There is a huge emphasis on trades education around the country these days. Plumbers, electricians, welders, and HVAC professionals are in high demand, but schools have been pushing four-year college curricula for so long, there is a shortage of trained tradesmen. Community colleges are developing trades programs that address new technologies, and your high school students might be eligible for half price tuition. A real education is available without student loans.
As parents, we could see it happening: degree-holding, book-learned workers vying for sedentary office jobs with decreasing salaries, with loan debt. At the same time, we felt the pinch of hiring skilled contractors for repairs and remodeling. Supply and demand was producing a bleak economic picture. When a tax preparer shared the range of income trades clients were bringing in during their mid-20s, we knew there was a big change coming.
In his sophomore year, #2 announced he was no longer interested in the highly academic career he had expressed interest in steadily since third grade. That’s entirely fine; then what are you going to do? Welding, Mom. The world needs more welders. Okay, great! “What do we need to do to get you there?” I wondered. There were two years until graduation.
We discovered how blessed we are when Metro Community College announced its 22 career academies starting in 2017, and #2’s academic counselor helped secure him a spot in the Welding Academy. There was a brand spankin’ new, multi-million dollar education facility being built at Fort Omaha, and he would be in the first academy program there. Tuition is half price, he gets both high school and college credits, and has an adjusted school schedule to attend classes each afternoon. We are covering the costs related to the program: tuition, transportation, gear, books, fees. The high school made all the arrangements, and worked with him to adjust his class schedule. They even provided his very expensive textbook.
There was already a program for at-risk students, which exposed them to a variety of trades and they could select areas for further education. When local companies came together and provided funding for the new trades facility, MCC developed specific trades academies in partnership with local school systems to provide the workforce training needed right away, and to draw in a variety of students from the area.
What a terrific blessing! This program has made a huge difference in #2’s outlook, confidence, independence, and attitude. He has a 4.0 gpa in his college courses — and that will affect his high school gpa, as well. He’ll graduate high school with a year of welding classes under his belt, important career contacts, and the support of an incredible panel of trades professionals. MCC offers a full two-year applied science degree, so he is well on his way.
Learning real skills! With half-price tuition! Doing real-world, hands-on projects! Collaborating with students in other trades courses! This is an education that for many students is more valuable, and more affordable, than other options.
As it happened, #1 attended a high school heavy on college prep, and we paid as much in high school tuition as for a college education. He ended up bypassing college and going straight into the military. #2 chose to attend the local public school, and was exposed to a wider variety of classes. His own plan was a four-year college experience, attending community college starting the summer he turned 16. He would be eligible for half price tuition for three summers, and would transfer those gen ed credits to another local university. We would pay college tuition through high school years. But his college plan did not happen because he was on camp staff for three summers.
Reduced tuition will end with this summer’s courses, so #2 plans to take classes over the summer while working as much as possible. The total cost for this year and a half, with transportation, will be about $1,500. Even at full price next year, the tuition is so reasonable that #2 will be able to easily pay his bill without student loans. Zero debt is the best start he could have.
The MCC faculty and staff could not be more awesome for these students. The instructor is a veteran of the welding trade. He has seen what it takes to succeed, where technology is headed, and the discipline needed to work in the field. He encourages the students to pursue at least a two-year degree, and they respect him enough to listen and understand that. The strong partnership of the college with local businesses shows there are solid job prospects and security in the industry. This is a great program! We couldn’t be more thrilled to have this present itself at just the right time.
The key for us was the high school academic counselor, who was aware of the upcoming program, saw a match with our student, and approached this in just the right way to engage him. Counselors can be run ragged, especially in the spring semester, so her response and action in this regard was excellent. MCC has been increasing its program awareness the past few years, and it is making a difference in academic counseling offices.
Check out your community college for information on trades programs, especially for high school students. They can open doors and provide skills for a reasonable investment in the future of the students, as well as the community.