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Trade school has long struggled to gain recognition as a worthy alternative to four-year college, but the pandemic is changing perceptions, with one-third of Americans now viewing trade school as a more favorable option than college.
When we surveyed Americans last year in the midst of a booming economy, many young people were skeptical of trade school as a viable option. With our current economic situation, however, a growing number of respondents now understand the benefits of trade school, including lower student debt and good chances of finding a job.
With many industries experiencing economic rebounds — construction alone added 33,000 jobs between July and August 2020 — trade school will play a vital role in building up a strong post-pandemic workforce.
Read on to learn more about all of our findings:
In our survey of more than 1,500 people, 33 percent of respondents indicated that trade school is a better option than college during the pandemic, compared to only 9 percent who viewed trade school as a worse option. We were also surprised to learn that 58 percent of those surveyed found the two options about the same, suggesting a change in the perception of trade school, which has long been viewed as less desirable than college.
For instance, a national survey last year found that only 25 percent of young Americans think that trade school offers a better future than college, but our results found that about 30 percent of those ages 18–24 currently think trade school is a better option than college.
With the pandemic presenting a long-term change in our economy, changes in perception about vocational education could be significant in the coming years.
When asked about trade school and college, respondents consistently highlighted less student loan debt and better chances of finding a job as benefits of opting for a trade school education. While those benefits were also observed in a similar survey we ran last year, the number of people observing those benefits has increased.
Last year, 27 percent of respondents recognized less debt as a key advantage of trade school, but this year 35 percent made that observation. Similarly, 21 percent of people last year noted that getting a job sooner was likely with a trade school education, but 30 percent of people this year believed that trade school offered a better chance of finding a job.
The average college degree costs $127,000 and takes four years to complete in the United States. On the other hand, a trade school certificate costs on average $33,000, and programs last anywhere from six weeks to a year. As a result, the potential to save money and start earning sooner is excellent for those opting for a trade school education.
Though people see many advantages to a trade school degree, only 16 percent of those we surveyed believed that higher paying jobs are a benefit of attending trade school. While it is true that trade school graduates earn less on average than college graduates according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are nonetheless excellent, high-paying jobs available through certificate programs.
For example, those who repair commercial and industrial equipment have a mean salary of $73,590, and dental hygienists had a median salary of $75,220. The construction and extraction industry as a whole has a mean salary of $74,120, which is higher than the median U.S. wage, which is around $49,000 per year.
Certainly, college offers a number of great opportunities, but it is important to note that well-paying jobs aren’t limited to college graduates, and trade school offers an excellent path to jobs that earn well above the United States’ average salary.