KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — It seems the so-called “college pipeline” in Tennessee is evolving as trade schools become true contenders when it comes to what path students will take after graduating from high school.

At Roane State Community College (RSCC), students can choose from programs like health services, computer science, and engineering and technology.

“With the Tennessee Promise and the grants we have, most students can go to a four-year or two-year institution virtually tuition-free,” said RSCC Mechatronics Program Director Gordon Williams.

And it seems like many students are taking the bait.

“It’s a chance for them to get out into the workforce, and get a really good job, a really high-paying job in a short amount of time,” said Williams.

Over at TCAT, the Tennessee College of Applied Technology, school leaders are seeing students who already know exactly what they want to do.

“They have a track, they have a plan, and they’re actually initiating that plan,” TCAT Vice President Patrick Wade explained.

Another plus of trade and vocational schools is hands-on training.

“They have a classroom where they can learn about it and then a lab where they can actually practice it,” Wade said. “Another thing that is very appealing is the fact they can get a job when they leave here.”

Not to mention, trade experts say, the return on investment.

“Students that leave this program with an associate’s degree can start out anywhere near $24-28 per hour,” Williams said. “After a two-year program, that’s a really good wage. The average, the mean, salary for students with a mechatronics degree in the local area is around $60,000.”

It is interesting to note that, according to Roane State Community College, since 2016, the mechatronics program was awarded 71 Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degrees and 52 certificates to a total of 104 students.

For more information about Tennessee’s occupational employment and wage statistics, click here.