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87 Trade School vs College Statistics in 2020: Education Cost & Job Outlook Analysis

Category: Education

Choosing to go to college, and choosing which career path to take is a pretty big decision. However, at the tender age of 18 or so, many of us don’t quite get it right the first time. The trade school vs college statistics tell us that less than half of students complete the programs[1] they started in. For those in poverty, only 10% finish their first degrees[2].

Being young and inexperienced are factors. However, job and career prospects also influence the student’s decision to shift tracks. Now, more incoming students are at the crossroads on whether to choose trade school or college education. Our two cents here is that these life decisions should at least be made after considering cold hard facts.

So, in this write-up, we have compiled some statistics to give you a better view of the implications of choosing trade school over college and vice versa. We’ll discuss the state of post-secondary education, employment outlook, potential salaries, and some trade school vs college pros and cons. Hopefully, these will help you in making life-changing decisions this 2020.

statistics on trade school vs college

Post-Secondary Education Cost Facts and Statistics

Many people view post-secondary education as a necessary investment. You do your time, hone your skills, and get ready for employment. Also, just like any other investment, it has monetary costs. Arguably, the biggest one is tuition fees.

Tuition Fee-Related Facts and Statistics

  • 34% of students reported that tuition and other fees are their primary concerns when choosing college programs. [3]
  • The national average cost for a two-year public college education is $3,588.[4]
  • $8,256 is the national average cost for a four-year or above public education. [4]
  • The national average for a two-year private education is $14,547 from a for-profit institution. [4]
  • $15,974 is the national average tuition cost of a four-year private for-profit education institution. [4]
  • For a four-year public education, the national average cost for tuition has an average change of 5.5%. [4]
  • There’s a 2.3% average change for tuition costs for a four-year private education. [4]
  • The national average change for tuition costs for a two-year public education is at 6%. [4]
  • Online students benefit from cost-of-living savings, unlike their on-campus counterparts. Even tuition fees may be higher, depending on which institution they enroll in. [5]
  • Traditional college costs about three times more than trade school at $100,000+ to $33,000. [6]

Average Total Cost By Institution Level and Living Arrangement

Tuition fees aren’t the only expense. Students also need to spend money on onboarding fees, educational materials, and other needs. See below for the estimated average total cost for first-time and full-time undergraduate students in four-year and two-year institutions.

  • Trade school costs are relatively cheaper than traditional college education as courses can be completed faster. [6]
  • The average total cost for attending a four-year public institution is $24,300 if one lives on campus, $14,400 for off-campus living with family, and $24,200 for off-campus living without a family. [7]
  • A four-year private non-profit institution costs around $50,300 for a student living on campus, $39,900 for those who live off-campus with family, and $50,200 for those living off-campus without family. [7]
  • The costs of attending for-profit four-year private institutions are around $32,000 for on-campus students, $22,400 for off-campus students living with their families, and $30,400 for students who live off-campus but away from family. [7]
  • $15,100 is the cost of attending a two-year public institution for on-campus students, $9,200 for off-campus students living with family, and $17,700 for students living off-campus without family. [7]
  • It costs around $32,500 to attend a 2-year non-profit private institution while living on campus, around $23,100 for living off-campus with family, and $32,600 if off-campus but not living with family  [7]
  • It costs about $28,400 for attending a two-year private for-profit institution while living on campus, about $19,900 when living off-campus with family, and $28,700 when living off-campus without family [7]
  • Because of the high cost of post-secondary education, 49% of incoming students are supportive of competency-based education, 43% are very interested in stackable certificates, and 61% would consider textbook-free courses. [3]

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2019

Student Loan Statistics

Investing in a good education for the future is very expensive. Many don’t have the money to pay for it on their own, and free college education statistics aren’t looking so good either. Thus, many families turn to student loans. However, it is very hard to pay student loans off.

General Student Loan Statistics

  • Total student loan debt is $1.56 trillion. [8]
  • The average national student debt is $28,400. [9]
  • Student debt accrued is about $2,858 per second. [10]
  • The total number of US borrowers with student loan debt is 44.7 million. [8]
  • The student loan default rate is at 11.4% and about 90+ days delinquent. [5]
  • Direct loans that are cumulative by default reached up to $101.4 billion. [5]
  • An average of 360+ days delinquency when it comes to direct loan payment. [5]
  • There are about 5.1 million direct loan borrowers. [5]

Other Student Loan Facts and Statistics

  • California, Texas, Florida, and New York have more than 20% of all student loan borrowers, with debts of more than $340 billion. [5]
  • Student debt is one reason why young graduates couldn’t start a business or get married. [10]
  • The top types of financial aid include scholarships, grants, loans, and a work-study setup. [5]
  • Those students who graduated in 2016 with a standard repayment plan for $37,172 in ten years will pay an interest of 4.29%. Also, this means they would be paying $382 a month for the next decade. [10]
  • The average borrower in the class of 2017 is expected to have around $38,000 in student debt. [11]
  • In the last quarter of 2019, a record 24.7% of $450 billion in student loans were being paid via income-based repayment plans with government backing. [11]

The problem with student loans is that many times, people can’t repay them considering the amount of income they generate. Thus, before taking up a loan for a particular college program, one needs to consider the job prospects and potential salaries. An educated point-of-view towards education and its pragmatic consequences can help lessen the income inequality gap.

