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TALLAHASSEE, FL (WTXL) -- When it comes to finding a job, college is usually a path most people take. But some opt to go to a trade school, hoping to get into the workforce faster and without spending too much to get there. These students are hoping their investment in this type of education pays off.
It’s Steven Burns’ last day of school. He's wrapping up his third and final semester at Lively Technical Center, learning about the welding industry.
"I've done pipe welding, tig welding, mig welding, flux-cord welding. I've done it all," he said.
Steven says studying at a college wasn’t what he wanted, so he knew he needed a plan after high school.
"Pretty much had to pick something that I liked and I was good at and run with it," Burns said. "It just so happened to be welding."
Thousands of people are choosing trade schools over college. Compared to four-year schools like Florida State, trade programs generally take a year or two to complete. And because these programs don’t take as long, they usually don’t cost as much either. For Steven, grants and financial aid left him with an affordable bill.
"Think I paid 50 dollars out of pocket for all three semesters."
But are these programs worth it? Schools like Lively Tech promise life-changing opportunities – a chance to find work fast.
Trade school commercials tell stories about people getting jobs after taking classes there. But take a look online, and you'll see a different picture. Message after message, warning of scams at some trade schools.
Paying high tuition at for-profit schools often means students have to take out loans. Last year, ITT Tech was the subject of a federal lawsuit, claiming the school pushed students into high-interest loans that would often default.
While several reports about trade schools can be found online, students at Lively Tech that were interviewed said the programs are worth it.
"This school has completely taught me everything I need to know to go do what I'm about to do," Burns said.
Just days after wrapping up at Lively Tech, Burns is heading to Virginia to start a new job – helping weld parts of a new nuclear power plant.
"I'll go there a couple months, make $31.50 an hour -- $75 a day per diem -- and come back," he said.
Tanner Davidson will be joining him. He came to Lively Tech after figuring out college wasn’t for him.
"I had a bunch of friends that did the college route," Davidson said. "They got bachelor's degrees and whatnot and had a hard time finding a job when they got out. Plus, they were in debt. I know some people that are $70,000 in debt."
It’s a similar story for Shawn Krueger. The automotive student says a trade school education has real-world benefits.
"I can always fix my car. I can always work on my house's electrical issues," Kreuger said. "I can always do this, do that."
And that goes for Genielle Wester, a part-timer at Lively Tech, hoping to find a better job once she’s done her classes.
"If it ever comes to it -- my car, if it breaks down, I know how to fix it," Wester said. "Anybody in my family needs help or friends, I know how to help them out."
While these programs offer practical skills, it’s all about if they get studentsjobs. Lively Tech's 2014 annual report states 95 percent of its 800 students wereplaced in jobs after taking classes at the school. Welding instructor John Scott says his students get jobs pretty quickly, since there’s a need for their skills.
"We have pushed so much -- having a four-year degree -- that we have limited ourselves on people that really should become ironworkers or electricians or plumbers, because the reality is you can make just as much money doing that as you can with a four-year degree," Scott said.
Burns is just 21, but he’ll be making a comfortable salary – without worries of paying off student loans. He says going to a trade school made all the difference.
"Being here started -- gave me this opportunity," he said. "I didn't know anything about welding. I didn't know what welding was. It all worked out in the end."
Burns says his time at Lively Tech was so worthwhile that he plans to return to the trade school after his job to learn even more.
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