Community College vs. Trade School
The right education and training can make any individual’s career a rewarding and lucrative achievement. How to obtain that education is a highly personal choice, and it varies greatly depending on that person’s personal goals. The key is often understanding the balance between a number of factors: available opportunities, personal desire, affordability, job demand and aptitude. While the ultimate decision can be made only by the student, it is helpful to understand a few facts about what opportunities are available, and what it might take to fulfill them.
Understanding the economic big picture as well as the details of potential career pathways is the key to making a well-informed decision. To help you on this journey, we have created this detailed comparison on the pros and cons of attending community college, versus attending a skilled trade school. We’ll focus on the comparison of school environments, tuition, time-to-completion, and the depth of training detail.
This comparison might shed more light on choices you may not have realized are available. According to Mike Rowe, the shortsighted stigma historically made against the skilled trades by some high school counselors, colleges, and society in general, has produced an acute skills shortage in the United States. And while some college graduates leave college with immense debt and few job prospects, students completing various skilled trade programs start entry-level careers with competitive salaries within a multitude of industries. Some experts have stated that many companies across the country simply can’t hire skilled technicians fast enough to make up for this gap in demand.
Community College Vs Trade School in 4 Key Differences
Career and trade schools like Lincoln Tech offer a balanced training approach, which usually includes the student spending as much time in the shop with hands-on training, as they do in the classroom receiving teacher-to-student instruction. “Learn and Do” is the optimal way to learn a complex skill. Practice creates competency, so the more hands-on training with a skilled instructor is the ideal learning environment. Community colleges are more theory-based, and involve more discussion and lecture hours, whereas a trade school relies on the well-proven hands-on approach to learning a skilled technical career*.
There are two differences between the coursework offered at a trade school like Lincoln Tech, and those offered at a community college. Trade School courses are exclusively related to the specialty at hand. Lincoln Tech offers its Automotive Technology program at 11 campuses. It is comprised of 13 courses dedicated to unique aspects of automotive repair and maintenance.
The second difference is in how the subject matter is delivered. At Lincoln Tech, the time is split between two modes of delivery; the classroom and the workshop. Using the Mahwah New Jersey Automotive Technology program course descriptions as an example, we see that this training takes 1,560 hours to complete. It is comprised of 523 classroom instructional hours, and 1,037 lab or shop hours. This is quite different from a community college degree that is earned mostly through classroom lecture.
Length of Training
Career and trade school programs are shorter in length because they have a deep focus on a special field. In the Automotive Technology program example above, the length of time to completion is 56 weeks for full time students. This is significantly shorter than the two years (60 credits) to complete a community college associate degree.
Associate degrees often include general education courses introducing a subject matter and giving it preparatory coverage to build on through future schooling. Most of the courses are not a deep dive into a focused subject matter, whereas technical training provides students and graduates with the competencies and skills for employment in their field of study. It also requires non-major related electives, which consume time and money, yet offer minimal benefit to real-world applications.
Trade schools are typically a greater up-front investment due to their specialized nature, and offer many opportunities for scholarships and other forms of financial aid. However, the overall cost is much smaller in the long run, as the utility of a community college degree is usually only realized when it is used as a pathway into finishing a 4-year degree. The cumulative cost of a bachelor degree is significantly more expensive than a skilled trades specialty program.
Choosing Between Community College and Trade School
What field you ultimately pursue is a personal decision, and it is made easier if the advantages and disadvantages of the various pathways to achievement are known. With factors such as available educational or training opportunities, affordability and future job outlook being well known, viewing the bigger picture and narrowing down your choices will make your decision-making easier.
The reality is that a community college degree is a useful stepping stone to pursuing a four-year degree, but on its own it is of limited in value unless it is designed to be a terminal degree for a specific focused career. With a trade school, there are normally no extra classes or electives that would slow the pathway to graduation, so a student would not use extra time or money on unrelated tuition and materials. Ultimately, the choice between the two is a personal decision, but knowing these facts may help you make the decision that is best for you.
*Excludes community colleges offering skilled trades programs.