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Realistic Career Education

Vocational education is a fine way to prepare yourself for a job, in a world when too many young people can’t find employment. But the programs are not all good. Here’s how to tell the good from the bad.I will gladly admit to a bias when it comes to the two-year community college system. As a retired professor of business administration in California, I saw the real value of a community college education, first hand. Particularly in the vocational disciplines. Such institutions deliver of excellent, hands-on and low-cost instruction.These schools also provide a superior experience at a bargain price to transferring students. In addition, community colleges offer remedial instruction to those who require it. No, folks, if you have any beef with public education, in general, community colleges, as a rule should not be your target.Having said that. the question of private vocational or trade schools is an entirely different subject. These schools are for-profit businesses that for the most part also provide career education. The key phrase here is “for profit.”While I am a businessman and a former business educator, I do realize that the word profit is far from a dirty word. But after over 40 years in the investment/financial field, I realize that profit as a means to itself will not build lasting client relationships. Let’s leave banks and oil companies out of the conversation for obvious reasons.Some vocational (or trade) schools are more concerned with profit than providing the kind of training that should lead to a vocation.  Students are lured in with empty job placement guarantees and offer course credits that are worthless once a student tries to transfer to another school. Two years ago, ATI Enterprises, which once had 23 schools in five states, went bust a couple of years ago amid mounting investigations.By 2020, 66% of the job force will require at least some form of post-secondary education, according to a study by research groups PolicyLink and the Center for American Progress.Not only that, trade and vocational schools are more of an economic necessity than ever as middle-skill jobs – defined as jobs that require a high school diploma and some training or college, but not a four-year college degree – are in high demand.In Houston, for instance, a report from JP Morgan Chase found that middle-skill occupations represent the largest sector of the economy, with nearly 19,000 openings projected annually in the petrochemical and commercial and industrial construction sectors for the next few years.Meanwhile, four-year college costs have become staggeringly high. The staggering level of student debt, thanks to increasing tuition and other expenses, is a national disgrace.Trade schools are fairly widespread in the U.S., but there has been growing interest in the potential of apprenticeship programs to provide another pathway to affordable higher education.Apprenticeships, offered by businesses or schools working closely with business owners, give students on-the-job training rather than traditional classroom instruction. Students earn professional certificates upon completing their apprenticeship. There is a bipartisan effort in Congress aimed at providing tax credits to businesses that offer apprenticeship programs in the U.S.Prior to signing up for a vocational school, ask these questions:Are you accredited? Check to see whether the school is accredited by one of the 15 regional or national accrediting bodies, which the U.S. Department of Education has approved.Are you licensed by the state? Most states require specific programs at career colleges and technical schools to receive licenses from the proper board. If a program isn’t properly licensed, its graduates will have a difficult time finding work.  Ask which state agency handles a school’s licensing.  Call the agency and verify.Does it sound too good to be true? Be skeptical of any school that advertises degrees or certificates that require no actual work on your part. Likewise, don’t trust any institution that tells you they will 100% guarantee you a job after graduation.What are the total costs? Some vocational schools can cost even more than traditional four-year institutions, so watch out for programs that are prohibitively expensive. If you have to take out student loans to cover tuition, be sure the amount is manageable. The student loan default rates at for-profit institutions is 22%, compared to 13% at public institutions.Does the school have a history of complaints? Check with your state’s Attorney General's office, the Federal Trade Commission or the Better Business Bureau to see whether the school is the target of any complaints.Will this certificate or degree help me in the field? Ask professionals in the field you’re studying what certificates and training they needed to find a job. Not all trade school programs are created equal, and you may find that the certificate you earned doesn’t meet professional standards in your field.Follow AdviceIQ on Twitter at @adviceiq.Phillip Q. Shrotman is founder and president of Principal Planning Service, Inc. in Long Beach, Calif. He was a professor in the Business Division at Long Beach City College for over 29 years, where he held the position as Coordinator for Financial Planning and Insurance for the college. He holds a Community College Instructors Credential from the University of California at Los Angeles and a master’s from the University of San Francisco. He also holds the profession designations of General Securities Principal of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), Series 7 and 24. He has appeared as a guest on KABC Talk Radio and various television and radio programs.AdviceIQ delivers quality personal finance articles by both financial advisors and AdviceIQ editors. It ranks advisors in your area by specialty, including small businesses, doctors and clients of modest means, for example. Those with the biggest number of clients in a given specialty rank the highest. AdviceIQ also vets ranked advisors so only those with pristine regulatory histories can participate. AdviceIQ was launched Jan. 9, 2012, by veteran Wall Street executives, editors and technologists. Right now, investors may see many advisor rankings, although in some areas only a few are ranked. Check back often as thousands of advisors are undergoing AdviceIQ screening. New advisors appear in rankings daily.  

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