Vocational and trade schools, and technical schools as well, are becoming more and more popular. Today, the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technical Education reports that career and technology education in Oklahoma is offered in grades six through 12 in more than 540 comprehensive schools and on 58 campuses of the 29 technology center districts.
And in addition to these numbers, the rate of students choosing trade schools over traditional four-year colleges is increasing. But why?
Teachers at trade schools in Oklahoma say there are many benefits.
“As a non-traditional college, the number one benefit is probably that we are going beyond just the theory of the subject matter and actually applying what the student is learning,” says James McCullough of the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology (OSUIT). “This means, at least for OSUIT, that we go much more in-depth, going beyond just learning a set of basis skills. Our students also learn the reasons and impact of how that knowledge and skill set will be used and [how it will] continue to evolve over the long term.”
[pullquote]Often trade and technical training colleges have been viewed as a downgrade in education, but in reality, they are not higher or lower to a more traditional college – just different,”[/pullquote]McCullough, a dean for the School of Visual Communications at OSUIT, says he thinks trade and technical schools are becoming more popular because it’s easier to find job opportunities with these degrees in the current (and future) economy.
“The economy definitely plays a huge role in this and will certainly continue to for the foreseeable future,” McCullough says. “In nearly all of our fields of study, the demand for talent is enormous. The skills gap is something almost every industry is facing right now.”
Trade schools fill that skills gap. The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technical Education says this type of education goes well beyond explaining how an industry works; the educational tracks include the immersion of students in real-world simulation and on-the-job training for a specific job – not just a field.
President of Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology Lamar P. Haynes agrees that the benefits of trade school include developing skills related to a specific career path. He adds that “there isn’t much time or money spent on education that is unlikely to lead to employment.”
Haynes also adds that he believes trade schools are increasing in popularity because of the high costs of four-year colleges. “When a student leaves a higher education program, they will typically have incurred debt. The sooner you can translate that education into higher paying positions or upward mobility, the easier it is to pay off the debt and improve your life circumstances,” Haynes says.
In the future, McCullough at OSUIT predicts that there will be even more direct industry involvement in trade school education. Haynes says he has seen a welcome uptick in female students – a trend that seems to be continuing upward.
So how do you know if a trade school is right for you over a traditional four-year college degree? The Oklahoma Department of Career and Technical Education recommends that students consider academic interest and vocational goals, as well as students’ ability to learn by “doing” and the possibility of student debt from a traditional college. And Haynes at Spartan College wants to remind potential students that trade schools are by no means of lower rank.
“Often trade and technical training colleges have been viewed as a downgrade in education, but in reality, they are not higher or lower to a more traditional college – just different,” Haynes says. “They are designed to be focused, accelerated and more hands-on with their style of training.”