Vocational schools are costly, but are they worth it?

SACRAMENO, Calif. _ Since 1977, John Zimmerman has gauged the economy's fluctuations by the number of students coming through the doors of his vocational school on Madison Avenue in Sacramento.

"When the economy gets soft you'll see people going back to school or getting their skills refreshed," said Zimmerman, owner and president of MTI College, a private for-profit technical school in Sacramento. "And we're certainly seeing it now."

Enrollment is up 18 percent compared with a year ago, he said.

With unemployment numbers rising, vocational schools across the country are reporting a similar trend as people look for skills that will give them an edge in a constricting job market. According to the Career College Association, a national group that represents 1,400 private trade schools, enrollment is up between 10 percent and 20 percent compared with last year.

"People who are either unemployed or fearful of becoming unemployed are choosing our schools to get their additional education," said Harris Miller, the group's president.

Most students at trade schools such as Sacramento's MTI or Heald College prepare for entry-level jobs in health care, business or technology. Many are lured by television commercials that promise a speedy education that leads directly to a lucrative career.

But private vocational schools are expensive _ between $10,000 and $30,000 for one to two years of training. And in California, they're unregulated.

Read the complete story at