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Ask Chuck: Trade School vs Bachelor’s Degree

by Chuck Bentley May 3, 2019

Dear Chuck,

My wife and I are committed to financially helping our children get college degrees. We’ve graduated two and have three to go. We are not sure a four-year college will work for one of our children and are considering directing him towards a trade. What are your thoughts?

Skilled Labor


Dear Skilled,

Congratulations on getting the first two their degrees! I hope you both were able to avoid student loan debt.

Your question is so important with the rising cost of college tuition and the inability for many to find appropriate jobs to manage their excessive student loan debt.

Some kids are just not designed to learn by sitting at desks. Many brilliant young people tend to get easily bored, in need of hands-on activity. We need them!

Yet many parents have a wrong attitude toward trade schools, thinking jobs in labor are less respectable than what a college degree offers. I strongly disagree.

We are experiencing a skilled labor shortage in the U.S. Specialized jobs can pay more than some college degrees and the training can be obtained without heavy debt loads. Some trade certificate programs are expensive, other plans are covered by employers, and some states offer tuition-free programs. Regardless of which program you go with, a trade or two-year degree may be a better investment if your child is gifted in that direction.

Trade school is a hands-on, technical education focused on teaching a skill. General education courses are not taught which reduces classroom time. Smaller classes and faster routes to degrees with highly marketable training at much lower costs propel a person to earning money faster.

With proper stewardship knowledge, these students can be thousands of dollars down the road from their college-bound peers when comparing earnings vs debt in the first ten years of their career.

Financial Cost of Education reports: Trade school runs, on average, around $33,000 from start to finish with many students only carrying a loan of around $10,000.

Compare that to a Forbes report which revealed that in 2016, 70% of those completing an undergraduate degree were carrying $37,000 of debt. And many of those degrees don’t guarantee high-paying jobs. More than half of students take longer than four years to graduate, costing in lost wages and educational costs. Another fact is that 40% of the student body will drop out of a four-year college and still have to pay back loans.

Jerry Bowyer recently commented at the Townhall Review: Elite education in recent decades has seen double-digit price increases and at the same time moved from its mission of broadening minds towards narrowing them. So: Higher price and lower quality. Seems like a bad deal…

Niel Dawson, of Independent Electrical Contractors in Georgia says: We probably need to do a better job hammering in how much debt you are going to have going to college. From day one you’re earning money in an apprenticeship program.

Benefits of Trade School

  • Lower cost – average of $33,000 vs. $127,000
  • Takes 2 years or less
  • Smaller classes
  • Much lower dropout rates
  • Job experience with hands-on training
  • Multiple start dates for different programs
  • Competitive introductory salaries
  • High job-placement rates

According to statistics, a person with a bachelor’s degree is projected to earn around $1.1 million, compared to the $393,000 earnings of an associate’s degree or trade school program graduate. But the cost of loans, delayed income, delayed savings and delayed investing are not included. Plus, an entrepreneurial tradesman can own his own business and earn significantly more.

Here is a table with over 25 highest paying trade school careers with links to each career.

What the Bible Says

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 NIV)

Do you see someone skilled in their work? They will serve before kings; they will not serve before officials of low rank. (Proverbs 22:29 NIV)

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. (Colossians 3:23-24 NIV)

When Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, he went to see Priscilla and Aquila. …and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. (Acts 18:3 NIV)

Help Making the Choice

I’ve hired plenty of skilled laborers to do repairs and make improvements at my home. I continue to request those who faithfully do their job well, are trustworthy, timely and honest. These are generally people who love what they do and take pride in their work.

One of the best tools I’ve seen in directing students is Career Direct. It is an assessment that identifies possible careers based on interests and personality. It affirms a person’s design and encourages the pursuit of dreams that will glorify the Lord. This tool will help you know for sure whether your student should get a college degree or pursue trade school.

Another way to know how to advise them is to observe what your child does in their free time.  Are they a reader or a doer? Are they anxious to primarily work with their hands or work with their mind? What do they do most often that brings them joy?  

Finally, talk to your child and get their input on the choices. Pray about it together and come to peace before making the final decision.


Originally posted on the Christian Post, May 3, 2019

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