85 students to graduate from Delaware County trade school with jobs lined up

It’s the time of year where college seniors are busy trying to find their first job after graduation. But, at one college in Delaware County, almost every student has already landed a job before graduating.

Spending one year at a state school, Alex Whitman knew a 4-year university wasn’t for him. "When I went to West Chester that one year, I knew it wasn’t for me, with all the debt."

So, Alex traded in textbooks and research papers for steam boilers and electrical turbines. He’s a graduating senior at the Williamson College of Trades, just outside Media.

"It was one of those things. Seeing my dad – he was in the construction industry - and always grew up seeing him work hard and told myself I want to work hard just like my father," Whiteman explained.

Whiteman is graduating from Williamson next week and will start his job at a power plant five days later.

Since 1888, the 3-year male-only college has been providing intensive training in six trade programs. Campus buildings are working classrooms, like carpentry, a stone and masonry workshop and a steam-fired power plant. Campus grounds are kept up by landscaping and horticulture students.

"It’s almost like a military academy style of living. Up early, accountable, show up on time," stated Williamson President Michael Rounds.

Rounds says Williamson only accepts a fraction of applicants. And it’s not for everyone. Smoking, drugs and alcohol are prohibited. Students also must wear a coat and tie and attend daily morning chapel. But, when they leave, the school says 98 percent of graduates walk out the door with a good-paying job.

In fact, last year more than 200 companies from 19 states paid big money to attend Williamson’s Career Fair for the chance to recruit one of their 85 graduates.

"I think we realized that, during the pandemic, we were putting ourselves at risk if we can’t manufacture, if we can’t build things, if we can’t do the work ourselves," Rounds continued.

Another unique appeal regarding Williamson is with the average cost of a 4-year university running about $30,000, students at Williamson don’t pay a nickel. Tuition, room and board is free for all three years. Those with the most financial need are accepted first. It was part of the mission of the original Board of Directors that included famous Philadelphian John Wanamaker.

The college endowment covers 70 percent of student costs and donations cover the rest. The school estimates the value of the free education over the course of three years to be about $100,000.

Josh Kirkpatrick stated, "I excel at something other than books and math and reading."

He’s a senior from Springfield, in Delaware County and will graduate with two job offers and hopes of owning his own company someday. "This place teaches you things that I think have been lost in society. It teaches you how to become a really good man."

With a need now more than ever for those in the skilled trades, officials at Williamson are hoping the college becomes a model for others.

"This should not be unique in the country. There should be 30 of these schools in every big city. Should have a Williamson nearby because there is a huge need for it," Rounds added.

2024 commencement for Williamson School of the Trades will be on May 23rd.