Vocational Trade Schools in Iowa

May 26, 2022 • 6 Min Read

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Why Choose Trade School?

More students are choosing to pursue trade degrees. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, enrollment in trade schools increased 56% between 2013 and 2018. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 74% of students who earn an occupational credential earn a trade job in the field they study.

Trade schools benefit students who want to quickly enter the workforce. Vocational schools teach learners the skills they need to work in a vocational role, placing more emphasis on job functions rather than theory. While a traditional four-year degree typically covers multiple subjects and requires general education courses, a trade degree focuses on one topic.

Examples of trade school programs include welding, plumbing, and medical assisting.

On average, an associate trade degree takes about two years to complete. However, students who pursue a certificate may finish their studies sooner.

People who enjoy practical work often enjoy trade school. Most trade schools in Iowa allow students to complete apprenticeships or internships, which include supervised fieldwork. Most apprenticeships pay salaries.

Read on to learn more about how trade school can benefit students, scholarships reserved specifically for trade students, and how to select a trade school.

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What kind of technical schools are there?Tech schools in Iowa include medical trade schools, cosmetology schools, criminology schools, and welding schools.
Can trade school credits transfer?Most four-year universities accept credits from accredited trade schools. Many colleges allow transfer students to build upon an associate degree and work toward a bachelor's degree.
What is the difference between trade school and technical school?These two terms are interchangeable. Trade schools and technical schools offer the same types of degrees and certificates.
What is the highest paid trade?According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), physical therapists earned a median annual salary of $89,440 in 2019.

Accreditation and Licensing for Trade Schools

Students researching vocational schools in Iowa should pay attention to accreditation status. Trade colleges can earn regional, national, or programmatic accreditation. When a school earns accreditation, it regularly receives quality assessments from a third-party organization.

Accreditation benefits students by ensuring that educational institutions uphold certain academic standards. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee accrediting agencies.

Certain employers may view degrees from regionally accredited schools as the most prestigious, and some scholarship committees reserve their awards specifically for students who attend regionally accredited schools.

The Higher Learning Commission grants regional accreditation to vocational schools in Iowa. The Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges is one of the top national accrediting agencies specifically for trade schools. Online trade schools can earn national accreditation from organizations like the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.

Individual degrees can also earn programmatic accreditation. For example, the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care oversees accreditation for respiratory care programs.

Along with accreditation, vocational schools must also maintain a license to continue offering degrees to students. Prospective students can check a school's accreditation status by using the ED's database.

Vocational Trade Schools in Iowa

Finding the right trade school takes time. To help in the process, we create and regularly update this list of the top tech schools in Iowa. We rank these institutions based on factors like affordability and graduate success rates.

  1. Kirkwood Community College

    Cedar Rapids, IA



    Kirkwood's Cedar Rapids campus boasts a 635-acre working farm, a vineyard, and over two dozen buildings. The college offers over 120 degrees and certificates to its more than 16,000 students. Kirkwood ranks at the top of Iowa technical colleges because of its programs in manufacturing, the health sciences, technology, and engineering.

    At Kirkwood, students can earn a degree in unique areas like manufacturing and robotics technologies, electroneurodiagnostic technology, and agricultural geospatial technology. The college also offers degrees in dental hygiene, automotive technology, paralegal studies, and the skilled trades. Students can choose a one-year certificate in specialties like clinical laboratory assistant, construction estimator, and small-scale food production.

    The college's architecture, construction, and engineering career academy combines laboratory and classroom experiences as a pre-apprenticeship program. Students develop the entry-level skills required for in-demand fields. Kirkwood also distributes over $3 million in scholarships to students.

  2. Indian Hills Community College

    Ottumwa, IA



    From its campuses in southeastern Iowa, Indian Hills ranks among the best trade schools in Iowa. The college's career and technical programs prepare students for the workforce in two years or less.

    Indian Hills offers associate degrees in several popular vocational fields, including automotive technology, construction technology, the culinary arts, and the health sciences. Students can pursue allied health programs in dental hygiene, radiologic technology, respiratory care, or emergency services. The college's technical degrees include programs in aviation maintenance technology, bioprocessing technology, and electrical and renewable energy technology.

    In addition to vocational degrees, Indian Hills also offers certificates for emergency medical technicians, avionics electronic technicians, clinical laboratory assistants, and dental assistants. Students interested in construction trades can pursue a certificate, degree, or apprenticeship.

  3. Western Iowa Tech Community College

    Sioux City, IA



    Located in Sioux City, WITCC ranks as one of the best technical schools in Iowa. WITCC offers vocational certificates and degrees that help professionals develop the skills needed for in-demand careers. The college also offers online programs for students seeking greater flexibility.

