Increasing enrollment has always been a key metric of success for colleges – but due to various factors, enrollment rates have been in the red in recent years.
However, one of the few educational areas that has bucked this downward trend in enrollment is construction.
The construction trades have been among the top majors in enrollment growth at community colleges, outpacing both overall enrollment numbers as well as many other popular areas of study. In 2022, community colleges faced an average 8.2% decline in enrollment across all majors. But by comparison, enrollment in Construction Trades programs grew by 13.5% from the previous year – ranking second among all fields in growth. In 2023, construction continues to see an above-average rate of enrollment.
Construction has established itself as a valuable and increasingly important education category for community colleges. But what are some of the reasons that the building trades have seen immense growth in enrollment while other majors have stagnated or declined? Here are a few of the factors playing a role in this trend.
High Demand = Opportunities and Job Security
Careers in construction have often been an afterthought in comparison to more popular career paths. As a result, fewer people have entered the industry. Experienced construction craft professionals are also now reaching retirement age – with not nearly enough new entrants to replace them.
This disparity has created massive demand, with a current shortage of more than half a million trades professionals.
But with growing demand also comes great opportunities for people willing to get training and enter the industry. There are many positions open and many opportunities to get hired.
After joining the industry, craft professionals also have solid job security and control over where they choose to work. In addition, construction was considered an “essential industry” during the pandemic, adding an extra layer of protection. After a tumultuous few years for employment, the abundance of opportunities and security have made construction an even more attractive option, leading to an increased interest in collegiate construction programs.
High Wages and Career Advancement
Construction craft professionals earn high wages for their specialized and skilled labor. Many can exceed six-figure earnings annually. And since most construction careers don’t require a full four-year degree, craft professionals can start their careers several years sooner while avoiding significant student debt, resulting in comparable or even higher net lifetime earnings than their peers attending a university. This makes construction one of the best options for people who want to make good money without a high upfront cost.
With so many construction leaders set to retire soon, there are also ample opportunities for young professionals to climb the organizational ladder and assume those important roles. This is in stark contrast to the advancement logjam currently found in most other professions.
With topics such as inflation, debt and career progression consistently among the top concerns for students when thinking about their future, construction is well-positioned. Students are starting to see this and are turning to community colleges to help build their pathway to the benefits of the industry.
Joint Apprenticeship Programs
Many construction companies and contractors are in search of methods to meet their need for skilled professionals.
One popular tactic is building joint apprenticeship programs with local community colleges. Rather than allowing the college to train students independently and then hiring the graduates, these companies are becoming actively involved and collaborating to execute the program.
In these joint programs, the construction company generally provides experienced construction leaders to help teach the class, as well as help build the key learning objectives and fund most of the program, including scholarships and wages for on-the-job work. The school can provide the facilities, administrative assistance and other educational resources that a construction company may not have.
These mutually beneficial programs help to boost the college’s enrollment by funneling new hires and prospective apprentices to the school. As an added benefit, the relationship means a high rate of post-graduate employment for the students.
Investing in Success
The construction industry is in need of talented individuals. Students are looking for career options that offer job security, high wages and opportunities for career advancement. With these things in alignment, construction has taken its place at community colleges as a popular education option.
For colleges looking to grow enrollment, investing in construction training programs may be the new secret to success.