CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — This week, the application for student loan forgiveness launched. Thousands across the country will be looking to get student loan debt relief.
But for some, who chose a trade school instead of a university, student loan debt will not be an issue.
“I never really saw myself going to college because I couldn’t just sit there at a desk and pay that much in tuition for me to not understand it because I’m more of a hands-on guy,” said Jacob Perez, a Tuloso-Midway High School graduate.
Perez is in his fifth and final year of an apprenticeship at the Texas Gulf Coast Electrical Apprenticeship Program. During his time in the program, he has gotten hands-on experience with a licensed electrician.
“The people that are the journeymen are willing to teach you. They take it as you’re a first-year apprentice, I’m going to have to help you,” he said. “But, it works out in the long run, because now I’m a fifth-year, and they send me out on my own sometimes.”
From the beginning of the program, apprentices will be paid for their work, at a starting wage of $15.07 an hour. In addition to that, tuition is low, starting at $700 for the first year, and raising $50 a year.
However, the program offers tuition reimbursement.
“If they complete that program, 100percent of that tuition is reimbursed,” said Roni Kelley, the program director. “So, they can go through the entire five-year program without ever saying they paid a penny in tuition.”
Kelley said there is a stigma around going to a trade school.
“There is a huge stigma. High schools are not pushing trade schools enough, it’s not being marketed, they’re continuing to push college,” she said. “We have so many people graduating not going to college, they need to know all the opportunities available to them for their career.”
Kelley said a career in an industry can provide the same benefits that a career in a degree-related field could.
“A trade can definitely prepare you for a job to be successful, and support your family, without having to carry that debt over your head,” she said.
In order to be able to enroll in the apprenticeship program, you need to be 18 years old, with a high school diploma or GED. You also need an algebra credit from high school or college, but if you don’t have it, there are online courses the program director can set you up with to qualify.
“We have a good population of students coming in right after high school,” Kelley said. “We have a lot they left the oil field and they’re looking to be with their families more, in a more stable working environment, and we have the 40-year-olds who are wanting a change in their life, they’re burned out with what they’re doing, and they’re looking to move into something new.”
Kelley said the trade industry as a whole is vital to the Coastal Bend.
“We want to make sure we’re able to man the jobs in our area, we don’t want to have to outsource our jobs to other areas,” she said. “We want to be able to support the jobs in our area and keep the talented people here. Right now, there is a huge manpower shortage in trades.”
In addition to the apprenticeship program, there is a pre-apprenticeship program available for free to the public. The program, open to people 17 years old and up, will allow people to get certain certifications needed to pursue a trade, and even if they don’t become electricians, they can pursue other trades.