A Different Degree of Wealth

Choosing the Right Education Path: Weighing Universities vs Technical Schools

Deciding between a traditional four-year university and a technical school is a pivotal choice that can shape your career and financial future. With millions of students enrolled or planning to enroll in U.S. degree-granting colleges and record tuition costs, understanding the differences between these educational paths is more important than ever. Here, we break down key factors such as enrollment trends, costs, scholarships, and career outcomes to help you make an informed decision about the future of your education.

Enrollment and Trends

In fall 2023, about 15.2 million students were undergraduates, with 8.5 million pursuing bachelor’s degrees, and approximately 3.1 million graduate students. Despite these large numbers, college enrollment has generally declined over the past 12 years. The COVID-19 pandemic significantly accelerated this trend, with total enrollment dropping by 4% from fall 2019 to fall 2023. Undergraduate enrollment fell by 5.6%, and community college enrollment saw a dramatic 12% decrease, while graduate enrollment increased by 4.8%.

This decline reflects a broader shift in how students are approaching higher education. As college costs rise and economic uncertainties persist, many students and families are rethinking the traditional four-year college path. This shift is particularly evident in the increasing appeal of technical schools, which offer a faster and often more affordable route to a career.

Cost Considerations

College costs have risen across both public and private institutions. For the 2023-2024 academic year, the average in-state tuition and fees at ranked public colleges stood at $10,662, significantly lower than the $42,162 average at private colleges. Out-of-state public college costs averaged $23,630. Despite substantial tuition discounts, the cost of education remains a significant burden. For example, Princeton University’s sticker price for 2022-2023 was $57,410, but need-based grants reduced the average cost to $17,464.

Tuition increases have moderated somewhat recently when adjusted for inflation, with private colleges seeing a 0.4% decrease and public schools showing declines of 2% for in-state students and 3% for out-of-state students. However, tuition inflation averaged 12% annually from 2010 to 2022. Students also face additional expenses like housing, food, and books, further straining their finances.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

Scholarships are a critical resource, providing funds that do not need to be repaid, unlike student loans. Forbes reports that recipients of private scholarships are more likely to graduate than those relying solely on loans. Scholarships significantly reduce student debt, with the average college student graduating with around $30,000 in loans, a figure that has increased by nearly 25% over the past decade. Scholarships also help offset the impact of public education funding cuts and promote equitable outcomes by targeting underrepresented communities and specific fields of study.

Scholarships can also alleviate the need for part-time jobs, allowing students to focus on their studies and potentially improve academic performance. They also cover additional educational expenses and provide networking opportunities through mentorship programs and professional development events. For example, the American Chemical Society Scholars Program offers financial aid and a professional network to minority students interested in chemistry.

Technical Schools vs. Universities

Choosing between a technical school and a four-year university involves considering your career goals, financial situation, and preferred learning style. Technical schools offer targeted training, certifications, and skills for those eager to start their careers promptly. Programs can be completed in as little as a year, leading to immediate employment with salaries ranging from $30,000 to $60,000 annually, and potentially higher with experience.

Conversely, university students often take an average of six years to graduate, accruing substantial debt. The average four-year college student graduates with more than $37,000 in debt, whereas technical school graduates might already be working and earning, avoiding high tuition costs and gaining a financial head start. Employment prospects also favor technical school graduates, who often find ample job opportunities and advancement potential in high-demand fields. In contrast, nearly half of university graduates struggle with underemployment or unemployment.

The learning experience at technical schools is hands-on and industry-focused, bypassing the broad and often theoretical coursework required at universities. This practical approach can be more engaging for students who prefer direct application of skills. Additionally, technical schools can offer some traditional college experiences, such as on-campus housing and student activities, providing a balanced approach for students seeking both career readiness and campus life.

Making the Decision

Ultimately, the choice between a technical school and a university depends on individual preferences and circumstances. Consider the following factors:


  • Cost and Financial Aid: Assess the total cost of education, including tuition, fees, and living expenses. Explore scholarship opportunities and financial aid packages.
  • Duration and Commitment: Determine how long you are willing to spend in school and whether you prefer a shorter, more focused program.
  • Career Goals: Research the job market for your chosen field and consider which educational path offers better employment prospects and salary potential.
  • Learning Style: Reflect on whether you prefer hands-on, practical training or a broader, more theoretical education.
  • Lifestyle: Consider the type of college experience you want, including campus life, extracurricular activities, and networking opportunities.


By carefully weighing these factors, you can choose the educational path that best aligns with your goals and sets you up for a successful and fulfilling career.

If you have any questions about education planning, give us a call.

Have a great weekend!

Sources: Located at the bottom of the article.

Copyright (C) 2021.  Ballentine Capital Advisors.  All rights reserved.

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Ballentine Capital Advisors
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College Enrollment Statistics in the U.S.

College Tuition Inflation Rate

See the Average College Tuition in 2023-2024

10 Reasons Why Scholarships Are Important

Technical Education vs. Four-Year College


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This material is prepared by Ballentine Capital Advisors for informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for personalized investment advice or as a recommendation or solicitation or any particular security, strategy, or investment product.

No representation is being made that any account will or is likely to achieve future profits or losses similar to those shown. You should not assume that investment decisions we make in the future will be profitable or equal the investment performance of the past. Past performance does not indicate future results.

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