Is a Portland Technical School right for you?

While boasting a well-rounded education and very fancy piece of paper, many expensive college degrees lead only to part time employment at Starbucks. Are technical schools a better alternative for job-seekers in Portland?

In the first episode of “Portlandia,” a hipster-skewering sketch comedy show created by two SNL alums, a character describes Portland as a city of slackers “where young people go to retire,” and attending Clown College is perfectly normal. While there really is a campaign in support of local business called Keep Portland Weird, the quirky city still offers many sensible choices for technical schools. Why choose a vocational school over a four year college? Read on.

A quick glance at the headlines or an informal survey of people in their mid-twenties reveals a disturbing trend- many popular four year degrees from respected colleges are almost worthless and carry a staggering amount of debt that graduates will never pay off. A generation ago, it was not simply expected that every bright high school graduate would apply to college. Counselors, parents, and students themselves understood it was not a one size fits all solution for every career and every student’s individual needs. In the current economic climate, technical schools have at last lost the undeserved stigma that was attached to them. No longer considered a fallback plan in case college doesn’t pan out, these focused, employment-oriented programs are seen as smart investments and fast tracks to a position in your chosen field instead of behind a Starbucks counter.

Technical schools are sometimes referred to as vocational schools, trade schools, or career colleges. For our purposes, a rose by any other name is in fact the same and all of these terms refer to the same thing- a for-profit institution dedicated to providing applicants with all the relevant training for a specific career and nothing else. Some community colleges offer classes and programs which are functionally identical to a technical school, but a key point of difference is that the classes completed at a technical school typically cannot be transferred to a four year university for credit.

Portland, Oregon offers a variety of national as well as local technical schools. Familiar nationwide institutions like University of Phoenix, ITT Technical Institute, DeVry University, DeVry’s Keller Graduate School of Management, and the Institute of Technology all have locations in or near Portland. Carrington College only has locations West of the Mississippi, while Heald College is even more focused with schools in California, Hawaii, and Portland, Oregon only. The artistically minded can hone their skills at The Art Institute of Portland while their gourmet counterparts can explore their creativity at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Additionally, Portland Community College and Portland State University offer their own vocational programs.

In an economy where a four year degree guarantees debt, but not employment, many students with an eye to their future are wisely considering a more focused education. Many of the most prestigious universities in the world, including The California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), were originally founded as technical schools. Of course, if Portland technical schools still don’t sound like a great deal to you, Ringling Bros. Clown College still holds annual auditions in the city.

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