    At WITCC, students can earn a degree in agribusiness technology, automotive technology, or mechanical engineering technology. The college also offers healthcare degrees in surgical technology and physical therapist assistant. In the skilled trades, learners can pursue a certificate to become a carpenter, electrician, or plumber.

    WITCC also offers vocational programs in legal studies, culinary arts, and manufacturing. The college combines academic training with experiential learning in its apprenticeship programs. WITCC offers pre-apprenticeship programs in electrical services, plumbing, HVAC, and industrial maintenance.

  4. Des Moines Area Community College

    Ankeny, IA



    From its six locations in Iowa's capital city, DMACC offers over 200 degrees and certificates. DMACC serves nearly 66,000 students through on-campus and online programs. The college reports that 98% of students either work or continue their education after graduation.

    At DMACC, students can earn technology-focused degrees in fields like advanced manufacturing technology, applied engineering technology, and medical laboratory technology. The school's vocational degrees also include programs in dental hygiene, the culinary arts, automotive mechanics, and legal studies. DMACC offers specialized certificates in unique areas like water distribution system technology, respiratory therapy sleep medicine, and building maintenance.

    Through its workforce training academy, DMACC partners with local businesses to offer apprenticeships and courses focused on teaching skills needed for in-demand careers. The college also offers financial aid and scholarships for students.

  5. Iowa Western Community College

    Council Bluffs, IA



    Located in Council Bluffs just outside Omaha, Nebraska, IWCC dates back to 1967. Today, IWCC ranks as one of the top trade schools in Iowa and offers dozens of vocational and technical programs. The college's apprenticeship programs combine classroom learning and fieldwork to prepare students for in-demand fields.

    IWCC offers vocational programs in the culinary arts, health sciences, technology, and engineering. Students can earn a degree in electronic engineering technology, dental assisting, plumbing technology, or renewable energy technology at IWCC. The college also offers unique programs for laser systems technicians, robotics and automated systems technicians, wind turbine technicians, and solar installation technicians.

    Vocational students can also earn a certificate in construction technology, electronic technology, or industrial technology at IWCC. IWCC offers both on-campus and online courses. The college connects students with career resources to help them identify job opportunities and transition into the workforce.

  6. Eastern Iowa Community College

    Davenport, IA



    From its campuses along the banks of the Mississippi River, EICC offers over 30 technology and certificate programs that prepare students for vocational jobs.

    At EICC, students can prepare for careers in healthcare through degrees in respiratory care, diagnostic medical sonography, surgical technology, and radiologic technology. The college also offers technology-related programs in engineering technology, technical studies, and diesel technology. In addition to associate programs, EICC offers short-term certificates in welding, electricity, automotive technology, and process control technology.

    EICC also offers apprenticeships in culinary arts and manufacturing. During an apprenticeship, students complete on-the-job and classroom learning. These paid experiences train students for high-demand fields. The college's career services department helps students plan for their careers and identify job opportunities.

  7. Northeast Iowa Community College

    Calmar, IA



    NICC offers online, hybrid, and on-campus vocational programs that train students for in-demand industries. The college prioritizes affordability and quality in its programs. NICC partners with local employers to make sure its technical programs meet industry standards, earning it a spot among the best Iowa technical colleges.

    NICC's vocational programs train students in advanced manufacturing, construction, technology, and health sciences. Students can pursue focused degrees in beef science technology, dairy science technology, and large animal veterinary technician. NICC also offers vocational training in cosmetology, paralegal studies, emergency services, and allied health.

    NICC's certificate programs train students in the building trades, dental assisting, medical assisting, and renewable energy. Students can become industrial maintenance technicians, electricians, and mechanics with a certificate. NICC also offers a metalworking apprenticeship that offers specialized, competency-based training.

  8. Iowa Central Community College

    Fort Dodge, IA



    Located in Fort Dodge, Iowa Central offers more than 100 programs. Learners who pursue a vocational degree or certificate at Iowa Central receive career-focused training with fieldwork components. The college also operates a career academy to introduce students to career pathways and help learners identify their strengths and interests.

    Iowa Central offers technology-focused degrees in agricultural technology, automotive technology, electrical technologies, and diesel technology. Students can also prepare for specialized career paths with a degree in graphics technology or engineering and design technology. The college offers health sciences programs in dental hygiene, medical laboratory technology, and radiologic technology.

