Trade and technical schools are being praised and promoted by the Department of Education, corporate America, and industry associations. How well is the system working?
This is a golden time for postsecondary trade and tech schools. Not just because they’re becoming more profitable than ever. But because, at least according to some, they’re finally shaking off the stigma that has dogged their students, instructors, and administrators for so long. Over the past year, media from The Wall Street Journal to PBS have hailed technology schools and programs as harbingers of a new economy and reformers of a postsecondary education system that’s become over-priced, over-valued, and often irrelevant.
Statistics are a big part of the story. Between 1988 and 2018, the cost of a four-year college degree increased by 213 percent at public schools and 129 percent at private schools. Over the same period, wages for most Americans remained stagnant. Meanwhile, unemployment rates among young college graduates have grown from 4.3 percent in 2000 to 5.6 percent in 2017. Young male college graduates have been particularly hard hit. Their unemployment rate spiked from 4.1 percent in 2000 to 7.1 percent in 2017. At the same time, a scarcity of skilled workers has led to a nationwide labor shortage that’s resulted in increased wages for a number of blue-collar occupations. The lesson for many is obvious.