WACO, Texas — As the need for skilled trades workers is soaring nationwide, enrollment at trade programs across the country is following suit.
It comes as the overall enrollment at two and four-year colleges and universities is dropping, according to a recently-released report from the National Student Clearinghouse. Its research found that enrollment in both public and private institutions, full-time enrollment was down 3.8% between spring 2021 and spring 2022. It dropped 3.5% the year before.
Meanwhile, the study shows enrollment is surging in the areas of construction, mechanic technology and agriculture.
Nationwide enrollment at two-year institutions in construction trades programs is up 19.3%. In mechanic and repair technologies, enrollment is up 11.5%. In agriculture-related studies, enrollment is up 47.8%.
Texas State Technical College in Waco is seeing similar trends in its trade programs, as many retire and leave high demand for a new generation of workers.
"There's many folks that have carried that torch, carried the keys for quite some time," said Jerome Mendias, associate provost of TSTC's Waco campus. "But now it's time for new generations and so these are jobs that we just can't farm out, and in fact need to be Texans or folks from this area."
Many students, like 20-year-old Hayden Asbury, are making the switch from traditional four-year schooling to trade education. He decided to enroll in TSTC's diesel technology program.
"I kinda went out on a limb and when I got here I loved it immediately," Asbury said.
Students said the number of job opportunities and high pay are factors encouraging more and more students to turn to trade school.
"I personally was at such an advantage looking for a job because people need people like me," Asbury said.
He said stereotypes of trade schools may still be holding some people back from taking advantage of all of the benefits it has to offer.
"Personally, the big thing even deciding to come here was being comfortable with the idea that a lot of people have that I would be less educated. Which is not true, but it's still a stigma that's out there," he said.
That stigma, however, appears to be lessening as enrollment continues to trend upwards.