    With a specialized certificate in the culinary arts or baking and pastry arts, students build the knowledge and skills needed for careers in food services. Iowa Central also offers an electrical apprenticeship program that incorporates theory, lab work and work experience with a local employer.

  9. Iowa Lakes Community College

    Estherville, IA



    From Iowa's Great Lakes region, Iowa Lakes provides customized vocational programs designed around the needs of area businesses. The college's technical and vocational programs work in partnership with economic development groups to incorporate career-oriented skills into their coursework.

    At Iowa Lakes, students earn degrees in agribusiness technology, construction technology, and engineering technology. The college's customized programs include a degree for boat and watercraft technicians and certificates in marine service technology and powersports and power equipment technology. Learners interested in healthcare can train as medical assistant specialists or earn a certificate in surgical technology.

    In addition to its vocational degrees and certificates, Iowa Lakes also offers an electrical apprenticeship program. Students take courses while gaining experience on the job. The college prioritizes flexibility by offering classes in the evenings, on weekends, and online.

  10. Hawkeye Community College

    Waterloo, IA



    Founded in 1966, Hawkeye now serves over 25,000 students. The college focuses on affordable technical and vocational programs.

    Hawkeye's career services center helps students design their program around their strengths and career goals. The college also connects students with job opportunities and provides individual career counseling.

    Hawkeye offers vocational programs in technology, emergency services, allied healthcare, and engineering. Students can earn a degree in electronics engineering technology, automotive technology, or welding technology. Hawkeye also offers programs for occupational therapy assistants, dental hygienists, and physical therapist assistants. The college's vocational certificates train medical assistants, landscape and turf managers, and dental assistants.

    Hawkeye offers several apprenticeship programs that combine classroom instruction with on-the-job experience. Apprentices train as carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and HVAC technicians.

Find Vocational and Trade Schools in Iowa

Career and technical education (CTE) programs in Iowa are organized within six key service areas: agriculture, family and consumer sciences, health occupations, business, industrial technology, and marketing.

The Iowa Department of Education requires that CTE programs include a work-based learning component like job shadowing, rotations, mentoring, internships, service learning, or apprenticeships.

Use the search tool below to find vocational and trade schools in Iowa that are the right match for you.

Career and Salary Outlook for Trade School Graduates

Career and salary outlook vary greatly between occupations. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for all trade school occupations in 2017 was $55,270.

Each industry offers different salary potential. For example, the BLS reports that welders, cutters, solderers, and brazers earned a median annual salary of $42,490 in 2019 and benefit from a projected job growth rate of 3% between 2018 and 2028. The BLS also reports that electricians earned a median annual salary of $56,180 in 2019 and benefit from a projected job growth rate of 10% during that same period.

Salary also depends on experience. For example, according to PayScale, entry-level radiologic technicians earn an average annual salary of $44,230, while radiologic technicians with more than 25 years of experience earn an average salary of $52,165 per year.

Geographic location also influences salaries For example, employers in Des Moines may pay more than employers in small rural towns. However, professionals who work in high-need areas like small towns may qualify for federal loan forgiveness.

What Kinds of Trade School Programs Are Available?

Different trade schools focus on specific programs, so individuals must choose a school that aligns with their specific career goals. Trade schools offer programs in fields like health and emergency services, auto repair, and cosmetology.

Read on to learn about typical courses, job outcomes, and salary potential for dental hygienist, mechanic, paralegal, and radiology technician schools.

Dental Hygienist Schools

Dental hygienist trade schools teach students how to perform teeth cleanings, X-rays, and preliminary exams on patients. They also teach students how to effectively communicate with dentists and alert them of possible dental health issues in patients.

Most dental hygiene courses allow students to gain practical experience working on mouth replicas and on humans under professional supervision. It takes students about two years to complete a dental hygienist program at a vocational school.

Dental hygienists must have strong communication skills so they can teach patients how to effectively care for their dental hygiene. They must also pay attention to detail so they can catch possible issues on an X-ray or during a physical exam.

According to the BLS, these professionals earned a median annual salary of $76,220 in 2019 and benefit from a projected job growth rate of 11% between 2018 and 2028.

Mechanic Schools

Mechanic programs teach students how to perform diagnostic tests on equipment and machinery. These programs require students to gain experience on a shop floor under direct professional supervision.

Students typically need two years to complete an associate degree at mechanic schools and under one year to complete a certificate. These professionals must learn how to translate technical jargon into language that clients can understand. They must effectively communicate problems to customers and explain the repair plan.

According to the BLS, automotive service technicians and mechanics earned a median annual salary of $42,090 in 2019.