Moreover, online education is now an option. Schools are using technology to provide education for off-campus students as well as free online courses for everyone. Certificates and degrees from these programs can help you bolster your resume for the future.

student loan is big business

Trade School Graduate Job Outlook Statistics

Now, many refer to trade school or vocational education as CTE or career and technical education[12]. CTE has been part of the fabric of the American education system. High schools have supplementary technology centers to provide skill-learning for trade work. This ranges from cosmetology and carpentry to sound engineering and computer repair. Students earn certificates in these programs that they can use as proof of skills for immediate employment after high school. However, if they want to put more into their vocational track investments, they should go to trade school to increase their chances of getting hired and advancement.

General Trade School/CTE Job Outlook Statistics

  • CTE has 16 career tracks available today. (AES, 2019[12])
  • 1,200 career and technology centers provide CTE programs in 41 states. [12]
  • 81% of high school dropouts state that the teaching of real-world skills would have kept them in school.  [13]
  • 45% of CTE students say educators use real-world examples to help them understand their class materials. [12]
  • Applied science and technical science graduates in Texas, Colorado, and Virginia earn about $2000 to $11000 more than those with bachelor degrees. [13]
  • 27% of people with less than an associate degree like certificates and licenses earn more than the average of those with bachelor’s degrees. [13]
  • The average annual wage for all occupations in the US is $38,640. [14]
  • Around 50% of STEM jobs need workers with less than a bachelor’s degree. [13]
  • Health care careers will grow much faster than the average in the US at around 18% between 2018 to 2028. [15]
  • More than 80% of manufacturers will need more talent to meet customer demand in the future. [13]
  • Almost half of the energy workforce will be replaced by 2024. The demand for wind and solar energy technicians will also double. [13]

Fasting Growing Vocational Jobs

  • The five fastest-growing jobs in health science are home health aides, personal care aides, nurses, physician assistants, and physical therapist assistants. [12]
  • The median annual wage for health care careers is $28,710. [15]
  • In business and finance, the median annual wage is $67,710. [16]
  • Also, employment in business and finance is expected to grow by 7% from 2018 to 2028. [16]
  • Moreover, the five fastest-growing jobs in business and finance are customer service representatives, operations managers, office clerks, stock clerks, and secretaries, and administrative assistants. [12]
  • For IT Jobs, the median annual wage in 2018 is $84,580. [14]
  • The five IT jobs with the best outlook are information security analysts, IT research scientists, web developers, computer support specialists, and software developers. [12]
  • The median annual wage of those in the manufacturing industry is $33,990. [12]
  • In the manufacturing industry, the fastest-growing jobs are first-line supervisors, inspectors, team assemblers, industrial machinery mechanics, maintenance, and repair workers. [12]
  • The average annual wage in vocational tracks in the government is $51,340. [12]
  • The fastest-growing vocational jobs in the government sector include compliance officers, court and municipal clerks, tax collectors, construction and building inspectors, and government program interviewers. [12]
  • The median annual wage for occupations in the agriculture industry is at $66,360. [12]
  • Fastest-growing jobs in agriculture are non-farm animal caretakers, refuse and recyclable material collectors, water and wastewater treatment plant operators, farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse labor. [12]

Well-Paying CTE jobs

The job prospects for CTE graduates are pretty great. Moreover, according to the data, they may even make more than traditional college graduates. Thanks to market demand and dynamics, you don’t need a four-year degree to earn a good living.

  • By median annual salary, the best jobs for trade school graduates are (1) elevator technician with $77,806, (2) web developer with $58,448, (3) dental hygienist with $54,989, and (4) plumber with $50,349.  [17]
  • Margin department supervisors oversee the day-to-day operations of a small group of para-professional level staff. They have an average pay of $125,080 and an average hourly rate of $60.14. [18]
  • Air traffic controllers have an average income of $124,540 per year, with an hourly rate of $59.87. [18]
  • Computer network architects earn an average of $104,650 a year with an hourly rate of $50.31. [18]
  • Application software developers earn a yearly rate of about $103,560 on average at an hourly rate of $48.94. [18]
  • Construction managers earn an average of $91,379 a year, with an hourly rate of $43.93. [18]
  • Marine engineers and naval architects earn about an average of $90,970 a year, with an hourly rate of $43.74. [18]
  • The highest-paying jobs are not just dependent upon education level or your degree. It also depends on the location. [19]
  • The top metropolitan areas with the highest share of good-paying jobs for people with no college degrees are (1) Toledo, Ohio with 34%, (2) Anchorage with 31.5%, (3) Des Moines with 30.8%, (4) Birmingham, Ala. with 30.6%, and (5) St. Louis, Mo. and Ill. with 30.3%. [19]

Source: New York Times

Traditional College Job Outlook Statistics

A traditional college education would usually get you a four-year bachelor’s degree. However, many college programs won’t get you a good-paying job in the “real world.” In fact, many bachelor-level majors net lower-paying salaries. Of course, there are also those that pay really well. In this section, we’ll explore the job prospects for a bachelor’s degree graduate.

