This was originally published on RWM.org and appears in full below.
For many years, trade schools -- also called career schools, vocational schools, or technical schools -- have been considered a last resort for some students who couldn't make the grade for admission into a four-year college or university.
And that's a notion that Frank Britt, the CEO of Penn Foster, would like to change.
"There is a viable, quality alternative pathway for students that come out of high school who may or may not think that traditional four-year college is the best place to start. We try to say that one of the big challenges is that there's very bad branding for people who decide they don't want to go to college. If we were king for a day, we would build a 'Got Skills' campaign, instead of a 'Got Milk' campaign, to build greater appreciation for the power, the promise and the potential for people who decide to take an alternative path," Britt said. "While self-discovery and self-actualization -- which is sort of the iconic notion of why you go to college -- is important, it's important in the 21st century to be well-positioned for employability."
Although the negative perception of trade schools still exists, there is a growing paradigm shift as the need for skilled workers becomes evident in an economy where many traditional college graduates cannot get employment in their fields of study. In fact, many of these graduates end up working in jobs that do not require college degrees at all. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that about 17,000,000 college graduates are in jobs that require less than a bachelor's degree, including 300,000 restaurant servers, 80,000 bartenders, and 18,000 parking lot attendants.
Because of statistics like these, Britt says that enrolling in a vocational training program can be a solid choice for some students since it could decrease the risk of students getting buried underneath school loans to pay for four-year degrees that they may not get the opportunity to use -- or may decide that they don't want to use.
"The idea that you have to have it all figured out if you're 18 years old is just dated. What we think is that people need time to figure out what they're going to do with their lives, and so a benefit of a career program is that it de-risks the student from having to go to a four-year program that they may or may not fully understand, and taking on all the financial obligations that almost universally come with going to a four-year program," he said. "So it's a combination of economic de-risking and giving yourself time to grow up a little bit."
In addition, Britt notes that another benefit of attending a trade school is it gives students the opportunity to earn a professional certification when they graduate, which can go a long way toward successfully competing in the job market.
Choosing the right trade school for you
Although the choice to attend trade school is a viable one, the choice of which one to attend should be handled with the same care that you would if you were choosing a four-year college. Be wary of schools that make unsubstantiated claims regarding the number of jobs and the salary potential that graduates can expect in a certain field, the qualifications of the staff, or quality of the facilities, equipment, or business contacts that students have access to.
In order to avoid falling victim to these kinds of deceptive statements, the FTC suggests that students exercise their due diligence and investigate the following aspects of any school.
Another Option After High School: Trade/Vocational Schools and Career Colleges, Quintessential Careers, Accessed July 25, 2014, http://www.quintcareers.com/vocational_school.html
Career Colleges and Technical Schools -Choosing a School, U.S. Department of Education, Accessed July 25, 2014, http://www.aapc.com/certification/
Choosing a Vocational School, The Federal Trade Commission, Accessed July 25, 2014, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0241-choosing-vocational-school
Frank Britt, personal communication, July 25, 2014
Medical Certification Overview, AAPC, Accessed July 25, 2014, http://www2.ed.gov/students/prep/college/consumerinfo/choosing.html
"Vocational High Schools: Career Path or Kiss of Death?", U.S. News & World Report, Allie Bidwell, May 2, 2014, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/05/02/the-return-of-vocational-high-schools-more-options-or-the-kiss-of-death
"Vocational Schools Doing The Job For More Students," CNBC, Rob Reateman, December 20, 2010, http://www.cnbc.com/id/40680866#
"Why we need vocational education," The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss, June 5, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/why-we-need-vocational-education/2012/06/04/gJQA8jHbEV_blog.html
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