The Stigma of Choosing Trade School Over College

By on March 19, 2019

From The Atlantic:  Toren Reesman knew from a young age that he and his brothers were expected to attend college and obtain a high-level degree. As a radiologist—a profession that requires 12 years of schooling—his father made clear what he wanted for his boys: “Keep your grades up, get into a good college, get a good degree,” as Reesman recalls it. Of the four Reesman children, one brother has followed this path so far, going to school for dentistry.

Reesman attempted to meet this expectation, as well. He enrolled in college after graduating from high school. With his good grades, he got into West Virginia University—but he began his freshman year with dread. He had spent his summers in high school working for his pastor at a custom-cabinetry company. He looked forward each year to honing his woodworking skills, and took joy in creating beautiful things. School did not excite him in the same way. After his first year of college, he decided not to return.

He says pursuing custom woodworking as his lifelong trade was disappointing to his father, but Reesman stood firm in his decision, and became a cabinetmaker. He says his father is now proud and supportive, but breaking with family expectations in order to pursue his passion was a difficult choice for Reesman—one that many young people are facing in the changing job market.

Traditional-college enrollment rates in the United States have risen this century, from 13.2 million students enrolled in 2000 to 16.9 million students in 2016. This is an increase of 28 percent, according to the National Center for Education StatisticsMeanwhile, trade-school enrollment has also risen, from 9.6 million students in1999 to 16 million in 2014This resurgence came after a decline in vocational education in the 1980s and ’90s. That dip created a shortage of skilled workers and tradespeople.

Many jobs now require specialized training in technology that bachelor’s programs are usually too broad to address, leading to more last mile–type vocational-education programs after the completion of a degree. Programs such as Galvanize aim to teach specific software and coding skills; Always Hired offers a “tech-sales bootcamp” to graduates. The manufacturinginfrastructure, and transportationfields are all expected to grow in the coming years—and many of those jobs likely won’t require a four-year degree.

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