More students are turning away from college. A recent report found a significant decrease in enrollment over the pandemic.
Local trade schools, though, have seen their numbers stay steady.
At Erie 1 BOCES, there's a new trade around every corner. It serves about 1,500 to 2,000 students every year.
"I was honestly tired of working dead end jobs and not having a career," said Jordan Gates, a BOCES electrical program student. "I'm good working with my hands, so I’d decided to sign up."
According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, undergraduate enrollment over the past two years went down 6.5%.
"I was going to college before. I had about like 89 credit hours, but I have family obligations. I have a wife, I have a kid," said BOCES electrical program student Anthony DiMaria. "So to continue in college would have been too much of a stress because I had another like two or three years."
Here was a class full of people who aren’t going the college route, because it’s not for everyone.
"All of our programs are very short term in length," explained Christa McHale, the director of educational partnerships and workforce development at Erie 1 BOCES. "They're also very low cost, so students can finish the program in less than a year and be ready and prepared to enter the world of work."
That exactly what these electrical students want.
"Everything I've learned here from like, day one, has been really practical," said BOCES electrical program student Ethan Johnson.
The electrical, cosmetology and barbering programs are growing at BOCES.
"We really pride ourselves on having something for everyone," said McHale.
The big message is: when it comes to higher education, it doesn’t have to be an either - or.
"They could always do this in a gap year, it's only 200 hours," remarked DiMaria. "It gives them a chance to get a feel for some other jobs in between those gap years of college and then they can decide, 'do I want to keep doing this?' "
Life carries plenty of challenges. For these students, their goal is that employment won't be one of them.
"I just found out that I'm pregnant," said Rikki Johns, a BOCES electrical program student. "I wanted to like make sure that I can live a comfortable life at least, and not have to worry about not having a job or anything."
While the college route works for many, the most important thing is setting yourself up for a happy life.
"Whether you go to college, you work hard, you can get a great job, or you go to trade school, or you don't go to anything...you work hard and you figure it out," said BOCES electrical program student Joe Kurnik.
The students said they appreciate the networking and support BOCES offered them to get jobs once they’re done.
Some even signed up for more advanced classes, using this first one as a stepping stone to success.