Career and Technical Education

While many Americans believe that attending a college or university after high school is the only path to a successful career, there are many fields and positions that do not require a 4-year degree.

Some career paths, such as those involving construction or culinary arts, require skilled and experienced labor. Technical or career schools offer programs that provide the training needed for jobs that do not require an undergraduate or graduate degree. These schools tend to cost less than traditional colleges while still providing invaluable job training and networking opportunities in your chosen work field.

Whether you are looking to start a new career or are wanting to further your trade skills, attending a career school might be a good option. Career schools, often called trade or vocational schools, provide a variety of educational and training programs for individuals who would like to learn practical job skills. These institutions offer a variety of career education curriculums, with programs in medicine, culinary arts, broadcasting and mechanical engineering.

Types of Career and Technical Education Programs

Finding the right career education program means looking at all the available options. There are two basic types of career schools: technical and vocational schools. Technical schools focus primarily on providing traditional education programs where books and studying are used to learn the science of a career or trade. Vocational schools, on the other hand, focus on applied training methods. Both varieties of schools allow students to earn a certificate or an Associate of Science degree, as well as prepare for a licensing exam when appropriate. Some schools also offer career services, where students receive help finding a job in their field after completing a program.

Career programs usually fall under one of three categories. The categories are as follows:

  • Consumer and homemaking education – While these programs have become less and less popular over the years, they are still available at the high school level. Topics covered in these programs include life management skills, child growth and development, and consumer education.
  • General labor market preparation – These programs offer career preparation in general skills through short training programs and apprenticeships. Courses typically teach students computer proficiency, introductory industrial skills and other general labor skills.
  • Specific labor market preparation – These course programs prepare students to enter a career where specific skills and certifications are needed. Specific labor programs include agriculture, business, health and industrial trade preparation. Most vocational or trade school programs fall under this category.

Career and Technical Education versus Traditional College

In recent decades, conventional wisdom has dictated that attending a four-year college or university is worth the expense and effort, due to the higher average salaries earned by college graduates. However, with the continually rising costs of a formal college or university education and stagnant wages and job markets, the overall payoff of a degree is not what it used to be. So what are the differences between career education and traditional colleges? While a traditional college education is still necessary for certain career paths, such as for becoming a lawyer, a doctor or a teacher, it is not the sole option for those wanting to start their careers. Technical and vocational schools are a good and respectable educational and occupational alternative for those who do not wish to attend a traditional college or who would like to enter a more technical career. There are a growing number of careers and trades that do not require a 4-year degree, and many individuals find that receiving a career school education can provide a well-paying and fulfilling career.

One major benefit trade schools have over traditional colleges is the length of programs. Bachelor’s degrees typically require at least 4 years of study, while most career preparation programs only require several months to 2 years of study. This not only decreases the overall price of tuition, since less time is spent in school, but it also gets program graduates in the job market sooner, giving them a few years of earning potential university graduates may not get. Most university graduates enter the job market after 4 years of studies with little to no work experience in their field. In contrast, career school graduates typically finish their program with the work experience and skills required to get gainful employment. This, on top of lower per-year tuition costs, can make career schools much more lucrative option, depending on the chosen field.

Paying for Career Education

Though tuition for trade and vocational school tends to be much more affordable than those for traditional colleges and universities, paying for career education works much like it would for any college. Career education programs cost more than most individuals can pay up front, so funding a trade education often works just as it does for college educations.

Students attending classes at any participating educational institution may be eligible for financial aid, either through the federal government, state governments, schools or private organizations. Financial aid is any amount of money awarded to students for the payment of tuition and educational fees that, unlike loans, does not have to be paid back. The U.S. Department of Education offers several different kinds of financial aid programs for qualifying students who attend a school that accepts federal aid. Federal financial aid covers many of the costs associated with enrolling in and attending school, such as tuition, room and board, textbooks and transportation.

Another way to fund your trade or vocational school education is through student loans. Aside from offering financial aid, the U.S. Department of Education also offers students the option of applying for federal loans. There are three types of federal loans available:

  • Federal subsidized loan – Also known as Stafford loans, students who receive subsidized loans demonstrate financial need and who are enrolled in a degree or certificate program at least half-time. These loans offer lower interest rates than do most other loans, as well as better repayment terms.
  • Federal unsubsidized loan – Unsubsidized loans do not have a financial need requirement, and can be taken out by any student enrolled in a degree or certificate-seeking program.
  • Federal PLUS loan – While these loans have slightly higher interest rates than other federal loans, it gives parents the opportunity to borrow on behalf of students.

Some schools participating in the federal aid program also offer their own student loans, called Perkins loans. These loans depend on the availability at the school attended.

It might also interest you: