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Average Age at Trade Schools Rises as Career Changers Go Back for More

There's an interesting phenomenon happening at vocational schools right now. Once, they were inhabited mostly by fresh-faced career-minded teenagers straight from high school and ready to learn a trade. Now, as the country's career opportunities change and downshift, the average profile of vocational school students is changing drastically to new demographic -- the career changer.

An article in USA Today follows, among others, two 40-something women from very different backgrounds, both aiming to make strategic career changes by pursuing medical assisting degrees at the Tennessee Technology Center. Anita Ray has worked in hairstyling for over a decade; S'ari Gian has a master degree in music and once ran her own performing arts academy. Now, the economy has sent both women looking for something else. According to the article, "disappearing jobs have helped drive thousands of people like Ray to Tennessee's 27 state-run trade schools, where they can pick up training on anything from truck driving to medical billing."

Why are so many older adults heading back to trade schools? One reason may be a boost in credibility. Just last week, President Obama announced his plan to pump $12 billion into the United States' community college system, putting the spotlight on two-year colleges and highlighting their importance and relevance as our country's main career training sites. Also validating are the successes of the first big wave of new trade school graduates. According to Betty Krump, executive director of the American Technical Education Association, it could majorly help the reputation of trade schools if these students' success help to dismiss the idea the idea of vocational schools as being "for dumb kids" -- even long after the economy improves.

Unlike younger students going to college at the behest of their parents, or to figure out what career they want to pursue, older students tend to have a clear goal in sight. "Going to school for school's sake is not what they want," says James King, a vice chancellor on the Tennessee Board of Regents. "They want something to get them back to work." When it comes to the success stories coming out of vocational schools lately, that may make all the difference.

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