In a culture where the four-year college experience is considered traditional, some students worry that attending a career school will carry the stigma of being "less than." However, the reality is that education is changing to keep pace with technology and the economy, and educators and employers have come to recognize the benefits of alternatives in higher education.

Experts believe certificate programs and two-year degrees will play a vital role in closing the middle skills gap in key industries such as health care, information technology, skilled trades, and business and finance, according to EMSI's 2014 Middle-Skill Spotlight report.1 The federal government sees two-year colleges as central to its plan to boost national college graduation rates by 2020, and it is promoting community colleges as a major means of achieving this goal.2

Career colleges support the same goal. High school counselors can help students get past the stigma of attending a career college by educating them about their value.

Connect Educational Options to Economic Opportunities

Emphasize a career college's place on the path to career and financial success. Career colleges offer certificate and diploma programs in middle-skills fields (those requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree) that are in high demand - including such jobs as auto repair technician, business manager, pharmacy technician, dental assistant, medical assistant, physical therapy aide, residential electrician and veterinary tech. By comparing popular program lists with resources such as Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics data,3 it's easy to demonstrate the value of career colleges.

For instance, according to the BLS, as of May 2014 the annual mean wage for medical secretaries was $33,530,4 for the auto repair and maintenance industry it was $37,060,5 and for general and operations managers it was $117,200.6 Sites such as PayScale pull this type of data from the BLS and other sources for easy retrieval.7 On average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, career college graduates with associate's degrees had a median annual salary of $37,500 as of 2013.8

More specifically, for some jobs that have the stigma for low salaries, HVAC Technicians make $43,640 annually on average, while the department of labor predicts 21% (faster than average) job growth for this trade in the next 10 years,9 while Occupational Therapy Assistants on average earn $53,240 per year, while the profession is projected to grow by 43% by 2022.10

Emphasize What Employers Want

Communicate to students how attending a career college can make them more attractive to prospective employers. Accenture research revealed that 73 percent of American companies expect their demand for jobs requiring middle skills to increase in the coming years.11 Demand will increase in industries such as finance, insurance, information technology, healthcare, manufacturing, social assistance and retail. Employers will experience a shortage of workers qualified for positions such as network administrators, computer support specialists, engineering technicians, nursing assistants and sales representatives. These are precisely the types of occupations that career colleges train students to succeed in. For many students, attending a career college can be the shortest route to a well-paying job.

Consider the Cost

In addition to the money career college students can earn, counselors can also emphasize the money they can save on tuition. Without factoring in student loan interest, The Simple Dollar reports that the average career college degree costs $33,000, compared to $127,000 for a bachelor's degree.12 For students who do not want to be burdened with over $100,000 in student loan debt, career college can be a smart economic option.

Time Is Money

Another cost to consider is time. The two or more extra years of school that a bachelor's degree requires adds up to two (or more) years of extra work without compensation. For students who are anxious to join the workforce and start earning an income, that time makes a big difference.

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Resources: Photo credit. (1) EMSI: 2014 Middle Skills Report (2) The President Proposes to Make Community College Free for Responsible Students for 2 Years (3) BLS: May 2014 Occupation Profiles (4) BLS: Medical Secretarie (5) BLS: Automotive Service Technicians and Mechanic (6) BLS: General and Operations Manager (7) PayScale: Salary Data & Career Research Center (United States (8) National Center for Education Statistics: Fast Fact (9) U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installer (10) BLS: Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installer (11) Accenture: Closing the Middle Skills Gap Infographic (12) The Simple Dollar: Why You Should Consider Trade School Instead of College