Does Gen Z Want to Go to College? Educational Preferences of the Practical Generation

gen z skilled trade student

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While 9/11 may have been the defining moment for Millennials, COVID-19 is likely the most impactful event in the lives of Gen-Z so far.1 These are the now-teenagers and young adults who have watched older siblings and parents struggle from the effects of the Great Recession, and then experienced the economic crisis of the pandemic.1 Given these circumstances, Gen-Z has a largely practical mindset when it comes to money, including where they invest their educational dollars.1

How Does Gen Z Feel about College?

The pandemic has disrupted almost every facet of life for most people, including college plans for graduating or recently graduated high school students.2 In an ECMC survey of 3,000 Gen-Z teenagers across the time period of the pandemic, only 1 out of 4 students believed the traditional college path is the only way to get a good job.2 Only about half said they were planning to go to a four-year university.2

Many Gen-Z students coming of age in an uncertain economy want to avoid heaps of college debt and choose an educational career path that is likely to have a reasonable return on investment.2 The financial cost of education was the top concern for around half of students surveyed.2 In fact, one-third of students said that because of the pandemic, they are no longer going to a four-year university due to increased financial pressures.2

What Does Gen Z Want from College?

Gen-Z has a critical eye when it comes to investing in a college education: 44% of Gen-Z high schoolers surveyed by ECMC wanted to make sure they could land a solid job with the skills gained from their education.2 And unlike many of their predecessors, Gen-Z is open to taking in education in smaller bites than the 4-year traditional college path.3

Some trade schools offer training programs that are months rather than years long. For example, you can complete a welding training program in as little as 7 months at Tulsa Welding School (TWS).

StrataTech Education Group also conducted a pandemic-related survey across people who had considered enrolling in trade school or did enroll in trade school over 12 months of the pandemic. About one-third of those respondents were Gen-Z. This survey revealed that job demand and stability were important factors leading to trade school enrollment. One respondent said, “The pandemic has definitely raised the opinion of trade schools.” Another person said, “Skilled trades are more dependable as for job security and unlimited money potential.”4

Gen Z Knows Skills Matter

Because Gen-Z tends to approach life more pragmatically than perhaps some of their older counterparts, the term “blue collar” might not bother this generation as a whole.4

Both Gen-Z teenagers and Millennials share a value for meaningful work and passion.4 However, it might be a little easier for Gen-Z workers to understand that skilled trades workers, such as plumbers, electricians and HVAC technicians, perform meaningful work all of the time—maintaining America’s infrastructure, which is one of the backbones of society.4

Perhaps having rewarding work alongside job security (with the lowest possible college debt to get there) is the winning combination for Generation Z, who seem to be pretty worldly for their young age.4

Why Trade Schools Are Attractive

skilled trade graduate

2020 fall college enrollment was significantly lower than the previous year before the pandemic, finds an annual report from NSC Research Center.5 In fact, the enrollment gap in 2020 was 4.5 times larger than in 2019, which is an unprecedented one-year difference.5

To contrast, 57% of those who enrolled in a trade school or considered doing so over the past 12 months said that the pandemic was a motivating factor. This group shared a desire to have a more stable income stream and be considered an essential worker. The top two reasons that students enrolled in trade school during the pandemic were to gain real-life experience and have access to job placement programs after completing training.

Tulsa Welding School (TWS) offers an Alumni Association, which includes a networking site of job offers posted by Career Services and other alums. If you or your recent high school graduate might be interested in learning a trade, such as welding, HVAC or electrical wiring, call 1-855-806-4921 for information about trade school enrollment.

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