While Some Students Skip College, Trade Schools Are Growing

    22 April 2023

    Almost every area of higher education in the United States has fewer students registering for classes. But many trade programs are growing.

    Trade programs teach students skills for specific jobs, like electricians or car repair. For many students, skilled trades offer a clearer path to a job.

    The National Student Clearing House says from spring 2021 to 2022, some trade programs grew as much as 19.3 percent. Meanwhile, the overall number of students declined by 7.8 percent at public two-year colleges and about 3.4 percent at public four-year colleges.

    Tennessee College of Applied Technology Nashville student Robert Nivyayo poses with his car during auto collision repair class Wednesday, April 13, 2023. (AP Photo/John Amis)
    Tennessee College of Applied Technology Nashville student Robert Nivyayo poses with his car during auto collision repair class Wednesday, April 13, 2023. (AP Photo/John Amis)

    That is the case in the American state of Tennessee.

    Despite having free tuition since 2015, the overall number of students going to the state's community colleges declined during the pandemic. But at the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT) many trade programs have continued to grow.

    TCAT is a network of 24 colleges that offers training for 70 different jobs. At TCAT Nashville, several programs have waiting lists. The college has added night classes to meet demand, said Nathan Garrett, president of the college.

    TCAT centers on training students for jobs that are in demand in the area. Garrett said the pandemic made certain jobs more desirable.

    "When we look at ‘essential workers,' a lot of those trades never saw a slowdown," he said. "They still hired. They still have the need."

    Cheven Jones is attending an automotive trade school at the TCAT in Nashville. The 26-year-old said when he was in high school he did not know what he wanted to do.

    He said that his "biggest fear was to go to college, put in all that time and effort and then not use my degree."

    Robert Nivyayo said he did not like high school. But he knew what he wanted to do earlier in life. He spent most of his free time watching videos about fixing up cars before he was old enough to drive.

    Training in car repair made sense for him, he said, because he could earn a working document while doing what he enjoyed.

    Now 19, Nivyayo looks forward to the money he will earn when he gets a job in an auto shop. He can expect to make about $40,000 to $60,000 a year, his instructor said.

    Laura Monks is the president of TCAT Shelbyville. She said one of the reasons students like TCAT is the school's "co-op" program. It gives students who are close to finishing their studies a chance to get real work experience toward their degree.

    Brayden Johnson, 20, is studying industrial maintenance automation. As part of the "co-op" program, he works as an electrical maintenance technician in a local factory that makes containers for toothpaste. Johnson earns $26 an hour and hopes to stay in the job after he finishes at TCAT this spring.

    Garrett of Nashville said to get real work experience in TCAT's "co-op" program is important. He noted that the employer reports back to the student's instructor, so they know where the student is doing well and where they are struggling. That way, they can work on those weaknesses in class.

    For Cheven Jones, his plan is to fix up his car by the time he finishes the trade program and have fun while doing it.

    "It's school, and I take it seriously. But you know, you come here, and it just feels more like you're at a shop hanging out with your homies all day," Jones said. "It's a good feeling."

    I'm Dan Novak.

    Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.


    Words in This Story

    tuition — n. money that is paid to a school for the right to study there

    essential — adj. extremely important and necessary

    degree — n. a unit for measuring temperature

    homie — n. (slang) a friend