Attaining a college degree is the goal of most high school students. Unfortunately, college costs and student loan debt have exploded. For many Americans, higher education has become too expensive a prospect. Many college graduates are struggling to find jobs that pay enough to cover both living costs and an average student loan debt of $33,000.

Before committing to college, we believe students should take a serious look at a career in the trades, especially if the prospect of four more years of school doesn’t thrill them. For some, vocational training might be a far better guarantor of a stable, well-paying job than a college degree. And most trade vocations are desperately seeking skilled workers.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal caught our eye. “The New Vocational High School: An Innovative Campus and a Bistro” is the story of a public high school outside of Dallas that is taking “hands-on learning to a new level.” The Birdville Center of Technology and Advanced Learning (BCTAL) is a magnet school focusing on instructional partnerships with business and industry to train students for post-secondary careers and ensure they are ready to compete in a globally competitive workplace upon graduation.

The school serves about 1,700 students and focuses on job training for careers in 13 different areas — including agriculture, automotive, health-science, banking and law enforcement. All of the programs are housed on a sprawling 110,000-square-foot campus that includes a branch of a credit union staffed by students and a student-run bistro and bookstore. Admittance to BCTAL is granted on a first-come, first-served basis. Most of the programs have long waiting lists.

Depending on their career focus, many of the students intern with local businesses. Most are workforce-ready upon certification and graduates are in high demand.

Of course, college should always remain an option for students who want to attend. But for those who enjoy working with their hands, are anxious to enter the workforce or simply don’t relish the prospect of high debt, a high school model like BCTAL that graduates readily employable, vocationally trained young men and women seems a fascinating alternative worth exploring.

— Robin Beres

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