 High-Paying Bachelor Degrees

  • Those who have graduated in petroleum engineering earn a salary ranging from $102,300 to $176,300 per year. [20]
  • Actuarial mathematics graduates that are lucky enough to get a job will likely earn up to $119,600 per year. [20]
  • Nuclear engineering graduates can make about $67,000 to $118,000 a year when employed. [20]
  • Chemical engineers earn a salary ranging from $69,600 to $116,700. [20]
  • Electronics and communication engineers have salaries that range from $64,100 to $113,200. [20]
  • Computer science engineers earn around $66,700 to $112,600 per year. [20]
  • An aerospace engineer makes around $64,700 to $107,900 per year. [20]
  • Electrical engineering graduates stand to make about $65,700 to $107,900 per year. [20]
  • Material science and engineers earn a yearly salary ranging from $64,000 to $109,100. [20]
  • Physicists earn around $57,200 to $105,100 yearly. [20]

Lowest-Paying College Majors

  • As the job market tightened in the last five years, companies loosened their education requirements for certain posts. This may have negatively impacted the pay for some college majors as well. [21]
  • Biblical Studies graduates have a median starting salary of only $38,170. [22]
  • Animal Science graduates earn a median starting salary of $38,148. [22]
  • Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Study majors have a median starting salary of $38,138. [22]
  • Education majors have a median starting salary of $38,083. [22]
  • Gerontology majors have a median starting salary of $37,700. [22]
  • Theological and Ministerial Studies graduates have a median starting salary of $36,791. [22]
  • Social Work majors have a median starting salary of $36,483. [22]
  • Culinary Arts majors have a median starting salary of $36,200. [22]
  • Work and Family Studies majors have a median starting salary of $35,858. 22]
  • Child Development and Psychology majors have a median starting salary of $35,457. [22]
  • Your salary also depends upon your job location. So, the areas with the lowest share of good-paying jobs are (1) Washington with only 14.6%, (2) New York with 15.3%, (3) Los Angeles with 15.4%, (4) Miami with 15.5%, and (5) San Jose, California with 15.5% as well. [19]

lowest paying college majors

Should You Go To Trade School or Traditional College?

There are many trade school vs college pros and cons to consider. First off, think of what you want to achieve in the future. If you want a well-paying job, but you don’t want to get stuck with high education debt, then maybe trade school is your first option. This is especially true when you want to work hands-on in technical jobs.

However, if you want to go to college in pursuit of trying to understand the world better through abstract tools of reasoning, then it’s better to go to a traditional college. But, do understand that there is an underlying pragmatic use for post-secondary education. It is sometimes an uphill battle, especially when big companies get away with not paying young college graduates.

Other factors to consider:

  • Potential trade school vs college salary packages
  • Trade school vs college cost of attending or COA (including board, food, etc.)
  • Your finances
  • The things you are good at
  • How interested are you in a program
  • And, how long do you think you can stick to a job related to your program

What’s more, if you want to pursue a college degree, but you don’t think you can cover for your loans easily after school, then you can take up a trade program first. Once you get a job and start getting comfortable paying for your education loan, you can then start to work on getting a college degree if you really want to. Just remember that personal finance and home life are serious things to consider. So, be careful about what you take up first. Ultimately, it is your personal choice, and it is mostly you that live with the consequences.

However, you don’t have to go at it blindly. An easy way to have a simplified idea about your lifetime return on investment (ROI) in your education is to deduct your estimated gains from your estimated costs through time. It is easy to look for projected salaries on the internet and also for the average cost of living in different states. If you do this, you’d have an intuitive way of understanding how you are going to beat these student loan trends and reap the financial rewards for your trouble.



  1. ^Digest of Education Statistics
  2. ^The Stigma of Choosing Trade School Over College
  4. ^College Affordability and Transparency List Downloads Links
  5. ^Online College Costs: A Breakdown of Tuition and Fees
  6. ^Trade School vs Traditional College
  7. ^Price of Attending an Undergraduate Institution
  8. ^Student Loan Debt Statistics In 2019: A $1.5 Trillion Crisis
  9. ^Student Loan Calculator
  10. ^Students & Debt
  11. ^A record one-quarter of $450 billion of student loans are being repaid on income-based repayment plans, DBRS
  12. ^78 Career and Technical Education Facts for 2019
  13. ^ABOUT CTE
  14. ^Computer and Information Technology Occupations
  15. ^Healthcare Occupations
  16. ^Business and Financial Occupations
  17. ^The Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates
  18. ^30 High Paying Trade School Degrees and Jobs 2020
  19. ^Where the Good Jobs Are
  22. ^10 College Majors With the Lowest Starting Salaries
Jenny Chang

By Jenny Chang

Senior writer at FinancesOnline who writes about a wide range of SaaS and B2B products, including trends and issues on e-commerce, accounting and customer service software. She’s also covered a wide range of topics in business, science, and technology for websites in the U.S., Australia and Singapore, keeping tabs on edge tech like 3D printed health monitoring tattoos and SpaceX’s exploration plans.

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