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Trade programs — unlike other areas of higher education — are in hot demand

Trade programs — unlike other areas of higher education — are in hot demand

The Hechinger Report

Olivia Sanchez
April 17, 2023
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most of the guys come straight to the shop each afternoon. After long shifts at supermarkets and home improvement stores, they make their way to southwest Nashville just before 4 p.m., sometimes still in uniform, and pull into a massive parking lot shared by the local community college and the Nashville branch of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, or TCAT.
Some might rev their engines and do a few laps around the mostly clear lot first, but they all eventually take a right toward the garage.
There, as the sun begins to set on a 70-degree February day, the students in the auto collision repair night class are preparing to spend the next five hours studying.
One is sanding the seal off the bed of his 1989 Ford F-350, preparing to repaint. Another, in his first trimester, is patiently hammering out a banged-up fender, an assignment that may take him weeks. Another, who has strayed in from the welding shop, is trying to distract the guys in the program he graduated from months before.
Some others linger around a metal picnic table in the parking lot, sipping cool sugary drinks and poking fun at each other’s projects. Among them is 26-year-old Cheven Jones, taking a break from working on his 2003 Lexus IS 300.
While almost every sector of higher education is seeing fewer students registering for classes, many trade school programs are booming. Jones and his classmates, seeking certificates and other short-term credentials, not associate degrees, are part of that upswing.
Mechanic and repair trade programs saw an enrollment increase of 11.5 percent from spring 2021 to 2022, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Enrollment in construction trades courses increased by 19.3 percent, while culinary program enrollment increased 12.7 percent, according to the Clearinghouse. Meanwhile, enrollment at public two-year colleges declined 7.8 percent, and enrollment at public four-year institutions dropped by 3.4 percent, according to the Clearinghouse.
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