Vocational and technical colleges teach students the skills to earn good money in a relatively short amount of time. Many opportunities exist for graduates of vocational and technical schools, but some doors remain closed to those who choose not to pursue a bachelor's degree.
High Earning Potential
Many vocational and technical programs turn out graduates with high earning potential. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that physical therapy assistants earn around $43,000 annually and radiologic and MRI technologists earn on average $52,000. Engineering technicians earn around $61,000 per year, while construction equipment operators earn around $44,000 a year. Dental hygienists earn approximately $72,000 annually, and computer support specialists earn around $51,000 per year.
Lower Lifetime Earnings
Some technical school graduates earn high salaries right off the bat, but many do not. The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that cooks earn an average annual salary of approximately $22,000, welders earn $38,000, automotive mechanics earn $37,000 and ground maintenance workers, $25,000. These salaries are significantly lower than the $61,000 average for a person with a bachelor's degree. A February 2013 "Hechenger Report" article states 30 percent of associate degree graduates earn more than people with bachelor's degrees, but that leaves 70 percent earning less than those with bachelor's degrees. Also, people with bachelor's degrees are the least likely to be unemployed, according to a May 2013 article in the "New York Times," which reported only 3.9 percent of those with bachelor's degrees were unemployed compared with 7.5 percent of the general population.
Earn Money Sooner
Vocational or technical programs take only two years or less to complete, although the careers on the high end of the pay scale generally do require two years of study. Massage therapist programs, for example, take just six months, and an emergency medical technician course takes even less time. The careers chosen by vocational or technical college graduates provide necessary services to the community. Vo-tech graduates wire buildings for electricity, operate water treatment plants, install and maintain plumbing, draw blood, run laboratory tests, work as administrative assistants, develop websites, repair computers, care for toddlers and provide other services that allow society to function smoothly.
Narrow Field of Study
A four-year college provides a broader educational experience. Classes in the humanities, such as history, sociology and literature, do not necessarily translate into a higher paycheck, but they provide a deeper understanding of society, the individual and her role in it. College trains people to become critical thinkers, to understand other people's perspectives and to appreciate the arts. It also provides opportunities for exploration before settling into a career. With four years to complete a degree, students can take some classes simply because they are interested in the subject matter. They may have the opportunity to study abroad or get to know international students, thereby broadening their horizons.
- New York Times: College Graduates Fare Well in Jobs Market, Even Through Recession
- Forbes: Highest Paying 2-Year Degree Jobs in the US
- Forbes: Why a College Degree?
- New York Times: Vocation or Exploration? Pondering the Purpose of College
- The Hechinger Report: Community-College Grads Out-earn Bachelor’s Degree Holders
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook
- College Board: Education Pays 2016
Janet Clark has written professionally since 2001. She writes about education, careers, culture, parenting, gardening and social justice issues. Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a degree in education. She has written two novels, "Blind Faith" and "Under the Influence." Clark has received several awards from the Iowa Press Women for her work.