Trade School vs 4 Year Colleges: Choosing Your Educational Flight Plan

A guide for new career seekers and high school grads.

Before beginning any aircraft repair, a technician must first assess the situation and consider all relevant information to determine the best course of action. If you are planning for your first career or making a change, you should take this same approach when exploring your career and education choices.

This Educational Flight Plan compares the Return On Investment (ROI) between a trade school education at PIA and the average outcomes at 4 year colleges. This comparison takes into account career trajectories, average salaries for aviation maintenance professionals, commitment of cost, and length of program.

If your target destination is to start a career that provides you with passion, pride, and financial stability, (and you think that a trade school like PIA might be an option) let this Educational Flight Plan help you chart a course that’s right for you.

PIA Graduation Rate1
4yr College Average Graduation Rate2

I think the stigmas and stereotypes that keep so many people from pursuing a truly useful skill begin with the mistaken belief that a four-year degree is somehow superior to all other forms of learning.
– Mike Rowe, mikeroweWORKS Foundation

Success stories from trade school training

Josh Akins was making good money in manufacturing while traveling on the side as a professional photographer, but he felt like something was missing. When he toured PIA, he realized working on planes was his true calling. Akins enrolled at PIA Hagerstown at the age of 25 and landed his dream job even before he graduated sixteen months later: working on airplanes at Tyndall Air Force Base.

“Growing up, I was never taught to see trade school as a pathway to a good career,” says Akins. “But trade school helped me land the best job I’ve ever had. I only wish I had made this choice sooner.”


Samantha Cortese Taunton wanted to be a pilot, but her parents expected her to get a 4-year degree instead, so she did. After earning a degree in Mathematics and graduating with honors, she became a teacher — but she also grew frustrated that she wasn’t moving closer to her goal of working with airplanes. When she began looking into other ways to enter the aeronautics industry, she discovered that she could train at PIA to become an AMT in under two years, and for a much lower tuition than pilot training.

“Student debt is a thief,” says Taunton. “I wish I had known that there were other options.”

Today she is happily employed as a mechanic at Pratt & Whitney in Georgia. She and her husband — who is also a mechanic — look forward to someday teaching their own children that it’s worth exploring a variety of pathways to education in order to find the right fit.

PIA Grad-Samantha-Cortese-Taunton

Debt and Salary Outlook


2 Years,
$14,4981 Average Debt

Overall Starting Salary


4 Years,
$28,8004 Average Debt

Overall Starting Salary

Lifetime Return on Investment Outlook (ROI) 40 Years



4 Year College


Your education is an investment in your future. The time, effort, and finances that you invest in gaining knowledge and developing skills will pay off when your education leads you to a rewarding and satisfying career.

While there are many different pathways to success, each path comes with its own set of questions. Some questions to consider for your own future include:

• What is the lifetime earning potential of the careers that interest me?
• What kind of training or degree does my dream job require?
• How much financial aid will I need?
• How quickly will I be able to repay my student loan debt?
• How does the average starting salary for a job compare to my expected financial needs?
• How much can I expect to be earning in 5 to 10 years?

This Educational Flight Plan offers some insight into some of these questions. It also helps illustrate the substantial earning potential of a trade education, which is a factor that every career seeker should consider.

While there is no one “right” plan when it comes to selecting a career and education pathway, by making sure you have accurate data and taking all available options into consideration, you’ll have the crucial information you need to help you make the right decision for a successful future.


An admissions representative will contact you with more information about becoming an aviation technician.

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New Commercial Techs Needed

Boeing Technician Outlook, North America:


2022 Median Salary

Aircraft and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians, Bureau of Labor and Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook


Workforce at or Near Retirement

ATEC 2022 Pipeline Report.