No ivied walls. No stadiums for athletic victories - no teams even. Few faculty with degrees from prestigious universities. Profit-motivated. Enrollment soaring: 15 percent higher in 1981-82 than in the previous year.
''The recession helped,'' Henry R. Herzing, president of the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools (NAATS), concedes cheerfully. ''Our single mission is to train people in the shortest amount of time for the best possible job,'' he explains, ''After all, a good job is part of the good life. Helping students get ready for the job is our goal. We're more interested in having a well-designed curriculum than beautiful buildings.''
More than 500 vocational schools are accredited by the association. Currently they offer 98 different occupational courses.
''Our biggest challenge is keeping up,'' Mr. Herzing says. ''We are buying and changing equipment and curriculum at a furious pace.'' He cites US Bureau of Labor statistics that predict 20 million new jobs will be created during the next decade, 80 percent of them requiring some training beyond high school.
''We're very pragmatic,'' Mr. Herzing says. ''Private owners of NATTS schools have to be. Our very survival depends upon our ability to know what jobs are available and train workers for them. For example, we've stopped training key-punch operators; remote data entry is taking the place of all those cumbersome cards.''
Applicants to NATTS schools must be high school graduates or be beyond compulsory school age. Most schools require the graduate equivalency degree (GED)); all try to enroll only applicants who can benefit from their courses. One enrollment trend is an increasing number of women entering vocational schools to pursue nontraditional careers. Overall, the number of male and female students is about equal. The average full-time enrollment per school is 213 students a year.
Attending a private trade or technical school costs about as much as one year at a private college or university. Eligible students can receive Pell grants ($ 1,700 for one academic year) as well as guaranteed student loans up to $2,500 at accredited schools. Most students live at home and commute. ''Yes,'' Mr. Herzing laughs, ''many of our schools do have parking problems. Some of them are branching to city outskirts just to make attendance easier.''
Unlike universities, colleges, and community colleges, some NATTS schools begin their terms as frequently as every week or every month. Some schools have found that they must provide remedial programs in reading, writing, and computing for students who speak English as a second language and for students who neglected basics in their earlier years. For some new careers - word processing, for instance - students need better linguistic and grammar skills than ever.
''When students come to us, they're usually highly motivated,'' Mr. Herzing says. ''But we like to think of personalized attention as one of our attractions ,'' he quickly adds.''
One electronics school, Tampa Technical Institute, provides classroom interpreters and sign-language teachers to help hearing-impaired students.
Mr. Herzing says he thinks it's important for prospective students to visit any vocational school before enrolling, see what kinds of instruction and equipment are available, question other students, and find out about future placement and salaries.
A trade or technical school cannot apply for NATTS accreditation until it has been operating for at least two years. It must then undergo self-evaluation and receive the assessment of an independent team of experts who consider its educational objectives, faculty, admission and enrollment policies, course offerings, completion and placement rates, advertising, and equipment. Accredited schools are reviewed periodically to make sure they are maintaining standards and receiving the assistance they need to improve.
Some schools seek accreditation from other organizations, such as the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools, the National Home Study Council , or regional groups. Some maintain dual accreditation..
Most member schools serve students who live in their area. The kinds of schools and the courses they offer reflect the job needs in the community. Their main competitors are two-year community colleges, of which Mr. Herzing says, ''We believe in diversity. Competition helps us keep our curriculum that much closer to realities in the job market.''