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What pays the most without a degree?

10 High Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree

You don’t need a college degree to earn a high salary. We’ve listed 10 jobs that pay well that don’t require a degree.

Heather Mullinix
Heather Mullinix
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Heather Mullinix is an award-winning journalist and writer living in Tennessee. She writes about education, government, healthcare, and the outdoors. She graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Kelly Thomas
Kelly Thomas
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Kelly Thomas is an editor with BestColleges and specializes in alternative education. She covers topics like coding bootcamps and the tech industry, as well as skilled trades and certifications. She holds a BA in political science from the University.

Updated March 21, 2023
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8 min read

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  • Companies reduced degree requirements for 46% of middle-skill jobs from 2017-19.
  • The average student pays over $35,000 each year to attend college.
  • Many factors impact earning potential, including location.
  • You may need some post-secondary training or education.

While earning a college degree can help you prepare for high-paying careers, you can find many jobs that pay well that don’t require a degree. Many companies have eliminated degree requirements, focusing instead on candidates’ skills as businesses compete for workers.

According to Harvard Business Review, companies reduced their educational requirements for 46% of middle-skill positions from 2017-19. These jobs still require some post-secondary training but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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That’s good news for many people concerned about the cost of attending college. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, students in the U.S. paid an average of $13,900 at public institutions and $27,200 at private nonprofit institutions for tuition, fees, supplies, and living expenses in 2018-19. Those costs can linger, with many graduates spending years paying off student loans.

Many factors impact how much you can expect to earn in the workforce. Where you live, your work experience, and your chosen field can all lead to higher pay. The careers listed below usually offer relatively high pay without requiring a four-year degree.

High Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year Degree

Air Traffic Controller

Air traffic controllers ensure aircraft keep a safe distance from other aircraft and potential hazards. These individuals work in airport control towers, particularly near large airports. Others may work from secure offices across the country to assist pilots en route to a location. Most work for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a federal agency.

Because air traffic requires the expertise of its controllers around the clock, these individuals may work day, evening, or night shifts and work weekends and holidays. Three years of work experience, a bachelor’s degree, or a combination of work and education qualify you for this position. The Air Traffic Collegiate Training Initiative offers two- or four-year degree paths with a curriculum focused on aviation topics. Trainees must enter the FAA Academy no later than their 31st birthday.

Commercial Pilot

Commercial pilots operate aircraft, transporting people or goods from place to place. They prepare and file flight plans and check aircraft mechanical and fuel systems before taking off. While in flight, they monitor systems and communicate with air traffic control. They must respond to emergencies and changing weather and navigate the plane to its destination.

Commercial pilots earn their wings through training and experience, with many attending certified flight schools. The FAA governs pilot training and certification. Pilots begin with private pilot licenses and continue to log flight time, documenting various maneuvers and procedures as they progress through pilot certifications. Pilots must meet age requirements and pass a physical exam.

Construction Manager

Construction manager oversee construction projects from cost estimates and work schedules through final inspections. They work closely with architects and engineers to ensure the project meets building requirements. They may also supervise subcontractors working on building, masonry, electrical systems, or plumbing. The manager ensures the company secures necessary permits and completes any required building inspections.

Construction managers often bring several years of experience in construction to their position. Some individuals earn an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in construction management that supplements their work experience. Some companies offer on-the-job training under the supervision of an experienced manager.

Elevator Installer and Repairer

Elevators require proper installation and regular maintenance to transport individuals safely. Because these systems require specialized knowledge and skills, elevator installers and repairers focus their training on these mechanical and computerized systems.

Training takes place through an apprentice program, but repairers and installers must participate in ongoing training to stay up-to-date on changing technology. Most states require a license to work on an elevator system, and you can earn professional certifications.

Most elevator installers and repairers work as building equipment contractors. It’s a physically demanding job. You will work in cramped areas in hot and cold environments and at high altitudes. While many tasks occur during scheduled hours, elevator repairers may respond to emergencies.

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IT Manager

These computer professionals help organizations build and maintain information systems and computer networks. They install hardware and software and serve as a resource to identify problems and find solutions. IT managers often oversee a staff of technicians that perform repairs or maintenance.

While many IT managers may earn a degree in computer science, an associate degree or industry certifications and relevant work experience can qualify individuals for these positions. Most managers work full-time in an office setting.


Morticians and funeral directors work directly with families to plan the details of the funeral. They also embalm bodies and perform cosmetic work to prepare remains for viewing by family and friends. The funeral director often coordinates details of the funeral service, including arranging for clergy and pallbearers, scheduling the opening and closing of graves for burial, and writing an obituary.

Prospective morticians can study mortuary science or funeral service as part of an associate degree program. Students may gain experience by working part time for a funeral home. Training may also include an apprenticeship. In addition to training and educational programs, morticians must pass a state licensing exam.

Nuclear Power Plant Operator

Nuclear power plant operators adjust control rods to regulate how much power a nuclear reactor produces. They monitor the reactors, generators, turbines, and cooling systems, collecting data and reporting and responding to abnormalities. About 5,300 nuclear power reactor operators were employed in 2020, most working for utility companies.

Training for these positions typically involves on-the-job technical training. Nuclear power plant operators must pass the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s licensing exam. Ongoing training ensures operators can use new monitoring systems. Many utility companies require background and security checks on all employees, especially nuclear power plants.

Product Manager

Product managers supervise the manufacturing or production of a specific product. They may work in software development, marketing, manufacturing, or other fields, and job requirements vary by field. Some product managers hold a degree in business or a related field. Others gain the experience necessary through working for a company and taking on leadership roles.

The product manager ensures production quality, manages a budget, and maintains production timelines. They need problem-solving skills, time-management skills, interpersonal skills, and leadership skills.

Radiation Therapist

Radiation can treat a variety of cancers and tumors. Radiation therapists work as part of a patient’s treatment team to deliver this critical therapy safely and effectively. The therapists explain treatment plans to patients and their families, calibrate machines, monitor the patient’s reactions, and keep detailed notes of all treatment sessions. About 65% of radiation therapists work for hospitals.

Radiation therapists possess good interpersonal skills, technical skills, and physical stamina. Training includes study in human anatomy, computer science, and mathematics, typically in a one-year, two-year, or four-year program. Most states require radiation therapists to pass a national certification exam and maintain state certification.

Real Estate Agent

Real estate agents help connect buyers and sellers of real property, such as homes, land, and commercial buildings. Many agents work for themselves or under the direction of a real estate broker. They often can set their schedule but may work irregular hours to meet with clients. They help sellers market their property, advising on property pricing, staging, and advertising. They also show properties to potential buyers and negotiate purchase terms.

Real estate agents must pass a state exam and maintain a state license. Community colleges, real estate companies, and educational service providers offer courses that can help prepare you for the state exam. Topics include fair housing laws, legal descriptions, real estate ethics, mortgage lending, and listing agreements. Many courses require a few months to complete.

Frequently Asked Questions About Jobs That Don’t Require a 4-Year Degree

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What are the easiest high-paying jobs?

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According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), healthcare offers most of the highest-paying careers. But these fields, such as physicians, surgeons, and psychiatrists, require years of education and training and often require working in high-stress situations.

The 2019 CareerCast Jobs Rated report found several high-paying jobs without a degree requirement that ranked among the least stressful careers. Diagnostic medical sonographers earned the top spot. BLS projects a 14% growth in employment for these medical imaging specialists from 2020-30, with a median salary of $70,380. Training requires an associate degree or postsecondary certificate.

What are fun jobs that don’t require a degree?

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Every job comes with challenges, but finding a job you enjoy can make even challenging work fun. Many people find careers that align with their hobbies or interests. If you enjoy working out and helping people meet their goals, a career as a personal trainer may interest you. Massage therapists can help improve their client’s physical and mental well-being without spending years in school.

Creative people may find career happiness as graphic designers, game designers, or social media managers. Shutterbugs could make their hobby pay by working as a freelance photographer.

Many fields offer rewarding and exciting careers and jobs that pay well that don’t require a degree, especially the technology field. You can find training for these careers through online providers like Google or by enrolling in a coding bootcamp.

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While you can find high-paying jobs without a degree, most careers require some training after high school. In 2018, 70% of jobs required some postsecondary training, increasing from 59% in 2010. Postsecondary training can include certificate programs, short-term courses, or apprenticeships. Many trade schools offer training in high-demand fields.

Electrical and electronics installers and repairers top the list of jobs that pay well that don’t require a degree, with a median salary of $62,020. Workers in the powerhouse, substation, and relay industry earn more, $85,340.

Truck drivers can earn their commercial driver’s license in a few months. They earn a median salary of $47,130. The American Trucking Association estimated the industry needed about 80,000 drivers in 2021 to meet industry demands. Truck drivers must meet specific training, certification, and physical requirements and need a clean driving record.

Feature Image: Maskot / Maskot / Getty Images

10 High-Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year College Degree

Alison Doyle is one of the nation’s foremost career experts.

Updated on December 3, 2022

Colleagues discussing in office

Are you seeking a high-paying job, but don’t want to invest in a four-year or graduate degree? You don’t need to have a college degree to get a good job. There is a new kind of job that emphasizes skills over education and work experience.

“New-collar jobs,” also known as “middle-skill jobs,” are those that require certain hard skills, but do not necessarily require a four-year college degree (or an extensive work history). Often, employees can get the skills they need for the job through vocational training, a certificate program, an apprenticeship, or a two-year degree program.


These skill-based jobs can be found in a variety of industries. They are particularly common in service, healthcare, transportation, information technology (IT), and manufacturing.

Hospitals, state governments, schools, manufacturers, IT companies, and other organizations have begun to search for employees with the right skills, rather than the right degree. Some companies even offer paid training programs for job candidates, which are like apprenticeships.

Key Takeaways

  • “New-collar jobs” are those that require certain hard skills, but not necessarily a bachelor’s degree.
  • Depending on the role, you may need to invest in an associate degree or certification.
  • Some new-collar jobs offer higher pay and a better occupational outlook than others.

10 High-Paying Jobs That Don’t Require a Four-Year College Degree

01 of 11

Computer Programmer

Computer programmers create, write, and test code that allows computer programs and applications to function. They typically need to know a variety of computer languages, including Java and C++. They might work for a computer systems design company, or they could work for software publishers or financial companies, among others. Because this work is done on the computer, many programmers telecommute, which allows for flexibility.

While many computer programmers do have a bachelor’s degree, some only need an associate degree or extensive experience in coding. Programmers can also become certified in specific programming languages, so these certificates can also help a job candidate get hired. Another option is to get the skills you need to get hired by attending a bootcamp.

02 of 11

Computer Security Analyst

A computer security analyst (also known as an information security analyst) helps protect an organization’s computer networks and systems.

Some employers want analysts with a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field, and sometimes they even want candidates with a master’s degree in information systems. However, some companies are emphasizing skills in computer science, programming, and IT security over a specific degree.

03 of 11

Computer Support Specialist

A computer support specialist provides help for people and companies with their computer equipment and/or software. They might help IT employees within an organization or help non-IT users with their computer problems. They help people in person, over the phone, or online.

Computer support specialists generally do not need a college degree. Instead, they need computer knowledge, as well as communication and people skills. Often, they need to have taken a couple of computer or IT courses or have an associate degree. Some companies require their computer support specialists to go through a certification program.

04 of 11

Database Manager

A database manager (also known as a database administrator) is someone who A database manager (also known as a database administrator) is someone who stores and organizes data using specialized software. He or she makes sure that data is secure and available to the people who need access to it. Database managers can work in almost any industry, but they typically work for companies in computer systems design and support.

While some database manager jobs require a bachelor’s or master’s degree in management information systems, some employers look for database managers who simply have strong knowledge of database languages, such as Structured Query Language (SQL).

05 of 11

Diagnostic Medical Sonographer

Also known as an ultrasound technician, a diagnostic medical sonographer works under the direction of a physician to produce ultrasound images for patients. Medical sonographers work in hospitals, doctor’s offices, medical centers, and laboratories.

While some people have a bachelor’s degree in sonography, there are also associate degrees and one-year certificate programs.


This job is experiencing faster than average (10%) job growth, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook.

06 of 11

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Network and computer systems administrators install and operate computer systems for companies. Because almost every industry has network and computer systems, these administrators work in every field, from IT to finance to education.

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While some network and computer systems administrator jobs require a bachelor’s degree, more and more job openings require only a postsecondary certificate and strong computer skills.

07 of 11

Pharmacy Technician

A pharmacy technician assists pharmacists with dispensing medications to customers and/or health professionals. Most of them work in pharmacies and drug stores, but others work at hospitals or in private practices.

