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Trade School vs. College: Where Are People Going after COVID-19? – Tulsa Welding School


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The COVID-19 pandemic forced many students and workers to rethink their plans for the future, especially their academic and professional paths. For example, college enrollment has decreased considerably.1

Where are these students going instead of college? Many are considering vocational training.

Why the shift in attention to trade school? Take a look at the differences between trade schools and colleges for a better idea as to why people are thinking about training for a career in the skilled trades.

The Decline in College Enrollment

College enrollments took a deep dive last year, and there are still no signs of recovery. The declining trends have remained constant since the beginning of the pandemic. Thousands of students were forced to rethink their academic plans, with many deciding not to enroll in college.1

In fact, college enrollment fell 2.5% in the fall of 2020—twice the rate reported the year before. That translates to around 400,000 students opting out of the collegiate path. Freshman enrollment dropped by more than 13%. Even public colleges, which enroll 70% of students overall, reported declining enrollment.1

The total number of high schoolers going right into college after graduation fell by 22%.1 These numbers show just how much influence the pandemic has had on the academic decisions of students. Now, the question is, what alternatives to college might these students be pursuing instead?

Rethinking Higher Education

There’s a common assumption that individuals without a college degree will struggle to earn a substantial and comfortable living.2 This misconception leads many students to blindly enroll in a college program without any consideration of alternatives.2 In reality, attending college doesn’t guarantee success, and those who pursue a different path can still end up with a rewarding career.2

Fortunately, the stigma surrounding college alternatives—such as trade school—is starting to wear off. The shock of the pandemic helped to reveal the value of a trades career. While the majority of industries were completely shut down, many trades workers continued to be needed.2

And the sentiment among the next generation of workers (Gen Z) toward college is shifting. A StrataTech survey found only 59% of high school students think a college degree is necessary to get a good job in 2021. This is down from 70% the year before.3

What Is Trade School and How Is It Different from College?

A trade school is a specialized training school designed to prepare students for a specific trade career, such as welding, HVAC technologies or electrical applications. These schools take a hands-on learning approach, focusing on teaching students trade skills in a lab instead of solely theory-based lectures and courses like many colleges.

Vocational programs can be significantly shorter than the coursework required for a college degree. For instance, Tulsa Welding School’s trade school programs can last anywhere between seven months for its welding training program and 14 months for its Associate of Occupational Studies in Welding Technology.

Even with a better understanding of these differences, you still might be wondering: is it worth going to trade school? The increased interest in vocational programs suggests trade school could have a lot to offer depending on your interests, goals and budget.

Why People Are Choosing the Trades over College

More people are choosing trade school over college because of the shorter program lengths, which can translate into lower educational expenses. Earning potential and job security are two other factors driving people into trades careers.

Take a closer look at each factor below.

Debt is the single biggest burden college students face. To put things in perspective, the price of a college education has risen 213% in the past three decades. And despite what students might hear in high school, the returns of this investment aren’t guaranteed.2

The data clearly indicate the hesitation students have about undertaking this financial burden. In fact, 57% of students worry if the price of higher education is justified. Only 66% believe college is worth the investment.4

What’s even more telling? 63% of students believe trade school offers more value than college.3 The cost of trade school vs. college can be less given that tradespeople can graduate within a year and college graduates have to invest four years’ worth of tuition—or more.

Income potential has played a role in shifting the attention away from colleges to trade careers. When imagining the trade school vs. college salary, most people simply assume college graduates earn more.

However, there are many trades careers that can offer healthy earning potential. Since vocational programs are shorter in length, tradespeople are getting a head start in earning too! Plus, 59% of college students don’t even graduate on time.2

These income advantages have already motivated a lot of people to join the trades, especially due to COVID. The StrataTech survey found that 62% of Americans considered enrolling in the trades when needing to find a new source of income during the pandemic.3

Job Security

One of the top two reasons people enroll or consider enrolling in the trades is due to the industry’s typically high rate of employment.3 Perhaps because recent college graduates can face a nearly 50% underemployment rate.2

The story is different for the trades. Currently, there is demand for skilled tradespeople due to the skilled trades shortage. That could mean job security for those with the right skills, training and experience.

Trade School vs. College: Which Is Right for You?

See more about the benefits of the trades and whether or not trade school could be a good fit for you. Chat with a Tulsa Welding School team member today. Call 855-806-4921.

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