Technical School or Traditional College: Which is The Right Choice For You?

Many parents, young adults, and high school counselors still have the misconception that a bachelor’s degree is the only ticket to a financially successful career. But as tuition costs continue to soar and the manufacturing industry faces a growing lack of skilled workers, does this theory remain valid? We contend that technical schools are viable alternatives to the 4-year college path.

Laser Precision is a strong believer in education. We encourage our workers to go back to school for certificates and degrees in their chosen field. However, it is our belief that a large number of high school students would benefit tremendously by earning technical certificates or associate degrees as the foundation of their career. This position is backed up by a large number of independent research reports. In this article, we will focus on the earning potential of students who follow both routes: technical school and college degree.

where would i succeed?

The first question to ask is whether a particular high school student is suited for higher education. Some individuals just do not have the aptitude or desire to attend a 4-year college. Their first love is working with their hands. Being directed away from something that gives them great satisfaction results in a staggering dropout rate. “The College Dropout Problem,” an article in Forbes magazine, states, “The sad reality is that far too many students invest scarce time and money pursuing a degree they never finish, frequently winding up worse off than if they’d never set foot on campus in the first place.” Many of these students, however, have tremendous talent in the technical arts. The chances are they would be more satisfied and successful pursuing a technical certificate or community college program.

the wage differential myth

What about the large difference in salaries commanded by college graduates versus their technically-oriented counterparts? This concept is often quoted, but research shows it is not as great as it would seem. A study by Korn Ferry published in Yahoo Financereports that “2019 college undergraduates in the United States will make on average $51,347 annually.” Compare that with a Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) Board report that states, “The median annual salary for those earning an Associate Degree [in 2019] was about $43,700.” The difference is only $7,647.

However, since the graduate with the Associate Degree enters the workforce two years earlier, they will have earned gross wages of $87,400 before their 4-year counterpart graduates. High school students who take advantage of career and technical education (CTE) can begin earning even sooner.

initial financial output and avoiding student loan debt

The statistics quoted above do not take the cost of education into account. The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) reports that the average annual tuition and fees for a Community College is $3,660 and $10,230 for a 4-year college. This does not include interest on loans. Again, high school students who move directly to the workforce from CTE programs with a certificate or credential incur no additional educational expense.

Upon graduation, most college students begin their careers with a financial deficit due to the cost of student loans. Lending Tree reports that (for 2018 graduates) 44.7 million Americans have student loan debt totaling $1.56 trillion. The same source states the average student loan debt per borrower is $32,731 and borrowers between the ages of 30 and 39 have the most student loan debt outstanding. Student loan payments during this time frame can compete with limited resources for mortgages, car payments and child-rearing costs. The strain is compounded in families where both spouses have degrees.


The student who enters the work force with fewer or no student loans has more disposable income immediately, can afford larger down payments for big ticket items and can begin saving for retirement much sooner. Everyday quality of life can also be greatly enhanced without a student loan accounting a large percentage of income.

There are still many intangibles regarding a career in manufacturing that are more subjective and perhaps can best be addressed by touring a modern fabrication shop and seeing what a constructive, nurturing environment it can be. But the numbers in this article speak for themselves. Financially, a career as a technical artist can be just as rewarding any office job.