Career and Technical Education vs. Traditional College

For individuals who are seeking to further their careers through higher education, a technical school may be a viable option that can provide more benefits than a traditional college or university education.

Not only is career school typically a faster means of receiving career certification or licensure, but it is often the most affordable form of secondary education.

Every career school offers different training and education programs, often in a wide variety of career fields. The programs typically provide certification or licensure in a given field, but some schools may also have programs that lead to an associate’s degree. Some of the most common programs include certification for careers in medical and dental assistance and management, information technology, infant and childcare, criminal justice and law enforcement and legal services. Not every school offers the same kind of certification or training, so it is always best to check out several schools or institutions to find a suitable program.

Differences Between Career School and College

Although trade and vocational schools are often called career colleges, they are very different from four-year colleges and universities. Career education is unlike traditional education from the way programs are implemented and courses are taught, to the length of schooling and the topics covered.

One of the main differences between a career school and a college or university is the program content and the courses that a student is expected to take. Completing a four-year degree involves taking academic courses outside of a student’s declared major, such as electives and general education classes. College students are also typically required to take a foreign language course or meet that requirement through testing. However, career schools do not require that students take courses beyond what is needed to find work in their chosen employment field.

While it does provide a more diverse and well-rounded education, a traditional college education can be costly and does take more time to complete than a career education program. Completing a bachelor’s degree mandates more coursework than a career certification program and, therefore, takes longer to finish. Trade and vocational school programs allow students to get to graduation faster since they only focus on the essential courses and skills needed to fulfill a specific job.

Not only do fewer courses lead to a faster graduation, but also students who receive a certification from a career school are often more prepared to enter the workforce than their collegiate counterparts. While college degree programs take a more holistic approach to education, they do not always offer students the opportunity to learn relevant work skills. Technical and vocational school programs teach and train students in the specific skills needed for their trade, so students are career ready upon graduation. In some cases, students may participate in an apprenticeship.

Costs of Career School vs. Traditional College

Traditional college and university degrees have become increasingly expensive. Student loan debt accounts for much of the consumer debts held in the United States. Altogether, Americans own over one trillion dollars in student loan debt. The average cost of tuition for a single year of undergraduate education is about $35,000 for in-state colleges and over $100,000 a year for out-of-state and private colleges and universities. Coupled with the amount of time it takes to graduate and find gainful employment, the costs of a college education often outweigh the benefits.

Career and technical education programs are a much more affordable alternative to a traditional education. Tuition and fees for two-year trade or vocational programs typically cost about $6,400 a year, although the costs vary from school to school. Programs that take a few months to a year to complete may cost even less than regular two-year certification or degree programs.

Advantages of Career and Technical Education

Choosing a career or technical education over a college education has many advantages. Trade and vocational programs allow students to focus on the courses and skills they will need for a career in their chosen field. Depending on the career path and the pace at which coursework is completed, a student will complete their program and receive their certification within a few months rather than a few years. Compared to completing a college degree, career school programs take much less time to complete, which allows students to enter the workforce in much less time.

Class size is another large difference between colleges and career schools. Career school classes typically have a smaller student-to-instructor ratio than colleges. Classes with more than 30 students are very uncommon. Most career school also offer graduating students help to find employment, as it is common for career schools to have relationships with local employers.

There are numerous advantages to attending a career school for post-secondary education, including the following:

  • Faster completion of career-focused programs
  • Students may be able to work at their own pace
  • Students receive more work experience in their field than do college graduates
  • Lower student drop-out rates than many colleges and universities
  • Costs less than a traditional college education

Disadvantages of Career and Technical Education

As mentioned previously, career school does not cost as much as a college or university might. This is due to the fact that students spend half the time earning their certification. However, career schools do have a few disadvantages to consider before enrolling in a program.

Some career schools may offer certification programs though they are not accredited or licensed. Private education agencies typically accredit a school after evaluating the school’s programs and ensuring that those programs meet certain educational standards. Licenses are given to schools by the appropriate state agency, which in most cases is the state’s Department of Education. Private career education institutions sometimes operate without either state licensure or accreditation, which may harm a student’s chances of finding employment in his or her field.

Those considering attending a trade or vocational school should keep the following in mind:

  • The average cost of a program
  • Whether or not financial aid is accepted
  • If the school is accredited and licensed by the state
  • If the school has any formal complaints filed against them

Once you have chosen a school and a program, you will be signing a contract with the school. Carefully read over and review the contract, taking note of any inconsistencies. Be sure that the school’s offers are outlined in the contract. If a school makes a promise that is not in writing, then they are not legally required to follow through on it. Be wary of any schools that pressure you into signing a contract or that refuse to let you review documents before enrolling.

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