Higher Ed: Trade schools or 4-year colleges

By Carol Dwyer
November 20, 2011

In response to Cabrini’s news of lowered tuition, a comment in favor of going to trade schools was posted on the Loquitur website. Having experienced both the trade school and 4-year college environments, I had to share my thoughts on the very different paths to a career.
Attending a trade school, specifically for computer training, was during the early stages of my higher education pursuits. At the time, the decision to attend a trade school was due to a sense that a 4-year college education was not in my future; it didn’t seem financially possible. So I went for part-time evening classes at a trade school and worked full-time in a retail environment. I was doing something productive with my life, so there was nothing wrong with that plan.
Trade schools are good in terms of how they are geared, training people for specific fields and focusing only on that. If you are aiming for a computer career, you get all computer classes; no liberal arts. However, lacking a 4-year degree became a major obstacle career-wise and I feel that I would have short-changed myself academically as well. Since pursuing a 4-year degree, I found that I really enjoy the intellectual atmosphere that exists at Cabrini. I also enjoy being at a college that has the means to provide off-campus experiences throughout the year.
One career-related reason for my preference is that here at Cabrini, I am being taught some job search and interviewing skills not covered when I attended a trade school. It was a while ago and things may have changed or may have varied among trade schools. That’s possible; however, I feel that I will be graduating from Cabrini with better job-hunting skills at this point.
In my career prep class, we are taught to turn our skills around and apply it to how they would benefit the employer. We are given great scenarios and mock interviews to learn from; portfolios are prepared along the way as extra interview tools. Guest speakers, sometimes former Cabrini students, come to provide a wealth of tips. One example is Rich DeMatteo, founder of Corn On The Job, who recently tweeted a list of top-notch questions to ask an interviewer.
My path toward attending a 4-year college finally began to take shape after going through the associates degree level. During my time at Delaware County Community College, I was at a crossroads in the workforce. I began taking on my classes full-time toward a career change when I found an interest in communications and where I first wrote for a campus publication.
This brings me to some specific academic and intellectual reasons for why I prefer 4-year colleges over trade schools. First, there’s involvement with Cabrini’s communication department. Any student who has frequented the communications wing of Founders Hall heading for the radio station, newsroom or video production studio knows how interactive and hands-on it is. Along with campus media, a 4-year college also provides many other ways to be a part of the interaction and go beyond your comfort zone.
Some students will be going abroad in spring 2012 to apply their studies, specifically graphic design, to visual culture in the historic city of London. Twice since last spring, I traveled to New York City on CAP Board excursions to take in Broadway shows. I found that I really enjoy the atmosphere in Times Square and the Theatre District, and began looking into the history of a theatre or two. Beyond my major at Cabrini, I found new interests from the off-campus experiences offered here.
Experiences such as studying abroad or even regional city excursions were not offered through the trade school I attended. The main reason being that there would not have been the budget to do so, since they don’t offer the full range of academics and experiences. Therefore, tuition is lower and they have less money coming in than colleges and universities.
It’s the combination of stronger career prep, intellectual courses and exciting off-campus opportunities that support my 4-year college persuasion. Through those, it’s been easier to meet people who have the same intellectual interests. While the 4-year college costs more, it provides many more life experiences that will be valuable for years to come. Some life experiences are beneficial to society as well, such as the service trips offered by Cabrini and CRS.
The trade school life experience as I knew it amounted to: go to work, go to class, 15-minute break of socializing and getting a snack, more class time, go home. It never seemed like there was a sense of students relating through interests beyond the classroom, what with the lack of extracurriculars. Trade schools have been and are the much cheaper, quicker path to a career; in tough economic times, that appeal is bound to grow.
Now that Cabrini has found a way to lower the tuition and also keep the merit scholarships, I’ve heard a few opinions. I will be graduating before the lower tuition goes into effect. However, I agree with those that see it as a positive because it will make Cabrini more accessible to future students. They won’t be scared off by a tuition of, for example, $35,000 (not counting room and board) that increases every year. This news is rare among the many stories reported about college tuition hikes.

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Carol Dwyer

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