Because most pharmacy technicians learn through on-the-job training, a four-year degree is generally not required. Many vocational/technical schools offer programs in pharmacy technology, some of which award students with a certificate after a year or less.

08 of 11

Radiologic Technician

Also known as radiographers, radiologic technicians perform X-rays and other diagnostic imaging on patients. They work under physicians, taking images requested by physicians, and helping physicians evaluate images. They work in hospitals, physicians’ offices, laboratories, and outpatient care centers.

Most radiologic technicians have an associate degree in MRI or radiologic technology. These programs typically take 18 months to two years to complete. There are also certificate programs that take one to two years.

09 of 11

Service Delivery Analyst

A service delivery analyst ensures that clients receive high-quality service. He or she analyzes how services are being delivered, and how they can be improved. He or she typically uses software to track the quality and efficiency of the user’s experience. While the requirements of service delivery analyst jobs vary by industry, the analyst generally needs strong computer skills.

Service delivery analyst jobs require experience in the industry, as well as knowledge of the service delivery software the company uses (this can sometimes be learned on the job). However, the job generally does not require a four-year degree.

10 of 11

Tool-and-Die Maker

Tool-and-die makers are a type of machinist that sets up and operates various mechanically and machine-controlled tools used to produce tools needed for the manufacturing process.

These workers can learn through apprenticeship programs, vocational schools, technical colleges, or on-the-job training. If the job involves computer-controlled machinery, a tool-and-die maker might need more IT coursework or IT experience.

11 of 11

More New-Collar Jobs

Below is a list of job that don’t require a four-year degree, including those described above. The list is organized by industry. Look through the list and see if there is a new-collar job that is right for you.

New-Collar Healthcare Jobs

  • Cardiovascular Technician
  • Cardiovascular Technologist
  • Dental Hygienist
  • Diagnostic Medical Sonographer
  • Medical Records and Health Information Technician
  • Occupational Health/Safety Specialist
  • Occupational Therapy Aide
  • Pharmacy Technician
  • Physical Therapy Aide
  • Radiologic Technician
  • Radiologic Technologist
  • Respiratory Therapist
  • Surgical Technologist

New-Collar IT Jobs

  • Business Intelligence Analyst
  • Cloud Administrator
  • Computer Network Architect
  • Computer Programmer
  • Computer Security Analyst
  • Computer Support Specialist
  • Computer Systems Engineer
  • Cybersecurity Architect
  • Database Administrator
  • Information Security Analyst
  • Network Administrator
  • Network Support
  • Service Delivery Analyst
  • Server Technician
  • Software Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Software Quality Assurance Analyst
  • Software Quality Assurance Tester
  • Systems Support
  • Technical Sales Assistant

New-Collar Manufacturing Jobs

  • Blender/Mixer Operator
  • CAD Drafter
  • Chemical Operator
  • CNC Operator
  • CNC Programmer
  • Computer-Controlled Machine Tool Operator
  • Electrical/Electronics Repairer
  • Electromechanical and Industrial Engineering Technician
  • Grinder/Sharpener
  • Machinist
  • Manufacturing Machine Operator
  • Manufacturing Production Technician
  • Molding/Casting Worker
  • Plant Operator
  • Printing Press Operator
  • Production Supervisor
  • Quality Control Inspector
  • Security Manager
  • Tool-and-Die Maker
  • Warehouse Supervisor
  • Water Treatment Specialist
  • Manufacturing Machine Operator
  • Manufacturing Production Technician
  • Press Brake Operator
  • Water Treatment Specialist
  • Welder/Solderer

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What jobs pay the most money without requiring a bachelor’s degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several jobs pay a median annual salary of $80,000 per year or more and do not require a bachelor’s degree. Air traffic controllers, nuclear technicians, and radiation therapists can begin their careers with an associate degree. Captains, commercial pilots, electronics repairers, makeup artists, and ship engineers can get started with a postsecondary nondegree award.

Can I make a six-figure salary without a degree?

With the right experience and training, you can earn a six-figure salary without a bachelor’s degree. However, you should be prepared to invest time and energy in an apprenticeship, associate degree, certification, or extensive on-the-job training. Per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, several occupations offer six-figure salaries for experienced, trained workers. These jobs include air traffic controller, commercial pilot, makeup artist, nuclear technician, and radiation therapist.

