By the Numbers: How Technical Training Programs Measure up to Traditional College

Just coming off high school graduation season, one of the most common questions young people are being asked right now is probably, “Where are you going to college?” It’s almost taken as a given that a traditional four-year institution is the main ticket to a great career, but this one-size-fits-all approach leaves a lot to be desired. Not everyone has the money, time, and resources to sink into years of education, and a growing number of students are discovering programs at technical schools give them the in-demand skills and long-term career prospects that they can build a future on.

What Is Technical School?

A technical school is sometimes also called a trade school, vocational school, or vocational college. While traditional universities often have a very broad range of courses and majors, technical schools tend to be very program-specific, focused on teaching you hands-on skills that are directly applicable to your chosen career path. A lot of times, technical schools revolve around trade careers that are in-demand all over the U.S. — like HVAC technology, welding, electrical technology, plumbing, and so on.

Technical School Vs. College: By the Numbers

How Long It Takes

One of the biggest differences between technical schools and traditional college is the length of time that you’re in the classroom. College tends to be as much about the “experience” as about the learning, and the majority of students are aiming to get their bachelor’s degree, a process that can take four years or sometimes more.

Technical schools, on the other hand, are often about preparing students for the workforce as quickly and as effectively as possible, so there isn’t a lot of time wasted with extracurriculars or general education courses.

Many technical training programs take a year or less, and still others can be completed in just a few short months. The HVAC/R Technician Training Program at VTI takes just 4-10 weeks. (4 weeks if taking day classes and 10 weeks if taking night classes), which gets you out on the job and working in a fraction of the time as the typical college major.

What It Costs

The differences between college and technical school can add up in the bank account as well. Unlike a few decades ago, it’s no longer really possible to pay your way through a four-year degree at a university with a part-time job and a few late nights. The cost of a college education has gone through the roof.

A 2018 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that the average total tuition for a 4-year public institution was $8,798 per year (or $35,192 for four years) in 1985, but $20,050 ($80,200 for four years) in 2017. This means that the majority of U.S. students are having to take out loans to cover the cost of college — in fact, 62% of college seniors who graduated in 2019 had debt, owing an average of $28,950 for those who earned bachelor’s degrees.

A program at a technical school, on the other hand, can often cost just a fraction of that in tuition for the whole program, start to finish, because you’re paying just for the training you need and you’re not having to hand over extra in fees to fund things like campus clubs and activities.

For example, an HVAC certification program can average somewhere between $15,000-$20,000 for the complete education package, in comparison to the $80,000+ price tag for a bachelor’s degree. That includes classes, books, tools, training materials, and preparation for certification requirements — essentially everything you need to get ready for your new career path.

Job Outlooks and Earning Potential

Attending a technical school isn’t just about the advantage it gives you when it comes to graduating sooner and with a much smaller debt burden. Because technicial schools offer career-focused programs, they are often geared toward preparing you for jobs where demand is strong and there are real opportunities for you to build a future.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of HVAC technicians is expected to grow by 4% over the next several years, adding over 15,000 jobs as more and more new construction and a push toward energy efficiency drives industry growth. Employment of welders is expected to be close to the same, with infrastructure projects across the nation in particular factoring into the over 13,000 new welding job openings.

Salaries in these areas can vary widely depending on your location and experience, but the media annual wage for HVAC mechanics in May of 2020 was $50,590, with the top 10 percent earning more than $80,820. Welders, too, pulled in strong salaries, with a median annual wage of $44,190 and the highest 10 percent earning more than $66,250.

What to Expect From a Technical School Program

The exact specifics of what a program from a technical or vocational school will look like very much depends on the field and career you’re looking to become a part of. If you’re interested in the trades, for example, you should likely look for and expect a school to offer a lot of hands-on training in the skills and tools you need. Make sure you look into the course list for any program you’re considering so that you have a clear picture of what you will learn during your studies.

An HVAC training program, for example, should include a balance of both residential and commerical systems; best practices for troubleshooting and maintenance; an overview of the latest innovations in heating and cooling, including heat pumps and solar; and preparation for the certification exams you will need to work. Welding training programs should place a big emphasis with OSHA training requirements and safety, in addition to metal preparations, cutting techniques, and welding codes and provisions.

Welding and HVAC Certification

If you’re interested in learning more about trade and technical school and the opportunities available to you in careers like HVAC and welding, contact Vocational Training Institute and talk to one of your academic advisors for more information.