Paralegal Schools

In a paralegal program, students learn how to perform administrative tasks for law firms. These programs teach students how to collect facts and perform interviews. Students also learn how to keep clear records during trials, research current laws, and communicate effectively with clients.

Law firms require paralegals to earn an associate degree. During paralegal programs, learners must complete group projects, research papers, and standardized tests. Many courses also include case studies. Some paralegal programs may require an internship.

According to the BLS, paralegals earned a median annual salary of $51,740 in 2019. These professionals benefit from a projected job growth rate of 12% between 2018 and 2028.

Radiology Technician Schools

Radiology technician programs prepare students to work in clinical settings. These courses show students how to create diagnostic images for doctors using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) equipment. Students learn how to critique the quality of an MRI to determine whether it reveals a clear enough picture for diagnostic purposes.

Radiology students gain experience working on MRI machinery. They also learn how to perform basic maintenance and troubleshooting procedures. Radiologists must earn an associate degree, which takes about two years to complete. Most employers prefer radiologists who have earned certification, which requires an examination.

According to the BLS, radiologic technicians earned a median annual salary of $62,280 in 2019. The BLS projects the demand for this career to grow by 9% between 2018 and 2028.

Financial Aid for Trade School Students

Trade schools accept funds from the FAFSA. This application takes first-time applicants about 55 minutes to complete and returning applicants 45 minutes to complete.

This application requires financial information for need-based funds. Applicants who file their taxes as dependents must enter their guardian's tax information.

The FAFSA provides subsidized loans, unsubsidized loans, and grants. Grants and subsidized loans require that applicants demonstrate financial need.

Students do not need to pay back grants, but they must pay back subsidized loans. Subsidized loans do not begin collecting interest until after the recipient graduates or stops maintaining enrollment. These loans do not require repayment until six months after graduation.

Unsubsidized loans are not need-based, but they begin accruing interest immediately once the recipient accepts the funds. Like subsidized loans, these loans do not require repayment until after a six-month grace period after graduation.

Federal loans and grants can make attending vocational school possible. In the section below, we highlight how scholarships can also provide financial assistance for students attending trade schools in Iowa.​

Scholarship for Trade School Students

Read on for a small sample of scholarships available to trade school students in Iowa.

Kibbie Grant

Who Can Apply: The Kibbie Grant awards Iowa students enrolled in a technical education program with half of the average community college tuition plus fees for up to two years. Students enrolled in at least three credits in an approved program may apply by filling out the FAFSA application.
Amount: Half of the average community college tuition

Apply for Scholarship
Elevate Advanced Manufacturing Scholarship

Who Can Apply: High school seniors in Iowa planning to pursue welding, machining, transportation and logistics, industrial maintenance, or robotics can apply. Up to 15 recipients receive $500 toward their education each year.
Amount: $500

Apply for Scholarship
HBA Scholarship Program

Who Can Apply: The Home Builders Association of Iowa provides up to $1,000 each year to a student pursuing a career in home building or a related trade. This scholarship prioritizes students age 18-25, but makes exceptions based on certain circumstances. To apply, students must submit an application, official transcripts, and all required essays.
Amount: Up to $1,000

Apply for Scholarship
IHCA Foundation Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Iowa high school seniors enrolling in a CNA, LPN, RN, or certified dietary manager program may apply for this scholarship. Recipients who complete their program and accept a position with an ICHA-affiliated organization also qualify for a $500 sign-on bonus. Applicants must submit a 300-word essay, transcripts, and a letter of recommendation.
Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship
The Jerry Woods IRMCA Scholarship

Who Can Apply: The Iowa Ready Mix Concrete Association offers scholarships to students pursuing degrees in related trade fields. Recipients are recognized at the annual IRMCA convention.
Amount: $500-$5,000

Apply for Scholarship

Additional Education and Career Resources

Iowa Association for Career and Technical Education This associate promotes its mission to support quality career and technical education programs throughout the state. It hosts events and programs centered on leadership, professional development, and partnership.
Iowa Association of Community College Trustees A nonprofit organization that serves all 15 community colleges in Iowa. The organization provides education opportunities for students and hosts webinars and other special events throughout the year.
Iowa Department of Education - Career and Technical Education This section of the site provides information on CTE service areas, programs of study, and organizations that support students enrolled in CTE programs throughout the state.
Iowa Future Farmers of America Association Those pursuing agricultural careers can join this student organization during high school or when enrolled in a CTE program. The Future Business Leaders of America-Phi Beta Lambda (FBLA-PBL) in Iowa hosts numerous events throughout the year to bring agriculture students and aspiring professionals together while helping them develop strong leadership skills.

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