Demand is rising for career and technical education

A four-year college degree is not necessarily the next step for students after graduating high school. The rising cost of college tuition has revitalized interest in career and technical education (CTE). 

According to data from the National Student Clearinghouse, enrollment at community colleges rose 2.6 percent in 2023 compared with a year earlier, enhanced by a 16 percent surge at schools focusing on CTE. Similarly, a survey by Edge Research commissioned by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation found on-the-job training seems to be more valuable to both high school students and non-enrolled graduates than a four-year degree, with 83 percent of the former stating it is excellent or good in value, compared to 80 percent for college. Favor for CTE schools is up 63 percent from the previous year.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges says CTE has evolved from a traditional vocational school model to one that offers academics and skills for higher education and careers in skilled trades, technology and applied sciences. Demand for this type of education continues to grow, with various state superintendents and directors of CTE programs indicating they can only accommodate a fraction of the applicants they get for CTE programs. 

“Since 2004, Vermont has seen a decrease in its overall student population, however, we have had an increase in CTE students in that same period,” says Jay Ramsey, Vermont State Director for Career and Technical Education. 

While a traditional four-year university might be the right path for some individuals, CTE has proven ideal for many others. New York City schools Chancellor David Banks has said it’s a sentiment being shared across the nation that there is another way and another track for students to be successful. CTE may help students get more excited about school and view themselves in careers they may not otherwise be exposed to.

The National Center for Education Statistics puts the average annual tuition for a four-year degree at a private institution in the United States at roughly $35,000 (and public at approximately $10,000. Room and board costs also must be considered, and those can increase the overall cost by a significant amount. The average tuition for a trade school can be around $17,600 a year, but rates vary based on the trade. Most CTE schools do not require students to reside on campus, which helps to save money.

Exploring the Career and Technical Education route can be highly satisfying and financially rewarding. Careers are diverse, and students can find a track that enables them to start training and working by investing less than they would if they were to attend a traditional college.

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