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The Advantages & Disadvantages of Vocational & Technical Colleges

by Janet Mulroney Clark

Vocational and technical colleges offer students the skills to earn good money in a relatively short amount of time while performing a valuable service to the community. 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.

Advantage: High Earning Potential

Many vocational or technical programs turn out graduates with high earning potential. An article from the January 2012 issue of "Forbes" listed the 10 highest paying careers that require a two-year degree, as well as the salaries. Physical therapy assistants can earn $46,000 annually and radiologic and X-ray technicians earn on average $52,000, the article states. Engineering technicians earn up to $52,000, while solar panel consultants and installers earn up to $50,000 a year. Dental hygienists can earn up to $57,000 annually, and computer support specialists earn as much as $60,000 per year.

Disadvantage: Lower Lifetime Earnings

Some technical school graduates earn high salaries right off the bat, but many do not. An August 2012 article in "Forbes" listed several lower-paying careers for technical school graduates. Cooks earned an average annual salary of $28,570, welders made $37,000, auto mechanics earned $33,934 and landscapers, $30,000. These salaries are significantly lower than the $45,000 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.

Advantage: 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. Voc-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.

Disadvantages: 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.

About the Author

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.

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