University enrollment declines in Nebraska while trade school enrollment increases

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — University enrollment is down at four-year colleges, while trade school enrollment is up, according to a report from the National Student Clearinghouse.

At Southeast Community College, they’ve got a number of trade school programs from machining to auto mechanics.

Students said it really just boils down to cold hard cash.

Machining student Jacob Young said the idea that traditional universities are better than vocational schools no longer holds up.

“Talk to the plumber who makes $100,000 a year, and somebody goes to a 4-year school, graduates and there sitting in an office not even making close to that,” he said.

Peter Paul, a power sports mechanic student, echoed those sentiments.

“I’m actually paid to go here, I’m actually making money to go here,” Paul said.

The typical university student isn’t getting paid to go to school.

One thing that vocational schools offer is paid apprenticeships and sponsorships through outside organizations that have jobs ready and waiting for them when they graduate.

This could partially explain why enrollment has dropped by 8% nationally in 4-year programs.

In fact, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, there’s been a decline of 2.6% since 2021, according to a report from the college.

But it’s not the same for trade schools who have consistently seen a massive increase in enrollment over the last three years.

Southeast Community College has seen a 10% jump since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The school offers a number of trade programs that offer degrees for a tuition rate under $12,000 where students come out earning anywhere from $25 an hour, up to $37 an hour.

In fact, in many of the programs you can start earning $15 dollars an hour while training in school.

“It’s a good testament to the value of the vocational skill set, as things get more complicated and there are less people that can do those skills, the people that have that desire and ability are in a good spot,” said Kevin Uhler, the associate dean of instruction at SCC.

Uhler says the school focuses on giving students a marketable skill set, and if they are willing to work, the jobs are abundant.

Auto mechanic student Aubrey Clement said she chose a trade school because of the low cost, the high return on her investment and getting paid while learning.

“With this two-year program, I was able to get a sponsorship through my dealership,” she said. “I always told myself I’m not going to college unless I can get it all paid for in scholarships or something. So, the dealership ended up covering all of my tuition fees and some of my room and board. I’m able to work for them now and make money, so I’m getting paid to go to school. ”

The Associated Press reported that vocational schools may sound good, but they could have lasting effects on the economy, which is already facing labor shortages in fields that require four-year degrees.

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