The question posed in many middle-class and middle-class-aspiring Black homes was should a person should go to college. The answer was never in doubt: it was a resounding “Yes!” Of course, a person goes to college “to better themselves,” which usually meant getting a bachelor’s degree in order to access “better” (translation: white-collar, knowledge-based) jobs and, by extension, a better life.
This intraracial community conversation took place while “wood shop” and other trades programs were discontinued in high schools and the “good jobs” that didn’t require a 4-year degree but still paid well enough to afford a middle-class life—like working at the car assembly line—were either getting denigrated or simply disappeared from U.S. shores.
Then, getting that four-year degree became more expensive as tuition gradually increased over time and people took out more and more student loans to pay for that access to the middle-class life.
And then the rap about arts and humanities degrees got uglier as “what can you do with that degree” curdled into students becoming actively discouraged from taking those courses and getting matriculated in those fields of study because it wouldn’t pay off the heavy student debt to get said degrees. And those departments are slowly shuttering their doors.
Now, trade schools are getting talked up as a way to make decent money; science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) is talked up as the degrees to get; and “critical race theory” and “wokeness” are the latest strawman arguments to deter students from learning literature, history and other non-STEM subjects.
So, while a college degree has long been considered a pathway to success, the rising cost of tuition and the uncertain job market have led many to question the value of higher education.
With graduation around the corner for quite a few Black high-school students, the question of the kind of education they should pursue in this economic climate is a very real one.
When it comes to choosing between trade school and traditional four-year college, there are several factors to consider.
Pros of Going to Trade School:
- Career-Focused Education: Trade schools offer career-focused education that prepares students for specific careers in a shorter amount of time. The curriculum is designed to teach practical skills that are needed in the workforce, which can lead to higher job placement rates.
- Lower Cost: Trade school is generally less expensive than traditional four-year college. Students can save money on tuition and other expenses, and may also be able to start earning a living more quickly.
- Hands-On Training: Trade schools provide hands-on training in a specific trade, which is valuable in industries that require practical skills. Students learn by doing, which can lead to a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
- High Demand for Trades: Many trades are in high demand, and trade school graduates are often highly sought after by employers. This can lead to good job opportunities and job security.
Cons of Going to Trade School:
- Limited Transferability: Trade school programs are highly specialized and may not be transferable to other fields or industries. This means that students may need to start over if they decide to pursue a different career path.
- Limited Advancement Opportunities: Some trades may have limited opportunities for career advancement beyond entry-level positions. Students who want to advance in their careers may need to pursue additional education or training.
- Physical Demands: Trades can be physically demanding, and students with physical limitations may find it challenging to succeed in certain trades.
Pros of Going to Four-Year College:
- Higher Earning Potential: Graduates of four-year colleges tend to earn higher salaries over their lifetime compared to those without a degree. This can lead to financial stability and a better quality of life.
- Wide Range of Degree Programs: Traditional four-year colleges offer a wide range of degree programs allowing students to explore different fields and interests. Students can pursue careers in a variety of industries and have the flexibility to change career paths if desired.
- Transferability: College credits are generally transferable between schools and programs, which allows students to explore different areas of study and transfer to a different institution if needed.
- Networking Opportunities: Traditional four-year colleges provide networking opportunities through alumni networks and social events, which can be valuable for finding job opportunities after graduation.
Cons of Going to Four-Year College:
- Higher Cost: Traditional four-year colleges are generally more expensive than trade schools, and students may accumulate significant student loan debt.
- Lengthy Time to Completion: Traditional four-year colleges require several years of full-time study, which can delay entry into the workforce and lead to a longer period of time before earning a full-time income.
- Limited Hands-On Training: Traditional four-year colleges may not provide the same level of hands-on training as trade schools, which can be a disadvantage in certain industries.
- Limited Job Placement Assistance: Some traditional four-year colleges may not provide as much job placement assistance as trade schools, which can make it more difficult for graduates to find employment in their field of study.
When making a decision between the two, it is important for students to consider their personal goals, financial situation and priorities. Students should research the job market and demand for their chosen field, as well as the curriculum and resources offered by different institutions. Ultimately, the right choice depends on each individual student’s unique circumstances and career aspirations.