It’s a typical school day for Lisa Alaniz — she and her classmates stand in a warehouse-like room, cutting wood and piecing together the rafters of a shed. They’re students at Texas State Technical College working toward an associate’s degree in construction.
“I did [high school] online because that’s when the pandemic hit,” says Alaniz, 21. “And I just realized online school is not for me. Like, I’m very, very bad at computer work.” Alaniz didn’t want to spend her days trapped in an office, either. She wanted to pursue something more hands-on, which is what led her to the program here in Waco, about 100 miles south of Dallas.
Since the pandemic began, more than a million students have held off from going to college, opting to work instead. Two-year public schools have been among the hardest hit — they’re down about three-quarters of a million students. Skilled-trades programs are the exception. Across the country, associate’s degree programs in fields like HVAC and automotive repair have seen enrollment numbers swell.