98 Trade School vs College Statistics in 2021/2022: Education Cost & Job Outlook Analysis

There are many factors that can influence a student’s decision whether to pursue a vocational degree at a trade school or an academic degree at a university. These are the subject matter, the cost of tuition fees, and the earning potential of a degree just to name a few.

Not surprisingly, travel bans, cancellation of in-classroom sessions, and the shift to online or blended learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic are also having a huge impact on students’ choices and the way they assess the value of higher education. This is evident in a December 2020 survey showing 57% of college students agreeing that higher education was no longer “worth the cost.” This, coupled with the fact that The trade and technical school market’s growth will reach 16 billion in 2021 puts trade schools at a steady footing.

Though the world is still uncertain about the long-term changes that may happen in education in general due to the health crisis, what we do know is that the long-established ecosystem of both trade schools and universities has been shaken. With this, it becomes even more important to look at the latest available data on the topic so students and stakeholders can make well-informed decisions moving forward.

trade school vs. college statistics

Post-Secondary Education Cost Facts and Statistics

Many people view post-secondary education as a necessary investment. You do your time, hone your skills, and get ready for employment. Also, just like any other investment, it has monetary costs that can make quite a dent on your personal finances. Arguably, the biggest one is tuition fees.

Tuition Fee-Related Facts and Statistics

  • 34% of students reported that tuition and other fees are their primary concerns when choosing college programs (Learning House, 2018).
  • The national average cost for a two-year public college education is $3,588 (US Department of Education)
  • $8,256 is the national average cost for a four-year or above public education (US Department of Education).
  • The national average for a two-year private education is $14,547 from a for-profit institution (US Department of Education)
  • $15,974 is the national average tuition cost of a four-year private for-profit education institution (US Department of Education)
  • For a four-year public education, the national average cost for tuition has an average change of 5.5% (US Department of Education)
  • There’s a 2.3% average change for tuition costs for a four-year private education (US Department of Education).
  • The national average change for tuition costs for a two-year public education is at 6% (US Department of Education).
  • Online students benefit from cost-of-living savings, unlike their on-campus counterparts. Even tuition fees may be higher, depending on which institution they enroll in (Center for Online Education, 2020).
  • Traditional college costs about three times more than trade school at $100,000+ to $33,000 (Career School Now).

Average Total Cost By Institution Level and Living Arrangement

High tuition fees aren’t the only concern. Students also need to spend money on onboarding fees, educational materials, and other needs. See below for the estimated average total cost for first-time and full-time undergraduate students in four-year and two-year institutions.

  • Trade school costs are relatively cheaper than traditional college education as courses can be completed faster (Career School Now).
  • The average total cost for attending a four-year public institution is $24,300 if one lives on campus, $14,400 for off-campus living with family, and $24,200 for off-campus living without a family (NCES, 2020).
  • A four-year private non-profit institution costs around $50,300 for a student living on campus, $39,900 for those who live off-campus with family, and $50,200 for those living off-campus without family (NCES, 2020).
  • The costs of attending for-profit four-year private institutions are around $32,000 for on-campus students, $22,400 for off-campus students living with their families, and $30,400 for students who live off-campus but away from family (NCES, 2020).
  • $15,100 is the cost of attending a two-year public institution for on-campus students, $9,200 for off-campus students living with family, and $17,700 for students living off-campus without family (NCES, 2020).
  • It costs around $32,500 to attend a 2-year non-profit private institution while living on campus, around $23,100 for living off-campus with family, and $32,600 if off-campus but not living with family (NCES, 2020).
  • It costs about $28,400 for attending a two-year private for-profit institution while living on campus, about $19,900 when living off-campus with family, and $28,700 when living off-campus without family (NCES, 2020).
  • Because of the high cost of post-secondary education, 49% of incoming students are supportive of competency-based education, 43% are very interested in stackable certificates, and 61% would consider textbook-free courses (Learning House, 2018).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics, 2019

Student Loan Statistics

Investing in a good education for the future is very expensive. Many don’t have the money to pay for it on their own, and free college education statistics aren’t looking so good either. Thus, many families turn to student loans. However, it is very hard to pay student loans off.

