Introduction to Community, Career Colleges and Trade Schools in Seattle

by Catherine L. Behrendt
Introduction to Community, Career Colleges and Trade Schools in Seattle

Seattle is known for fish flying through the Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and ferry rides on Puget Sound. While such attractions are an important part of the local scene, Seattle is also a hotbed of educational opportunities designed to train students for lifelong careers.

Seattle educational experts agree that post-secondary education and training are critical to those seeking to establish meaningful careers. But that doesn't necessarily mean all students should go the traditional four-year college route, says Suzy Ames, director of communications for the Washington State Board for Community & Technical Colleges (CTC board).

"It's important for students to realize that the four-year track is not the end-all, be-all to having a fulfilling career," Ames says. "Sometimes students and parents get all wrapped up in that idea, but in reality, on a national basis, only 19 percent of all jobs actually require a bachelor's degree, while 41 percent require an associate's degree."

In Washington State, more than 75 percent of Washington's workforce enters occupations that do not require a four-year degree, says Tana Stenseng, spokesperson for the Workforce Training & Education Coordinating Board (Workforce Board), which regulates private trade schools in the state. "We provide advocacy for these people to go on for training after high school. It doesn't have to be college," Stenseng says. "Some people don't need a college education or are not suited for it, but they can have successful careers if they seek the appropriate training."

Stenseng notes that she recently counseled a student whose parents were pushing him to attend college. "But college just wasn't for him. He told me 'I was born to get my hands dirty.' And if that's what makes him happy, gives him fulfillment, than we try to advocate. We aim to make sure students are better-prepared for their chosen careers."

Trade School Options in Greater Seattle

Seattle and King County offer private, public and specialty trade school options to those seeking career training at the community and career/trade college level. Indeed, the goal of the CTC board is to ensure that all potential students have open access to educational opportunities under three separate missions - transfer students, workforce development, and adult literacy. Programs at CTC board-governed schools are designed to "guide the workforce to train in a specific industry, with different programs potentially offering unique angles," Ames says.

In the city proper, the CTC board governs four public schools serving more than 28,000 students: North Seattle Community College, South Seattle Community College, South Central Community College and the Seattle Vocational Institute. The Seattle Community College system additionally offers an online Distance Learning program for those seeking to attain Associate's Degrees without battling the Seattle traffic. There are dozens more community and technical colleges in the larger King County area, including those that are part of the CTC board system of 34 schools in the state.

Meanwhile, the Workforce Board regulates private trade schools under a state law passed in 1986 that requires trade schools to be licensed. The Workforce Board licenses 250 career schools annually; the licenses are additionally subject to annual review. Trade schools additionally can be accredited, which allows students eligibility to apply for financial aid, explains Stenseng.

These schools include: the Seattle Community Colleges system, the Art Institute of Seattle and the International Academy of Design and Technology (IADT).

Choosing the Right School & Program

Students typically make school choices based on a combination of factors, including geography and need, says Ames. Programs at the county's technical colleges are designed to "guide the workforce to train in a specific industry, with different programs potentially offering unique angles."

Selecting an educational program should include a careful study of the coursework and concentrations available to make sure what is learned will fit in with your career goals.

To succeed in your educational goals, "Really look at what you want to do. Realize who you are, what talents you have," Stenseng urges. "Perhaps your parents want you to become a lawyer. But is that what interests you? Seek your education in a field that feels right to you, that offers an outlet for your passion."

When investigating schools, check accreditation, particularly if you want to apply for financial aid or may transfer schools.

There are two types of accreditation: one for schools and one for individual educational programs. U.S. colleges and universities are accredited by one of the regional accreditation organizations recognized by the U.S. Department. of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. For a program to be accredited, faculty and curriculum are investigated by a professional organization in the field and found to meet its standards for preparing practitioners of the field.

The need for middle-skilled workers is expected to continue to rise. The National Skills Association's report Skills2Compete-Washingon (pdf) called on state policy makers to ensure greater educational access to help low-skill workers move into medium-skill jobs, or for skilled workers to be retrained.

For a list of the top 15 companies in greater Seattle, including links to corporate web sites, visit

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