When an Associate Degree Outpays a Bachelor’s

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Some people graduate with a 2-year degree into $50,000-a-year jobs. And some with 4-year degrees make $10 an hour.

There will always be exceptions to every rule, and when it comes to education and financial success, there’s no shortage. For example, some college dropouts are billionaires, like Bill Gates.

But CNN Money cites research saying that 30 percent of people with associate’s degrees are making more than those with bachelor’s degrees, and that their average starting pay is higher in many states – so they’re getting ahead right away, not years down the road.

In Tennessee, the A team (associates degree) grads edge out the B team’s (bachelors) by an average of $1,300. In Virginia, by $2,500.

By mid-career, bachelor’s degree holders catch up in earnings. But they may have paid a lot more to get there. Two years at a community college costs about $6,300 while four years at a private school, CNN says, runs $158,000. (A public university wouldn’t be that much, of course, but the point is still valid.) They also take a look at some well-paying jobs possible with a 2-year degree…

With a two-year community college degree, air traffic controllers can make $113,547, radiation therapists $76,627, dental hygienists $70,408, nuclear medicine technologists $69,638, nuclear technicians $68,037, registered nurses $65,853, and fashion designers $63,170, CareerBuilder.com reported in January.

If you take the longer view, the research CNN cites shows that the average bachelor’s degree holder makes $500,000 more over his or her lifetime than someone with an associate’s. Double that figure versus someone with just a high school diploma.

Part of the reason behind the early advantage for associate’s degrees may be that two-year programs’ focus on practical skills and training in areas where demand isn’t being met. Meanwhile, many unprepared students go into four-year programs undecided, take a lot of liberal arts classes, and then end up working in a totally unrelated job, which they might have had without the expense of college.   But the averages imply that many eventually move on to much-better paying jobs.

If you’re thinking about higher education, make sure you check out all the options and look for scholarship money before making an expensive commitment. The stories below can help.

Stacy Johnson

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