General Student Loan Statistics

  • Total student loan debt in the US has surpassed $1.7 trillion in 2020 (Make It, 2020).
  • There are 47.9 million student borrowers who have an average debt of $35,453 each (, 2020).
  • Among student borrowers, 35 million may qualify for student debt relief under the CARES Act of 2020 (, 2020).
  • Student debt accrued is about $2,858 per second (
  • The student loan default rate is at 11.4% and about 90+ days delinquent (Center for Online Education, 2020).
  • Direct loans that are cumulative by default reached up to $101.4 billion (Center for Online Education, 2020).
  • An average of 360+ days delinquency when it comes to direct loan payment (Center for Online Education, 2020).
  • There are about 5.1 million direct loan borrowers (Center for Online Education, 2020).

Other Student Loan Facts and Statistics

  • California, Texas, Florida, and New York have more than 20% of all student loan borrowers, with debts of more than $340 billion (Center for Online Education, 2020).
  • Student debt is one reason why young graduates couldn’t start a business or get married (
  • The top types of financial aid include scholarships, grants, loans, and a work-study setup (Center for Online Education, 2020).
  • Those students who graduated in 2016 with a standard repayment plan for $37,172 in ten years will pay an interest of 4.29%. Also, this means they would be paying $382 a month for the next decade (
  • The average borrower in the class of 2017 is expected to have around $38,000 in student debt as of 2020 (MarketWatch, 2020).
  • In the last quarter of 2019, a record 24.7% of $450 billion in student loans were being paid via income-based repayment plans with government backing (MarketWatch, 2020).
  • There are 2.4 million student borrowers who owe an average of $54,921 each in private loans (, 2020).
  • To attain a bachelor’s degree, a public university student borrows around $30,030 (, 2020).

The problem with student loans is that many times, people can’t repay them considering the amount of income they generate. Thus, before taking up a loan for a particular college program, one needs to consider the job prospects and potential salaries. An educated point-of-view towards education and its pragmatic consequences can help lessen the income inequality gap.

Moreover, online education is now an option, with the pandemic forcing many universities to cancel face-to-face classes. Schools are using technology to provide education for off-campus students as well as free online courses for everyone. Certificates and degrees from these programs can help you bolster your resume for the future.

student loan

Trade School Graduate Job Outlook Statistics

Now, many refer to trade school or vocational education as CTE or career and technical education. CTE has been part of the fabric of the American education system. High schools have supplementary technology centers to provide skill-learning for trade work. This ranges from cosmetology and carpentry to sound engineering and computer repair. Students earn certificates in these programs that they can use as proof of skills for immediate employment after high school. However, if they want to put more into their vocational track investments, they should go to trade school to increase their chances of getting hired and advancement. And this is increasingly the case for many as the number of students entering trade schools has increased by more than 100% in the last five years

General Trade School/CTE Job Outlook Statistics

  • CTE has 16 career tracks available today (AES, 2019).
  • 1,200 career and technology centers provide CTE programs in 41 states (AES, 2019).
  • 81% of high school dropouts state that the teaching of real-world skills would have kept them in school (Getting Smart, n.d).
  • 45% of CTE students say educators use real-world examples to help them understand their class materials (AES, 2019).
  • The annual mean wage for all occupations in the US is $53,490 (BLS, 2020).
  • Health care careers will grow much faster than the average in the US at around 18% between 2018 to 2028 (BLS, 2020)..

