After an academic year unlike any other, thousands of families and high school seniors were hoping for a nice change of pace by finally hearing back from the universities they applied to. Instead, students were met with confusion and heartbreak as the admissions offices began to report some of their lowest acceptance rates ever.
While data for the UC Campuses won’t be available until the summer, private universities are already reflecting how difficult this year was for college applicants. USC narrowed its acceptance rate down to 12% from 16% last year, with a record-high number of applicants for the year. In the Ivy League, Harvard declined to 3.4%, Columbia to 3.7% and Yale to 4.6%. The elimination of standardized testing requirements in response to Covid-19 opened the floodgate for a new pool of qualified applicants to compete over an acceptance letter, leaving many students asking themselves what more does it take to enter a prestigious university? With so many questions being raised about the traditional college path, we’ve decided to provide more insight into the real value a college education brings you.
The competitive value of a college degree
Declining acceptance rates are nothing new for 4 year universities. Take a look at the UC school system over the past two decades for instance: admission rates have halved as the number of applicants competing for an acceptance letter have more than tripled. Across the country, more and more individuals see college as the only path to a stable and high paying career path, despite the employment rate for college grads stagnating.
Don’t get me wrong, a college education still offers a ton of value; it's just that there are now more job seekers with that same credential than ever before. Being educated alone doesn’t offer the same distinction that it used to in the past. Nowadays, job applicants are expected to not only possess a college degree, but also have insight that separates them from other graduates. Real world experience, training programs, self startups, and volunteer work are increasingly becoming more and more important to landing a job after college. Having a four year degree alone will no longer guarantee you work in the field you desire.
The perception of technical education
While four year universities are having trouble choosing between qualified applicants, the trade industry is undergoing the opposite problem. According to research conducted by Contracting Business, “the number of unfilled HVAC technician jobs is about 80,000 or 39% of technicians currently employed. On top of that, we’re suffering a net technician loss of about 8% or 20,000 per year.” If the trend away from technical education continues, “in five years we’ll be short another 100,000 technicians.”
Over the past two decades, more and more students have shifted away from technical education under the assumption that trade schools won’t set them up for successful long term careers. For many students fresh out of high school, a four year degree is seen as the only path towards a future career. In a student survey conducted by the construction firm BigRentz, researchers were shocked to find that only 11% of students believed they could receive a high paying job from trade school. A dismal 50% of high school seniors responded that there wasn’t a single benefit from technical education over a four year degree path.
This attitude towards careers like HVAC reveal the cultural misconception that’s fueling the shortage in qualified techs across the entire industry today. Although there’s a common belief that trade students will always be outclassed by a four year degree, the numbers tell a different story.
Trade school vs. college degree
When comparing these two career paths, a surprising trend surfaces. Not only are trade school graduates not far off from their university counterparts; they oftentimes have an advantage.
According to the numbers, 27% of trade school grads earn more than their university counterparts, while 21% are more likely to work in their field of study. This is because the technical skills you pick up from a trade school are directly related to the line of work you’ll pursue. While college degrees can be useful for showing you work ethic and general understanding of a subject, a trade school certification offers employers a better guarantee that you already possess the skills needed for the workplace.
That’s why when it comes to finding a job, technicians again come out on top by being 4% more employable than a job seeker with a college degree. On top of all that, the average cost of trade school is $100,000 less than your standard university tuition. That means that overtime a trade technician will accrue three times less debt than an undergraduate student, leaving you with more income in the long run.
The bottom line
As universities finish sending out their acceptance letters for the class of 2025, let's remind ourselves that this year's admission process was not all that different in comparison to years prior. Students will continue to compete against an ever widening pool of college applicants, as tuition rates continue to rise to meet the demand. On the opposite end of the spectrum, trade schools are hoping that new qualified candidates will even take the chance to consider them an option. Ultimately, your career decisions need to fit your needs and interests as a student. After reviewing the numbers, we hope you can make an informed decision that benefits you the most.