Community college graduates out-earning those with BAs


Community college graduates now out-earn those with four-year degrees, and they don’t have outstanding student loans to bog down their successes. Image: Richard Masoner / Cyclelicious/Flickr/CC BY-SA

Educators, parents and politicians alike keep telling us to get that sheepskin, that a middle-class income is not obtainable without at least a bachelor’s degree. Yet, according to new research, more and more community college graduates are out-earning those with fancy schmancy bachelor’s degrees.

Community college graduates surge ahead

A new study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce found that nearly 30 percent of graduates of two-year colleges — those with associate’s degrees — are earning more than those entering the workforce with four-year bachelor’s degrees.

Other recent state-wide studies have come to similar conclusions, according to CNN, hinting at a trend. A worker that graduated with an associate’s degree in Tennessee, for example, earns an average of $38,948 a year. That is more than $1,300 greater than the average annual salary of somebody who earned a four-year degree.

Educated at fraction of cost

The disparity is all the more surprising when you factor in that a bachelor’s degree from a major university can cost upwards of $100,000. Compare that to the community college graduate who, according to MSN, spent about $6,000 to get that associate’s sheepskin. Plus, they don’t have outstanding student loans to bog down their successes for years to come.

Flies against accepted wisdom

That flies against the commonly-accepted belief that a bachelor’s degree is the minimum to find a successful career in today’s competitive job market.

Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, said, “There is that perception that the bachelor’s degree is the default, and, quite frankly, before we started this work showing the value of a technical associate’s degree, I would have said that, too.”

The AIR aided in the GU study by collecting some state data factored into the report’s findings.

Greater need for specialized skills

The reason for the trend is that our increasingly-technological workplace has more and more use for those with specialized skills, and that need is outpacing the need for more traditional types of professionals.

Gia Taylor, the dean of enrollment at Scottsdale Community College in Ariz., said, “For a while there, getting a degree in business guaranteed excellent job prospects and really high entering salaries. That’s just not the case anymore because the market is flooded with those people.”

Air traffic controllers, for instance, can earn more than $13,000 a year with a two-year education. Radiation and dental therapists can both earn more than $70,000 annually. Registered nurses, more than $65,000. Nuclear technicians, better than $69,000. The list goes on.

The dissolving middle-class

Another possible reason for this trend is that our economy is changing. The gulf between the richest and the poorest citizens is increasing, and the middle is dissolving in the stretch. There are no more hard-and-fast rules about how to enter the middle-class when the middle-class itself is increasingly becoming more of an ideal than a real segment of the population.



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