With low tuition price tags, nonexistent room and board costs and significantly reduced student fees, vocational training schools and technical colleges are cheaper than four-year institutions, but may be harder to pay for. Because vocational students have lower costs, they also have reduced fiscal need and therefore qualify for fewer and lower federal grants than four-year students, say the experts.
Some vocational students won’t qualify for need-based federal aid like the Pell Grant, but merit-based awards, dislocated worker assistance and other programs are available. Here are some waysto pay for vocational, technical and trade schools.
The government is bigger than FAFSA
Students should start the search for vocational aid by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid at www.fafsa.ed.gov, says Anne Falk, financial aid assistant for the South Hills School of Business & Technology in State College, Pa. Then they should check out other federally funded options.
“Vocational students are still eligible for the same federal grants and loans as four-year students, but they’re also eligible for funds through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program,” she says. “A lot of students have a large portion of their tuition at vocational schools paid for through those programs.”
Currently, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program provides dislocated workers who have lost their jobs to overseas competition up to 104 weeks of paid occupational training they can use to attend technical colleges as well as four-year institutions. As of this past January, the Department of Labor created two additional job training grants totaling $250 million to help dislocated and young workers transition into such “green” occupations as hybrid auto technicians, weatherization specialists, wind and energy auditors and solar panel installers. Workers who aren’t transitioning into a green field will be eligible for financial aid and low-cost retraining, too, says Veronica Meury, executive director and vice-president of Universal Technical Institute Foundation, the Phoenix-based funding arm of Universal Technical Institute vocational school.
“Through the Workforce Investment Act, there are vocational programs for disadvantaged youth, vets through the Veteran’s Administration and programs for the military and National Guard,” she says. “Representatives from the Native American community could qualify for extra money and free courses as well.”
To maximize their federal funding, future technical school students should first fill out the FAFSA form, then head to their local One-Stop Career Center for information on retraining opportunities. Making contact with your state department of labor can be beneficial as well. Certain states like Michigan have separate funds to train workers to fill high-demand occupations in the area.
Job Corps and apprenticeship programs
Younger workers who need more than just coursework may be able to find a helping hand through Job Corps or apprenticeship gigs, says Michael Thurmond, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor in Atlanta.
“The benefit there is that (apprenticeship) programs combine vocational training with on-the-job experience,” says Thurmond. “With an apprenticeship, the employer usually pays the student’s tuition and gives them a paid job so the student isn’t going into debt.”
The federal Office of Apprenticeships currently lists registered apprenticeships in more than 1,000 career fields, but Thurmond adds that students can also find additional opportunities through local labor unions.
Job Corps offers another alternative to paying your own vocational tuition. Available for low-income youth ages 16 through 24, Job Corps offers free on-the-job training in more than 100 technical areas ranging from heath care to manufacturing, as well as free courses at local community and vocational schools in select fields. Job Corps programs are free, last anywhere from eight months to two years and provide students with no-cost housing, health care, a living allowance, career counseling and, at some centers, child care. Information on programs and eligibility requirements is available at jobcorps.gov.
Specialized scholarships and loans
“Most students don’t realize that there are scholarships for vocational schools that four-year students aren’t eligible for,” says Meury. “Organizations like the Automotive Hall of Fame and The Home Depot offer strictly vocational scholarships.”
Meury advises students to start the hunt for free tuition by checking out scholarship search sites like Fastweb.com, contacting their vocational school to find out about institutional funds and investigating aid opportunities through large and small companies in their field. Students can also win scholarships based on how well they perform on certain career assessment tests including the VICA SkillsUSA test and through vocational competitions in their field offered through companies such as Ford and AAA.
If students can’t land scholarships, take out federal loans or afford school themselves, their options may be limited, says Falk.
“In the past few years, we’ve seen more private lenders back out of lending for students attending technical and two-year institutions,” she says.
While several major private lenders have stopped creating small loans for shorter degree and certificate programs, other organizations such as Sallie Mae still offer loans specifically for accredited technical, trade and vocational schools. Check out student loan rates at Bankrate.com.
“The money is out there for trade students, they just have to do their research and apply,” says Meury.