High-paying jobs that don’t need a college degree? Thousands of them sit empty

In 2018, Garret Morgan (center) was training as an ironworker near Seattle. Five years later, he says he made the right career choice: «I’m loving it every day.» Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report hide caption

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Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report

In 2018, Garret Morgan (center) was training as an ironworker near Seattle. Five years later, he says he made the right career choice: «I’m loving it every day.»

Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report

This is an updated version of a story we originally published in 2018, with new reporting, and data and statistics, that reflect 2023 conditions.

Like most other American high school students, Garret Morgan had it drummed into him constantly: Go to college. Get a bachelor’s degree.

«All through my life it was, ‘If you don’t go to college you’re going to end up on the streets,’ » Morgan said back in 2018. «Everybody’s so gung-ho about going to college.»

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So he tried it for a while. Then he quit and started training as an ironworker, which is what he was doing on a weekday morning in a nondescript high-ceilinged building with a concrete floor in an industrial park near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Morgan and several other men and women were dressed in work boots and hard hats, clipped to safety harnesses with heavy wrenches hanging from their belts. They were being timed as they wrestled 600-pound I-beams into place.

Back then, the demand for ironworkers was rising – and it still is: the sector is growing 4% annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Ironworkers earn, on average, $27.48 per hour, or $57,160 per year. Morgan was already working on a job site when he wasn’t at the Pacific Northwest Ironworkers shop. At 20, he was earning $28.36 an hour, plus benefits.

Five years later, he’s on the job full time, working «six-10s» — industry lingo for 10 hours a day, six days a week. He helped build the Rainier Square Tower in Seattle and a data center for Microsoft. «I’m loving it every day,» he said. «It was absolutely the right choice.

As for his friends from high school? «Someday maybe they’ll make as much as me.»

In 2018, ironworkers practiced tying rebar at the Iron Workers Local Union #86 Administrative Offices in Tukwila, Wash. Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report hide caption

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Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report

Raising alarms

While a shortage of workers pushes wages higher in the skilled trades, the financial return from a bachelor’s degree is softening, even as the price, and the average debt into which it plunges students, remain high.

But high school graduates have been so effectively encouraged to get a bachelor’s that high-paid jobs requiring shorter and less expensive training are going unfilled. This affects those students and also poses a real threat to the economy.

«Parents want success for their kids,» Mike Clifton, who taught machining for more than two decades at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology before retiring, said in 2018. «They get stuck on [four-year bachelor’s degrees], and they’re not seeing the shortage there is in tradespeople until they hire a plumber and have to write a check.»

The Washington State Auditor found in 2017 that good jobs in the skilled trades were going begging because students are being almost universally steered to bachelor’s degrees. Recent labor statistics suggest that’s still the case – in Washington State and around the country.

President Biden, in his State of the Union address this month, spoke of «jobs paying an average of $130,000 a year, and many do not require a college degree.»

Among other things, the Washington auditor recommended that career guidance — including choices that require less than four years in college — start as early as the seventh grade.

«There is an emphasis on the four-year university track» in high schools, Chris Cortines, who co-authored the report, said after it was issued. Yet, nationwide, nearly three out of 10 high school grads who go to four-year public universities haven’t earned degrees within six years, the most recent figures from the National Student Clearinghouse show. At four-year private colleges, that number is nearly one in five.

«Being more aware of other types of options may be exactly what they need,» Cortines said. In spite of a perception that college «is the sole path for everybody,» he said, «when you look at the types of wages that apprenticeships and other career areas pay, and the fact that you do not pay four years of tuition and you’re paid while you learn, these other paths really need some additional consideration.»

And it’s not just in Washington state.

Today, nearly 90% of construction companies nationwide are having trouble finding qualified workers, according to the Associated General Contractors of America; in Washington, the proportion is 88%. Ironworkers remain in particularly short supply, along with drywall installers and sheet metal workers.