Fasting Growing Vocational Jobs

  • The five fastest-growing jobs in health science are home health aides, personal care aides, nurses, physician assistants, and physical therapist assistants (AES, 2019).
  • The median annual wage for health care careers is $28,710 (BLS, 2020).
  • In business and finance, the median annual wage is $67,710 (BLS, 2020).
  • Also, employment in business and finance is expected to grow by 7% from 2018 to 2028 (BLS, 2020).
  • Moreover, the five fastest-growing jobs in business and finance are customer service representatives, operations managers, office clerks, stock clerks, and secretaries, and administrative assistants (AES, 2019).
  • For IT Jobs, the median annual wage in 2018 is $84,580 (BLS, 2020).
  • The five IT jobs with the best outlook are information security analysts, IT research scientists, web developers, computer support specialists, and software developers (AES, 2019).
  • The median annual wage of those in the manufacturing industry is $33,990 (AES, 2019).
  • In the manufacturing industry, the fastest-growing jobs are first-line supervisors, inspectors, team assemblers, industrial machinery mechanics, maintenance, and repair workers (AES, 2019).
  • The average annual wage in vocational tracks in the government is $51,340 (AES, 2019).
  • The fastest-growing vocational jobs in the government sector include compliance officers, court and municipal clerks, tax collectors, construction and building inspectors, and government program interviewers (AES, 2019).
  • The median annual wage for occupations in the agriculture industry is $66,360 (AES, 2019).
  • Fastest-growing jobs in agriculture are non-farm animal caretakers, refuse and recyclable material collectors, water and wastewater treatment plant operators, farmers, ranchers, and agricultural managers, crop, nursery, and greenhouse labor (AES, 2019).

Well-Paying CTE jobs

The job prospects for CTE graduates are pretty great. Moreover, according to the data, they may even make more than traditional college graduates. Thanks to market demand and dynamics, you don’t need a four-year degree to earn a good living.

  • By median annual salary, the best jobs for trade school graduates are (1) elevator technician with $77,806, (2) web developer with $58,448, (3) dental hygienist with $54,989, and (4) plumber with $50,349 (The Balance Careers, 2020).
  • Margin department supervisors oversee the day-to-day operations of a small group of para-professional level staff. They have an average pay of $76,721 and an average hourly rate of $36.89 (Online Schools Center, 2021). 
  • Air traffic controllers have an average income of $122,990 per year, with an hourly rate of $59.08 (Online Schools Center, 2021).
  • Computer network architects earn an average of $112,690 a year with an hourly rate of $54.18 (Online Schools Center, 2021). 
  • Application software developers earn a yearly rate of about $105,590 on average at an hourly rate of $50.77 (Online Schools Center, 2021). 
  • Construction managers earn an average of $95,260 a year, with an hourly rate of $45.80 (Online Schools Center, 2021).
  • Marine engineers and naval architects earn about an average of $92,400 a year, with an hourly rate of $44.42 (Online Schools Center, 2021).
  • The highest-paying jobs are not just dependent upon education level or your degree. It also depends on the location (New York Times, 2019).
  • The top metropolitan areas with the highest share of good-paying jobs for people with no college degrees are (1) Toledo, Ohio with 34%, (2) Anchorage with 31.5%, (3) Des Moines with 30.8%, (4) Birmingham, Ala. with 30.6%, and (5) St. Louis, Mo., and Ill. with 30.3% (New York Times, 2019).

Source: New York Times

Traditional College Graduate Job Outlook Statistics

A traditional college education would usually get you a four-year bachelor’s degree. Often, this equates to a better chance of getting employed. However, many college programs won’t get you a good-paying job in the “real world.” In fact, many bachelor-level majors net lower-paying salaries. Of course, there are also those that pay really well. In this section, we’ll explore the job prospects for a bachelor’s degree graduate.

  • A study by National Center for Education Statistics shows that the employment rate for college graduates (87%) was higher than those with only a high school diploma (74%) and those who did not finish high school (39%). (NCES, 2020)
  • This was echoed in a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York that reported there was a 3.9% unemployment rate for individuals aged 22 to 27 who have a bachelor’s degree. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2020)
  • In comparison, the unemployment rate for individuals in the same age bracket without a four-year degree was at 6.5%. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2020)
  • 41% of fresh college graduates in 2020 are underemployed. (Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 2020)

 High-Paying Bachelor Degrees

Many students are attracted to a particular degree because of its earning potential after graduation. Though some of the degrees listed below allow entry-level work for fresh graduates, most will require a graduate or postgraduate studies. Here are the highest paying careers for college graduates.

