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Community College Grads Now Earning More than 4-Year Degree Recipients


A new set of studies have turned the college education paradigm right on its head.  According to research at the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, nearly 30% of Americans earning community college associate’s degrees are earning more than those with bachelor’s degrees.  Also, there is research stating that in many states, community college grads are earning more on average than four-year grads at state universities.

One state is Virginia, where graduates of occupational and technical degree programs at community colleges earn an average of $40,000 per year, which is $2,500 per year more than the average student with a bachelor’s degree.

“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,” says Mark Schneider, vice president of the American Institutes for Research, which helped collect the earning numbers for some states.

Another factor that is taken into account is the amount of debt that students incur in order to obtain a four-year degree.  This, added to the additional time, can make a four-year degree a losing proposition for students who are only going to college in order to obtain better career opportunities.  The numbers can be worse for African Americans, who may have trouble getting corporate jobs that are typically biased in their hiring process.

According to the College Board, the typical two-year degree at a community college costs $6,262.  A four-year degree from a private, residential university is, on average, $158,072.  Many students are left with more than six figures of debt after college, and the loans pile on further if the student decides to attend medical or law school.  Some are wondering if college is fast becoming a luxury item that most Americans can no longer afford.

The rise in wages is being driven by an increased demand in “middle skills,” such as those for lab technicians, computer engineers, radiation therapists and paralegals.   In some two-year programs, students can do quite well.  Air traffic controllers can earn $113,547 per year, radiation therapists earn $76,627 and registered nurses earn $65,853, according to Careerbuilder.com.

“I would not suggest anyone look down their nose at the associate’s degree,” says Jeff Strohl, director of research at the Georgetown center.

Even more interesting is that America is not producing enough holders of associate’s degrees.   Only 10% of Americans obtain degrees for middle-skills, while 19% of Japanese do the same, and 24% of Canadians.  Even as President Obama pushes for increases in community college enrollment, the numbers continue to decline.


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