Alternative Higher Education Could Technical education be the solution to the student loan crisis?

Technical School Graduate Offered Full Time Job out of High School

Nick Catania had an unusual problem. He couldn’t go to his choice college, let alone pursue his choice major, but for an unusual reason: he was offered a full time job with benefits right out of high school.

Catania is one of many students to graduate from a technical high school in 2016. While there, he studied Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) while still meeting all state-required high school coursework.

Nick Catania at Sussex County Community College. (Photo by: Megan McGaha)
“Carbon G, Electrical, Graphic Design, Information Technology, Engineering... they’re all things that you can get a job right out of high school with,” said Catania.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), public technical schools account for just 3.7% of all public high schools, enrolling on average the same number of students (204) per grade as regular high schools (209.2).

“Most kids don’t take what technical schools have to offer,” said Catania.

“Of the 3.0 million recent high school completers in 2015, some 2.1 million, or 69 percent, enrolled in college by the following October," according to the NCES. "Of those students, “about 44 percent of high school completers enrolled in a 4-year college and 25 percent enrolled in a 2-year college.”

In the year after high school, students expect to be paying thousands of dollars a year in loans, scholarships, and out of pocket to keep a dorm roof over their heads to pursue their career, but Catania is eighteen-years-old and working full time while attending college to pursue his. But he’s not the only working student.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “About 2 in 3 recent high school graduates enrolled in college attended 4-year colleges. Of these students, 29.5 percent participated in the labor force, compared with 47.3 percent of recent graduates enrolled in 2-year colleges.”

The Sussex County Community College business student originally planned on attending PennTech for their HVAC program, but switched gears when he was offered an HVAC job. Catania plans to use his degree to start his own HVAC business someday.

“I was already gonna go away to school for HVAC again so I just figured why not just take the job now and get a college degree in something else,” said Catania. “By the time I finish college in 4 years my student loans will be under $30,000 and I’ll already have most of it paid off. So it’s more efficient, I already have a job that is stable and I’m making a career out of it, and it just makes sense to nowadays.”
The average sum borrowed by 2012 graduates, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, was $26,400. The average income of Bachelor’s Degree holders age 25-34 in 2014 was $49,900.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for HVAC technicians in 2014 was $46,880 per year. That’s $22.54 per hour, and about $3,000 less per year than Bachelor’s Degree holders.

Catania said that PennTech, the Institution he had planned on attending, would have cost him $32,000 a year, and they don’t offer scholarships.

For a four-year program, he did the math: “You’re looking at over $100,000.”

Catania explained that his interest in HVAC is due to stability in the job market.

“These kids are going away and easily spending over $100,000 in student loans. They graduate, and there’s no jobs, everything’s backed up. I know a lot of kids who graduated college and can’t find anything and I didn’t want to be stuck in that.”

Catania said students need to get more creative about their options after high school.

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with going away to college but, you know more kids need to open their eyes to more options…” he said. “They just keep saying go away to college go away to college, well, that’s not the best option for everyone.”

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