  • Those who have graduated in petroleum engineering earn a salary ranging from $102,300 to $176,300 per year. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Actuarial mathematics graduates that are lucky enough to get a job will likely earn up to $119,600 per year. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Nuclear engineering graduates can make about $67,000 to $118,000 a year when employed. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Chemical engineers earn a salary ranging from $69,600 to $116,700. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Electronics and communication engineers have salaries that range from $64,100 to $113,200. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Computer science engineers earn around $66,700 to $112,600 per year. (College Choice, 2020)
  • An aerospace engineer makes around $64,700 to $107,900 per year. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Electrical engineering graduates stand to make about $65,700 to $107,900 per year. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Material science and engineers earn a yearly salary ranging from $64,000 to $109,100. (College Choice, 2020)
  • Physicists earn around $57,200 to $105,100 yearly. (College Choice, 2020)

Lowest-Paying College Majors

Actual income for these degrees will still depend on other factors such as individual work experience, the actual salary included in the job offer, and even the place where you work. On average, though, professionals working in these careers make just over $41,000 annually at the start of their careers.

  • Biblical Studies graduates have a median starting salary of only $38,170. (US News, 2020)
  • Animal Science graduates earn a median starting salary of $38,148. (US News, 2020)
  • Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Study majors have a median starting salary of $38,138. (US News, 2020)
  • Education majors have a median starting salary of $38,083. (US News, 2020)
  • Gerontology majors have a median starting salary of $37,700. (US News, 2020)
  • Theological and Ministerial Studies graduates have a median starting salary of $36,791. (US News, 2020)
  • Social Work majors have a median starting salary of $36,483. (US News, 2020)
  • Culinary Arts majors have a median starting salary of $36,200. (US News, 2020)
  • Work and Family Studies majors have a median starting salary of $35,858. (US News, 2020)
  • Child Development and Psychology majors have a median starting salary of $35,457. (US News, 2020)

employment rate

Impact of Covid-19 on Trade School & College Students

  • The most significant challenges trade school students in North America faced before and after the pandemic was the same: school, work, and home life balance, concerns for physical and mental health, and food and housing security (VOCED, 2020).
  • Technical and Vocational Education Training (TVET) centers worldwide were greatly affected by closures caused by COVID-19. Almost 96% of TVET centers in Africa closed completely (ILO, 2020).
  • Top challenges faced by TVET trainers:  lack the skills necessary for remote training,  need time to prepare videos or online training and have low access to the internet (ILO, 2020).
  • 31% of high schoolers now plan to apply to universities closer to home, 29% want to apply to schools with lower tuition, and 26% want to apply to schools with “clear COVID protocols” (New America, 2020).
  • 80% of college student respondents said that they were concerned about “getting any type of job” once they graduated (New America, 2020).
  • 20% of students already enrolled in some form of postsecondary education said COVID has influenced their ability to finish their program on time (Inside Higher Ed, 2020).
  • COVID’s impact on re-enrollment also varies across race, class, and institution type. For example, 27% of Hispanic respondents and 27% of low-income respondents said that COVID affected a household member’s re-enrollment decisions. The same was true for only 7% of white respondents and 7% of upper-middle-income respondents (Inside Higher Ed, 2020).

Influence of COVID-19 on High School Students' College Application Choices

Chart context menu
View in full screen
Print chart

Download PNG image
Download JPEG image
Download SVG vector image

Source: Inside Higher Ed, 2020

Designed by

Should You Go To Trade School or Traditional College?

There are many trade school vs college pros and cons to consider and making a decision especially in this time of COVID-19 can be daunting. But a helpful guide is to consider your interests, career goals, and the timeline of your studies. Besides trade schools are evolving, with many private institutions offering credentialing programs.

