trade school vs community college

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Trade School vs. Community College

Can you earn the same as someone with a bachelor’s degree for 18% of the cost?

Featured Programs

One Size Fits None

30% of students worldwide only go to a 4-year college because they think it’s the natural progression after high school

23% only go because it’s expected of them

4-year college might be the perfect fit if…
Your chosen career path requires a bachelor’s degree
You want to pursue a master’s or professional degree later on
You have the time and funds to devote to the full-time college experience
Education as an end in itself is important to you

But what about everyone else?
Be aware of other options:
4-year college or university: Earn a bachelor’s degree
2-year community college: Earn an associate’s degree
Trade/vocational school: Earn a certificate, diploma, or apprenticeship

Other Forms of Higher Ed Can Pay Off

Lower Cost
Average tuition and fees, 2017-2018 school year:

Public 4-year institution (in-state)
Annual: $9,970
Total: $39,880

Public 2-year institution (community college)
Annual: $3,570
Total: $7,140

The average cost of a 4-year bachelor’s degree is 82% higher than the average cost of a 2-year associate’s degree

Since 1992, the share of students leaving school with more than $50,000 of federal student debt has grown by 8.5X

Comparable Payoff
Pay gap for workers with different credentials levels off over time

Median earnings for workers in Colorado after graduating, 2015:

Trade/Vocational School
Certificate (<1 year) 5 years: $39,391 10 years: $53,940 Certificate (>1 year)
5 years: $44,070
10 years: $48,884

2-year institution
Associate of General Studies
5 years: $40,513
10 years: $47,716

Associate’s degree (AA or AS)
5 years: $36,920
10 years: $42,484

Associate of Applied Science
5 years: $49,694
10 years: $54,146

4-year institution
Bachelor’s degree
5 years: $46,930
10 years: $55,287

After 10 years, a worker with a 1-year certificate made a median of only $1,347/year less than a worker with a bachelor’s degree

Positive Employment Growth

A growing number of recent college graduates* are working in jobs that don’t require a college degree:

2000: 38%
2015: 44.6%

Most of the fastest growing jobs in the U.S. won’t require a bachelor’s degree

Employment growth 2016-2026:
Wind turbine service technicians: 96.3%
Home health aides: 47.3%
Bicycle repairers: 29.3%
Massage therapists: 26.3%
Pet caretakers: 24.2%

Skilled trade positions are plentiful—which path will you choose to fill them?

Trade School vs. Community College

Trade School / Vocational School

Coursework: Specialization on chosen career field, no extra/general courses
Faster track, but less room to explore other fields

Learning environment: Hands-on

Length of study: Usually less than 2 years, varies based on program

Options for study: Many schools offer part time and online tracks

Average cost: $33,000

Financial aid: Eligible for loans, grants, and field-specific scholarships

What you earn: Certificate or diploma, opportunity to take a licensing exam, or an apprenticeship/work as a journeyman, depending on field and school

Ideal for someone who…
Is sure of desired career field
Learns by doing
Wants to obtain credentials and join the workforce quickly

Community College

Coursework: Rounded education, requires classes outside chosen career field
Credits can be applied toward a traditional college or university degree

Learning environment: Classroom/lectures + hands-on, depending on field

Length of study: Usually 2 years

Options for study: Many schools offer part time and online tracks

Average cost: $7,140

Financial aid: Eligible for Stafford loans, Perkins loans, PLUS loans, Pell grants, and state-specific programs and scholarships

What you earn: Associate’s degree; some grant certificates or diplomas to students who have completed course requirements for a chosen field

Ideal for someone who…
Would like to test out a few fields before settling on one
Learns well in a classroom setting
Is able to devote 2 years to education

Not everyone needs the same education to be successful—Find the best fit for you

trade school vs community college