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Certificates vs. Technical Diplomas

by Lori Garrett-Hatfield

Many students benefit from a vocational/technical education. On average, students who enter a vocational or technical field can expect to earn nearly as much money as students with a two-year degree. There are many vocational/technical schools nationwide where a student can get a certificate. Also, there are high schools in the United States that allow a student to receive a high school diploma and a vocational or technical certificate at the same time.

Definition

Vocational education is defined as training for a specific career or vocation. Technical education is very closely related to vocational education; according to the Free Dictionary, it's the academic and vocational preparation of students for jobs usually involving applied science and modern technology. The state of Washington defines vocational and technical education as a planned series of learning experiences to prepare individuals for gainful employment in recognized occupations and in new and emerging occupations. That doesn't include programs of which the primary characteristic is repetitive work for the purpose of production. In other words, a vocational/technical education trains and educates students for a career that needs a specific set of specialized job skills.

Certificate Courses

Typically, students who want a vocational or technical career go to a vocational/technical school. Many communities, large and small, have vo-tech schools. Jobs that require a vocational certificate would include plumber, cosmetologist, office manager, florist, certified nursing assistant and electrician. Students can receive a vocational certificate in a few weeks, a few months or as long as 18 months from enrollment. Technical certificates, depending on the courses, may also take up to 18 months to receive. Technical education careers include computer programmer, computer-aided design, applied manufacturing and aviation maintenance.

Technical Diplomas

There are high schools that allow a student to earn both a high school diploma and a technical certificate. Vocational high schools offer students the ability to train for a career in a vocational or technical field, at the same time benefitting from apprentice experience while still in high school. Examples of programs offered by vocational high schools include advanced machining and manufacturing, culinary arts, welding, masonry and media production. In addition, many vocational high schools specialize in careers that are in demand in their area. The Maritime and Science Technology Academy in Miami, for instance, allows students to specialize in three areas in demand in South Florida: oceanic and atmospheric sciences, maritime studies and culture, and marine-related industries.

Advantages and Disadvantages

The vocational high school diploma allows students to begin training for a career as young as eighth grade, usually without tuition cost. Students are able to get credit for internships and gain job experience. But many communities do not have the benefit of a vocational high school. Vocational certificates at a vo-tech school are low-cost, have both day and evening classes, and allow a student to finish in a relatively short period of time, compared to a college. Students are able to train on up-to-date equipment and are eligible for grants and scholarships to pay for school. But students cannot get a high school diploma and attend a vocational/technical school in most cases. However, both vocational/technical certificates and vocational high schools offer students a cost-efficient alternative to a college degree.

About the Author

Lori Garrett-Hatfield has a B.J. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She has a Ph.D. in Adult Education from the University of Georgia. She has been working in the Education field since 1994, and has taught every grade level in the K-12 system, specializing in English education, and English as a Second Language education.

Photo Credits

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