A two-year college education may be better than four
By Janna M. Hall | CEO, Leap Innovative Group
From the very beginning of students’ academic career, teachers, parents, and even society drills down the message that four-year college or university is the preferred route when it comes to higher education. Parents begin indoctrinating their children early on, buying onesies from their favorite colleges and making college football tailgates a family tradition. High schools host College Day, where students and faculty come to school dressed in gear from their favorite universities. Even restaurants and movie theaters offer student discounts, allowing you to receive a percentage off just by flashing your college ID. At every turn, society’s message is clear: college is the way to go.
But is it always the best way to go? While some commit to upholding family traditions— “My great, great, great grandfather and every generation after attended this university, and so will I”—others need to be reminded that the post-secondary education path doesn’t begin and end with college. In fact, a college degree doesn’t automatically equal success. In the midst of the busy college application process, take a moment to think: Is trade school the better route for you?
Trade school, also known as vocational or technical school, is an educational institution that teaches students skills related to a specific profession, such as electrician, construction worker, dental hygienist, or even a computer technician. Where college requires a year of prerequisite courses either loosely or entirely unrelated to your desired profession, trade school allows you to dive right into your area of interest. Despite any stigma tied to blue collar jobs and perceived inferiority to white collar professions, trade school graduates are high earners who understand how the benefits of trade school can often outweigh those of the “traditional” higher education route.
So, what are the benefits of trade school? Why should you take time to consider if it’s right for you? Here are a few things to consider:
- Trade school allows you to enter the workforce earlier. Where college requires four (or more) years of coursework, including coursework not directly related to your field of interest, trade school takes two years, which are spent learning all there is to know about your specific job. This means that where most college students are beginning their entry-level job search around age 22, trade school graduates are leaving school around age 20 and entering into their professions right away. That’s two years of additional income, two years spent in the “real world” instead of classrooms, and a two-year head-start on paying off student loans (more on that later).
- $127,000 vs. $33,000. The average college degree costs around $127,000, versus the $33,000 average of trade school degrees. That equals around $94,000 in savings. As we stated earlier, the $127,000 covers time spent taking courses you’d most likely never use (For example, if you’re earning a Communications degree, you may find little use for required math classes.). Many college graduates can give you a list of classes they were required to take that taught them nothing about their desired career path; they can also give you their monthly student loan bill, which is oftentimes far too expensive for the salary they’re earning in this competitive market. On the other hand, trade school graduates don’t have the crippling debt many college students are left with after graduation. In fact, they’re averaging around 70% less student loan debt than college graduates.
- Job security. In a time where many jobs are outsourced overseas due to cheaper labor costs, trade school professions are here to stay. According to the Tulsa Welding School and Technology Center, China accounted for 3.2 million jobs U.S. corporations outsourced between 2001 and 2013. After all, it’s much easier to outsource computer or technology-related work and pay a fraction of the salaries college graduates demand. So, what we end up with are college graduates who are immediately greeted by scarce job opportunities, lowered salaries, and loan repayments that have kicked in. Conversely, trade school graduates on average see less layoffs due to outsourcing, because their jobs are nearly impossible to export. The demand for vocational jobs is simply unwavering.
- Lucrative careers. When it comes to college degrees and earning potential, the goal post is constantly moving. Before, high school graduates could make a decent living. Then, companies required a Bachelor’s degree. Now, the requirement has changed again. For many positions, time spent in the field doing the work doesn’t matter; if you don’t have your Master’s degree, you won’t even be considered for the job. At every turn, there’s another barrier to college graduates’ earning potential, which leaves Millennials unhopeful that they’ll attain the “American Dream” of owning a home and providing for their family.
Trade school graduates, however, are consistently enjoying lucrative careers. In fact, many of the higher paying jobs are those for which you attend trade school. For example, a construction manager averages around $45 an hour, mechanics average $29 an hour, and electricians average around $27 an hour. And as we stated earlier, those graduates are hopping into their fields early, so their earning potential has already risen by the time most college graduates enter the workforce two or more years later.
The truth is, there’s much benefit to attending a four-year college or university. The college culture, tradition, and experiences many have during their collegiate career are quite memorable and often unmatched. However, many don’t fully address the struggles students face after those four years have come to a close. Don’t buy into the idea that there’s only one path to success, a path which includes six figures of crippling debt. Explore your options and research benefits of trade school, and create the life you want instead of chasing the life you think you’re supposed to have. Your future self will thank you.