A new analysis by the Federal Reserve finds that college students who take on loans will have to pay back an average of $37,000 in debt. As our Matt Hunter reports, options like the local BOCES Career and Technical Education program offer a more affordable option.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Few things satisfy 18-year-old Xavier Jones more than working with his hands.

“It’s like the best feeling in the world," said Jones, a high school senior from Schuylerville. "You know, all of those itsy-bitsy pieces of taking it all apart and then being able to put it back together like that, to remember all of that is mind blowing.”

Focusing on heating and air conditioning, Jones has spent the past two years in the Washington-Saratoga-Warren-Hamilton-Essex (WSWHE) BOCES Career and Technical Education Program at the Donald F. Myers Education Center in Saratoga.

"We do plumbing, heating, cooling, all that kind of stuff,” Jones said during Friday morning’s class.

“I wish I had done in it high school,” classmate Ben Kent said.

A 27-year-old Navy veteran, Kent joined the program in September. Arriving at BOCES with a background in electrical work from his time in the military, he'll graduate in June with a job already lined up.

“It’s great; it’s wonderful,” said Kent, who’s married and has a young daughter. “It definitely helps me with my family, and the insecurities of not knowing where I was going to go after, it was a little stressful.”

Kent's ease at landing a job is not uncommon for BOCES grads, with many local employers reporting a shortage of skilled workers.

"A lot of people don’t want to do trades now, but it is very important,” Kent said.

"The skilled trades are really having a difficult time building their workforce," said Tony Muller, assistant superintendent for WSWHE BOCES.

BOCES offers courses in 19 disciplines ranging from construction and welding to cosmetology and culinary. Many graduates do pursue two- and four-year degrees after, but administrators say more students are treating a technical education as an affordable alternative to traditional college.

"These other opportunities are there as well, and we've seen an increase in our enrollment and support for the programs,” Muller said.

While he's already received offers for work right away, Jones says he'll join the Marine Corps Reserve and then pursue a four-year degree in plumbing and heating work. He credits BOCES for laying the foundation for his future career.

"Somebody coming in like this and learning it is going to be very useful for everyone,” Jones said.