LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — College enrollment is falling across the country, but some trade schools are seeing a spike, including in the Midstate.
Enrollment at Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology is up 15 percent since the 2022-2023 school year. Officials say that is a sign careers in the trades are becoming more valuable.
“As we’ve been expanding our programs, those programs are filling up,” college president Pedro Rivera said.
At times, Rivera said they are filling up so fast, the college almost cannot keep up.
“We start to sweat for a minute because we’re filling up the lab, and we haven’t even put on that final coat of paint on the wall yet,” he said.
Since 2020, six of Thaddeus Stevens’ degree programs have doubled in size.
“We were filled to capacity I believe, with a waitlist of 37 people,” architecture technology instructor Tedd Williams said.
One of those programs is electro-mechanical technologies, where twins Kyle and Cole Younger are in their second year.
“We always loved taking things apart and just learning how things work,” Kyle said. The brothers said their father worked in the field, sparking their interested.
“I always thought that I’d be working with my hands,” Cole said.
That hands-on approach is one reason trade schools are attractive to so many students.
“I always knew I didn’t want to work in an office job, I love being outside and doing lots of different things,” Kyle said.
Another reason, Rivera said, is financial. Tuition is less than $10,000 a year, room and board is typically less than $6,000.
“We have minimal college debts for most of, practically all of our graduates,” Rivera said. According to the college, the average debt is $11,000.
A third positive to trade schools is the ability to easily land a job.
“I would say once you’ve gained experience in the field, you’re basically guaranteed a job,” Cole said.
Ninety-seven percent of Thaddeus Stevens students have a job placement after graduation.
“Our graduating seniors on average had 22 job opportunities,” Rivera said.
That demand from students and employers is only rising as the workforce ages.
“When those individuals retire, there’s going to be a huge need for skilled workforce,” Rivera said.
This increased demand does come with some challenges. Rivera said maintaining the labs and facilities can be costly. He said the college is working with the state to invest in continuing to expand their programs.