The $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure plan – Biden’s signature legislation passed by Congress in 2021 – will create 1.5 million construction jobs per year for the next 10 years, the White House says, boosting the share of all jobs that are connected with rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure from 11% to 14%, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Median wages for construction jobs are higher than the median pay for all jobs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

«The economy is definitely pushing this issue to the forefront,» Amy Morrison Goings, president of the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, which educates students in these fields, said in 2018. «There isn’t a day that goes by that a business doesn’t contact the college and ask the faculty, ‘who’s ready to go to work?’ «

Amy Morrison Goings, president of the Lake Washington Institute of Technology, said in 2018: «There isn’t a day that goes by that a business doesn’t contact the college and ask the faculty who’s ready to go to work.» Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report hide caption

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Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report

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In all, some 30 million jobs in the United States that pay an average of $55,000 per year don’t require bachelor’s degrees, according to the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Yet the march to bachelor’s degrees continues. And while people who get them are more likely to be employed and make more money than those who don’t, that premium appears to be softening; their inflation-adjusted median earnings were lower in 2018, the most recent year for which the figure is available, than in 2010.

«There’s that perception of the bachelor’s degree being the American dream, the best bang for your buck,» said Kate Blosveren Kreamer, deputy executive director of Advance CTE, an association of state officials who work in career and technical education. «The challenge is that in many cases it’s become the fallback. People are going to college without a plan, without a career in mind, because the mindset in high school is just, ‘Go to college.’ «

It’s not that finding a job in the trades, or even manufacturing, means needing no education after high school. Most regulators and employers require certificates, certifications or associate degrees. But those cost less and take less time than earning a bachelor’s degree.

Tuition and fees for in-state students to attend a community or technical college in Washington State, for example, came to less than half the cost last year of a four-year public university, and less than a fifth of the price of attending the cheapest private four-year college.

Washington is not the only state nudging students into education for the trades. At least 39 states have taken steps to encourage career and technical education, and many have increased funding for it, a 2017 Brookings Institution review found.

At the federal level, legislation introduced in Congress in January would make some short-term workforce programs eligible for federal Pell Grants. «For too long, the college-for-all mentality drove Americans toward expensive and often ineffective education pathways,» its sponsors said. «As our country stares down a historic worker shortage, fewer Americans are getting the skills they need to be successful.»

The branding issue

Money isn’t the only issue, advocates for career and technical education say. An even bigger challenge is convincing parents that it leads to good jobs.

«They remember ‘voc-ed’ from when they were in high school, which is not necessarily what they aspire to for their own kids,» Kreamer said. Added Kairie Pierce, apprenticeship and college director for the Washington State Labor Council of the AFL-CIO: «It sort of has this connotation of being a dirty job. ‘It’s hard work — I want something better for my son or daughter.’ «

Matthew Dickinson, 21, asks a classmate for help as they rebuild an automatic transmission back in 2018 in a class at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report hide caption

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Sy Bean/The Hechinger Report

The Lake Washington Institute of Technology, about 20 miles from Seattle, changed its name from Lake Washington Technical College, said Goings, its president, to avoid being stereotyped as a vocational school.

These perceptions fuel the worry that, if students are urged as early as the seventh grade to consider the trades, then low-income, first-generation students, and students of color will be channeled into blue-collar jobs while wealthier and white classmates are pushed by their parents to get bachelor’s degrees.

«When CTE was vocational education, part of the reason we had a real disinvestment from the system was because we were tracking low-income and minority kids into these pathways,» Kreamer said. «There is this tension between, do you want to focus on the people who would get the most benefit from these programs, and — is that tracking?»

In a quest for prestige and rankings, and to bolster real-estate values, high schools also like to emphasize the number of their graduates who go on to four-year colleges and universities.

Jessica Bruce enrolled in community college after high school for one main reason: because she was recruited to play fast-pitch softball. «I was still trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life,» she said.

But she «couldn’t quite figure it out,» she says today. She was an apprentice ironworker in 2018, making $32.42 an hour, or more than $60,000 a year, while continuing her training. At 5-foot-2, «I can run with the big boys,» she said at the time, laughing.

Five years later, now 46, she’s starting a job installing 500 tons of rebar for a Boeing hangar near Seattle, working mostly outside, which she likes. She’s also back in school, of sorts, taking online courses to get her certification to become a fitness instructor as a side gig. And she’s bought a Harley.

Bruce says she has «absolutely no regrets,» herself. As for her own daughter, who’s 15, «if it’s college then it’s college,» she says. «I fully support that.» But students now in high school «are becoming maybe a little bit more aware» of the potential for making good money in the trades, she added. «I know my daughter is aware. I’ve told her there’s every kind of trade out there.»

The original 2018 version of this story was co-reported with Ashley Gross of KNKX.

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