Technical schools offer training to enter an occupation or profession, but most community colleges also have occupational programs and offer certifications in technical fields. Technical schools and community colleges have several important differences that students must understand before making the commitment to enroll in either one. Students generally select one or the other, but some students use the programs at both institutions to create a hybrid-education program to address the student's professional needs.
The U.S. Department of Education notes that technical schools -- sometimes called vocational or trade schools -- offer students "formal classes with hands-on experience related to their future career interests, from welding to cosmetology to medical imaging." Technical schools specialize in teaching content focused on this type of instruction. Technical schools teach the "science behind the occupation," according to the DOE, and generally allow students the chance to earn a diploma or formal certification without requiring a large number of class units unrelated to the occupation or profession.
The National Center for Education Statistics defines a "community college" as a two-year "educational institution offering programs leading to associate degrees, diplomas, certificates of completion, and/or their equivalents." Private schools sometimes use "junior college" in the school's official title. Community colleges cooperate with other colleges to transfer credit hours earned at the institution, and many students move into four-year college programs after earning the two-year community college degree.
Vocational programs at community colleges share coursework, such as a basic mathematics classes or required writing courses. These requirements allow the student to complete multiple programs using shared credits. Community colleges also typically require students to take courses unrelated to the technical program, such as physical education and fine arts.
Some community colleges allow students to earn an associate degree in addition to professional certifications or technical diplomas. Both community college technical programs and technical schools offer one- and two-year technical certifications, which recognize that the student has completed the essential courses required to work in the field. Many technical schools and community colleges also allow students to earn technical diplomas that include additional required course units that take a year or two to complete.
Apprenticeships and Job Training
Technical schools frequently partner with local companies, trade unions and professional organizations to provide classroom training and on-the-job experiences for skilled workers. Apprenticeship programs feature construction and building trades, public utilities and manufacturing. Apprentices earn standard-trade wages for work, typically at the journeyman pay scale.
Some community colleges and many technical schools combine trade apprenticeships with formal degrees in applied sciences, including mufti-occupation trades. These degrees require coursework outside the trade in courses that complement job skills, including communication, writing composition, mathematics and psychology.
- National Center for Education Statistics: Postsecondary Student Terminology
- U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid: Learn About Your College and Career School Options
- Blackhawk Technical College: Technical Diplomas
- Blackhawk Technical College: Certificate Programs
- New Castle School of Trades: Technical Schools in PA and Ohio -- Evaluating Your Options
Lee Grayson has worked as a freelance writer since 2000. Her articles have appeared in publications for Oxford and Harvard University presses and research publishers, including Facts On File and ABC-CLIO. Grayson holds certificates from the University of California campuses at Irvine and San Diego.