For example, if you want to be able to enter the workforce in just two years or less, taking up a vocational course at a trade school can be an excellent choice. However, if you want more career flexibility, a bachelor’s degree will provide that since it doesn’t limit graduates to working only within their major.

Of course, you also have to consider the cost of going to trade school or university. Going to an in-state public community college is often the best way to affordable vocational training. As for college students, there are grants and scholarships that can cover a portion of tuition fees. Plus, many students take out federal loans to enroll in a university program they want. Learn more about student loan trends so you can have a better understanding of how the future might look for higher education.



  1. Applied Educational Systems. (2019). 78 Career and Technical Education Facts for 2019. AES
  2. Career School Now. (n.d.). Trade School vs College. Career School Now 
  3. Center for Online Education. (2020). Online College Costs: A Breakdown of Tuition and Fees. Center for Online Education
  4. College Choice. (2020). 25 Highest Paying Careers for College Graduates. College Choice
  5. (n.d). Students & Debt.
  6. (2020). Student Loan Debt Statistics.
  7. Federal Reserve Bank of New York. (2021). The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates. Federal Reserve Bank of New York
  8. ILO. (2020). ILO-UNESCO-WBG Joint Survey on Technical and Vocational Education and. ILO
  9. Inside Higher Ed. (2020). What’s the Likely Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Ed? Inside Higher Ed
  10. Make It. (2020). U.S. Student Debt Has Increased by More than 100% over the Past 10 Years. Make It
  11. Market Watch. (2020). A record one-quarter of $450 Billion of Student Loans are Being Repaid on Income-Based Repayment Plans, DBRS. Market Watch
  12. NCES. (2020). Employment Rates of Ccollege Graduates. NCES
  13. NCES. (2020). Price of Attending an Undergraduate Institution. NCES 
  14. NCES. (2020). Price of Attending an Undergraduate Institution. NCES
  15. Online Schools Center. (2021). 40 High Paying Trade School Degrees and Jobs 2021. Online Schools Center
  16. The Balance Careers. (2020). The Best Jobs for Trade School Graduates. The Balance Careers
  17. The New York Times. (2019). Where Good Jobs Are. The New York Times
  18. New America. (2020). One Semester Later: How Prospective and Current College Students’ Perspectives of Higher Ed Have Changed between August and December 2020. New America
  19. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2019). May 2019 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates. US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  20. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Business and Financial Occupations. US Bureau of Labor Statistics
  21. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2020). Occupational Outlook Handbook. US Bureau of Labor Statistics 
  22. US Department of Education. (n.d.). College Affordability and Transparency List. US Department of Education
  23. US News. (2020). 10 College Majors With the Lowest Starting Salaries. US News
  24. VOCED Plus. (2020). Focus on the Impact of COVID-19 on Education and Training. VOCED Plus
James Anthony

By James Anthony

A senior FinancesOnline writer on SaaS and B2B topics, James Anthony passion is keeping abreast of the industry’s cutting-edge practices (other than writing personal blog posts on why Firefly needs to be renewed). He has written extensively on these two subjects, being a firm believer in SaaS to PaaS migration and how this inevitable transition would impact economies of scale. With reviews and analyses spanning a breadth of topics from software to learning models, James is one of FinancesOnline’s most creative resources on and off the office.

Jack Ingof says:

Remember boys this summer don't let a $13 dollar sundress cost you $70,000 in child support

Reply to this comment »

Leave a comment!

Add your comment below.

Be nice. Keep it clean. Stay on topic. No spam.


Why is FinancesOnline free? Why is FinancesOnline free?

FinancesOnline is available for free for all business professionals interested in an efficient way to find top-notch SaaS solutions. We are able to keep our service free of charge thanks to cooperation with some of the vendors, who are willing to pay us for traffic and sales opportunities provided by our website. Please note, that FinancesOnline lists all vendors, we’re not limited only to the ones that pay us, and all software providers have an equal opportunity to get featured in our rankings and comparisons, win awards, gather user reviews, all in our effort to give you reliable advice that will enable you to make well-informed purchase decisions.