washington policies that benefit vocational students
The Workforce Development Fund sets aside roughly $1.5 million in funding to help vocational schools in Washington develop or expand training programs that contribute to the development of the state's skilled workforce.
The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board is a partnership organization between business, labor and government that works to help Washington residents establish well-paying careers while filling skilled employment gaps for regional companies.
Resources for Vocational Students and Vocational Job Seekers in Washington
The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC) offers a wide range of insight into two-year schools in the state, lists details about state financial aid programs and provides career guidance for Washington residents.
A wealth of information and guidance is also available through Washington's Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, whether you're a high school student, a recent graduate or an adult looking to make some moves on the job market.
It's always a good idea to make sure the trade school you choose has earned accreditation. Public two-year institutions in Washington are accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), and their individual programs are typically accredited by industry groups such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
For more information on trade and vocational schools in Washington, take a look at the state's data page on Advance CTE. If you're curious about how CTE programs are conducted nationwide, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) has got plenty of great info.
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
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- Washington, Advance CTE, accessed July 22, 2019, https://careertech.org/Washington
- State Profile Resources & Data, Advance CTE, accessed July 22, 2019, https://careertech.org/state-profile-resources-data
- Full List: America's Fastest-Growing Cities 2018, Forbes, February 28, 2018, Samantha Sharf, accessed July 22, 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/samanthasharf/2018/02/28/full-list-americas-fastest-growing-cities-2018/#6fb0411f7feb
- The 15 Best States for Nurses in 2017, NursesRx, AMN Healthcare, accessed July 22, 2019, https://www.nursesrx.com/nurse-news/best-states-for-nurses/
- College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, accessed July 30, 2019: Washington, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=WA&ct=1&ic=2; Lower Columbia College, https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?id=235750;
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- Tesla START, Tesla, accessed July 30, 2019, https://www.tesla.com/careers/tesla-start
- Moses Lake city, Washington, QuickFacts, U.S. Census Bureau, accessed July 30, 2019, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/moseslakecitywashington/PST045218
- Ready Set Grad, Washington Student Achievement Council, accessed July 22, 2019: Grants, https://readysetgrad.wa.gov/college/grants; Washington College Grant, https://readysetgrad.wa.gov/college/washington-college-grant; About, https://readysetgrad.wa.gov/about; Passport for Foster Youth Promise Program, https://readysetgrad.wa.gov/college/passport-foster-youth-promise-program;
- Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, accessed July 22, 2019: Job Skills Program Grant, https://www.sbctc.edu/colleges-staff/grants/job-skills-grant.aspx; 2019-20 Job Skills Program Guidelines, https://www.sbctc.edu/resources/documents/colleges-staff/grants/job-skills-program/2019-21-jsp-program-guidelines.pdf; Opportunity Grants, https://www.sbctc.edu/paying-for-college/opportunity-grant-student.aspx; Hospital Employee Education and Training Grant, https://www.sbctc.edu/colleges-staff/grants/hospital-employee-education-training.aspx; 2019-20 HEET Program Guidelines, https://www.sbctc.edu/resources/documents/colleges-staff/grants/heet/fy20-heet-guidelines.pdf; Workforce Development Funds, https://www.sbctc.edu/colleges-staff/grants/workforce-development-funds.aspx; 2019-20 Workforce Development Program Guidelines, https://www.sbctc.edu/resources/documents/colleges-staff/grants/workforce-development/fy20-workforce-development-funds-guidelines.pdf;
- About Us, Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, accessed July 22, 2019, http://www.wtb.wa.gov/AboutUs.asp
- 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/