Vocational School Boom: Enrollment Grows in Training Centers
Trade school education enrollment has climbed in recent years, despite rising costs and falling federal assistance.
American youth are getting back to work! Well, they're training for it anyway.
Enrollment has grown exponentially in vocational training schools (or trade schools, as they're also known). These facilities, which teach skilled trades such as auto repair or heating systems, have grown to the point where they're often the first choice for someone desiring a steady career with good prospects. More and more, such prospects eclipse even those for graduates from well-reputed colleges.
The wrinkle in this is that vocational programs, historically a cheaper option than their brainier academic brethren, are quickly getting more expensive. A sample of 14 vocational training schools around the country offering a HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning and refrigeration) certification program, selected from the government's College Affordability and Transparency Center, reveals that average tuition for the 2009-10 academic year was a little over $12,000. Total costs (including fees and class materials such as textbooks) lifted the average to around $18,404.
These numbers aren't far away from four-year private colleges, which are still essentially the most expensive higher education option available. For the same academic year, a similarly random sample of 14 of these schools shows the average tuition to be $14,347. Figures for total costs weren't available, but it's safe to assume that the "extras" would add several thousand dollars to that number.
But the increasing expenses don't yet seem to be an obstacle for the growing ranks of trade school students, whose numbers have been growing over the years. DeVry University, one of the bigger vocational schools, reported a 25% year on year jump in online enrollment for November 2008. Career Education Corp., a company that operates a network of vocational institutions, saw the student body at one of its schools triple in only five years, from 350 people to 1,100.
What might be more of a limiting factor in the future is federal financial aid, specifically the lack of it. The Obama administration aims to slice government funding for vocational training by 20%, while beefing up the Pell Grant program of financial aid for college and university attendance. This lopsided emphasis on non-technical education will put the strain on prospective trade school students, who tend to be from lower income backgrounds and thus more dependent, directly or indirectly, on such assistance.
It's likely, then, that the current vocational training boom will abate somewhat in the near future. However, this doesn't change the fact that job prospects for trade school graduates are still quite good, particularly for people who want to learn a skill that pays a decent wage. Learning a trade is usually a smart move, it's just a question of whether it'll continue to be (relatively) affordable in the next few years.