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The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

The news that keeps us Onward On!

The Carroll News

Vocational Education in Ohio – An Alternative to College?

Chris Fleisher/Bigstock
Students who went through vocational training enjoyed a wage premium into their thirties.

It is safe to assume that most Americans, as well as those throughout the country, believe that formal education is important when it comes to choosing and shaping one’s career path. A college education is often the key that allows us to become competitive amongst our peers in an ever-volatile job market. It is an education that, hopefully, shapes our minds and bodies into one of intelligence and poise. Unfortunately, in our modern landscape, the college path is all too often presented as the only valid option for receiving something as obviously advantageous as an education.

Recently, a growing alternative within the U.S. utilizes vocational education as a different way to enter the job market. Vocational education, colloquially known as trade school, is a type of schooling that focuses on the training of specific skills and knowledge required for very particular jobs, usually blue-collar in type. This is opposed to a more classical university education, which aims to unify discipline-based knowledge around a major and general subject of the arts and humanities.

In an article for The Hustle, Ben Berkly shows the recent rise in trade jobs stating, “Recent enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows trade school interest is on the up-and-up, with double-digit increases in many vocational programs, including mechanic, repair, construction and culinary courses.”

There are many advantages to a vocational education, one of them being the hands-on training that is provided. This type of instruction allows students to go directly into the workforce with tangible, on-the-job skills that are immediately valuable to many employers. Whether that be knowledge of a specific system or skills with a certain machine, this type of expertise is directly applicable to jobs within their field of study. An example of this would be a worker with expertise in an HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system who knows the intricacies of the connections much more than an untrained student.

The next advantage provided by trade school plays to the most valuable things in our modern world: time and money. On average, the time from the first day of training to graduation ranges from eight months to two years; a far cry from the four to six years required for an undergraduate degree. This shorter time frame allows the freshly trained worker to enter the workforce in a much shorter period, allowing them to start working much sooner. Along with this smaller time period of completion comes the drastic difference in cost between the two programs. Vocational education costs on average three to five thousand dollars per year for in-state trainees. It is safe to assume that a year undergraduate degree costs quite a bit more.

However, trade school is often not the right choice for prospective students due to the disadvantages that come along with it. One of these disadvantages is the lack of academic exposure within a trade school education program. As mentioned before, trade schools focus primarily on skills and knowledge only needed for specific jobs, neglecting more intangible forms of knowledge that this writer believes are valuable for a full education experience. Examples of this intangible knowledge include the classical literature, philosophy, and culture that formed our modern world.

Another, however unfortunate, disadvantage to vocational education is the stigma that surrounds it within our increasingly class-divided society. Many people often see students who chose a trade profession as less intelligent and therefore less valuable to society than those with a four-year degree. In a piece for The Atlantic, Erin Funk, a prospective trade school trainee, shared he experiences with this stigma saying, “Vocational schools where we grew up seemed to be reserved for people who weren’t making it in ‘real’ school, so we weren’t completely sure how we felt about our son attending one.”

Admittedly, students educated within a trade school might not know how to quantify the Modigliani-Miller Theorem or perfectly map the enzyme-catalyzed steps of gluconeogenesis, but the skills and abilities provided by their training build the foundational infrastructure of our world that allows our lives to move as smoothly as they do.

If anything, it could be argued that these trade jobs are more important to society than a four-year degree. For instance, students could never have learned the intricacies of the human body in the Dolan Science Center without the construction workers who built its rooms. Students could never have conducted experiments in Organic Chemistry without the plumbing systems that supplied the ever-important H2O. I could never have read the works of Dante in the unholy hours of the morning without the electrical grid that supplied the light.

However one sees the divide between vocational and university paths, it is important to consider the alternative to any choice in life, education or not. As stated by Robert Farrington for Forbes, “By showing them other options, including trade schools, you can prove to them there’s a different way to enter a promising field. Heck, you could even save them a ton of time, money, and heartache along the way.”

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