Trade school a smart alternative by Teresa Welsh

Posted by Thao Nelson - On May 12, 2011 (EST)

Editor's Note: This is a really good blog written by Teresa Welsh who just graduated with a degree in Journalism and Latin American Studies.  She's still hunting for a job and provided her perspective on trade schools versus the traditional four year degrees.

It’s no secret: the economy sucks. In fact, Americans are currently the most pessimistic they’ve been in the past two years regarding the state of the economy. For recent college grads, the picture is especially bleak: we’re forced out into the world, degree in hand, expectantly knocking on the doors of potential employers.

One problem: no one is answering.

Members of the American middle class spend their entire lives hearing a litany of the merits of secondary education: stay in school, study hard, get good test scores, graduate, get good job. You can’t get one without doing all this, and especially not without a college degree. You spend Saturdays in the library instead of at the football game because you know studying is important and, ultimately, that’s why you’re in college. And you’ll be rewarded for those sacrifices with an entry-level position in white collar field, with opportunity to move up, save money, buy a car, buy a home, and achieve the American Dream.

Yet as a 2010 college graduate, this has not been my experience. I easily know more of my peers who have moved back home with their parents than who are employed and living on their own. Some jumped right into grad school to further delay their debut in The Real World. It’s not that we want to regress back to living with Mom and Dad—it’s that we can’t afford to do anything else (although I’m sure there are those out there who want nothing more to snuggle back in to their childhood room and the comforts of home cooking after four years of substandard housing conditions and microwave meals).

A college degree, which we’ve been told our whole lives is the ticket to success, is instead a ticket on the (seemingly) one-way train right back to Mom and Dad.

What if a four-year college degree is no longer the ticket to our future? What if the real ticket only takes two years? And what if it has the words Trade School stamped on it, instead of Four-year University?

Trade schools or vocational schools have always been second-tier after a four-year degree in the American secondary education system. You’d be kidding yourself if those of you who went on to a four-year school didn’t think you were going to end up ahead of those who went to school for carpentry or plumbing or car mechanics or even culinary arts. So what has trade school got that a four-year school doesn’t, and why does it, at least in this economy, seem to be the smarter path to self-sufficient adulthood?


City Room: Trading College for Trade School YouTube Video.

Programs that teach you practical skills

In plumbing and car mechanics training, they teach you how to be a plumber, and how to be a car mechanic (duh). In many liberal arts programs at four-year schools, students pick majors like “philosophy” and “sociology” and “English.” So, you know how to philosophize? And….socialize? And speak English? And we wonder why employers aren’t throwing themselves at us.

It’s cheaper

Many graduates of four-year universities are left with thousands of dollars of debt—41% of all federal student loan borrowers are delinquent or default on their loans within the first five years of repayment. Vocational school can be completed for under $5,000, where one look at this table shows how four-year programs have been steadily increasing in cost. A look at Column 11, the tuition and required fees for four-year institutions, shows a cost of $1,218 for the 1976-77 school year. Cost for 2009-10? $12,467.

Programs are shorter

A four-year university degree takes four years (again, duh). Many trade school programs are completed in less time (many do have required paid apprenticeship programs), so not only do you pay less per semester, you finish quicker and are employable faster—and those with practical skills are more employable than ever.

If it aint broke…

These days, people can’t afford new cars, so instead they take the squeaky breaks on the ol’ jalopy into the mechanic and see what can be done. The same goes for houses, washing machines, dishwashers, and other indispensible objects of modern life. Indeed, the market for technical maintenance is larger than ever as Americans are (seemingly) buying less and preserving more.

I majored in journalism and Latin American Studies. Does the economic crisis – not to mention the digitalization of the media industry – result in an increase in the demand for journalists?

I wish.

I do feel my degree has value, and I do indeed believe our country is in need of a well educated, informed, socially engaged citizenry. Whether we like it or not, the economy and actions of the United States dictate conditions around the world. Thus, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves but to the world to ensure our policy makers and leaders are well educated, as are the people electing them.

But I also think our country needs people to have jobs.

College graduates do ultimately earn more. So when Millenials finally do land jobs in the professional track they set their sights on when they began school, they can expect to earn an average of $45,400 a year during their careers. Those who graduated from high school will average $25,900.

So, at the end of the day, am I sorry I went to a four-year university? No. Do I wish I had a full-time job? Yes.





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