The value of a traditional four-year college degree has been on the slide for years in the United States. Meanwhile, the cost of attaining such a degree is perpetually on the rise. New research indicates that American students should take note of other viable options before shelling out money for four-year degrees — especially considering that graduates of many two-year associates and occupational certificate programs now earn just as much as workers with traditional degrees.
A report produced by CollegeMeasures.org compared the earnings of two-year technical degree graduates and traditional bachelor degree holders in in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia. The report found that many two-year and technical degree holders are out earning their bachelor degree holding counterparts in many cases.
In Texas, for example, students with two-year technical degrees have first-year median earnings of more than $50,000 — more than $11,000 higher than graduates of bachelor’s degree programs across the State.
In Tennessee, the study shows that graduates of two-year community college programs routinely earn marginally higher first-year wages than people with bachelor’s degrees. For graduates of 13 community colleges in the State, the average wage is $38,948, more than $1,300 higher than graduates at four-year institutions.
And in Arkansas, technical certificates such as those held by aircraft technicians earned some graduates upward of $40,000 in the first year on the job, while college graduates with a psychology degree earned roughly $26,000.
Aside from higher earning potential in many cases, graduates of two-year and technical programs also benefit from lower tuition costs. Average annual tuition and fees at public four-year colleges was $8,655 and nearly $30,000 at private institutions for the 2012-2013 school year. But public two-year colleges had an average annual tuition bill of just $3,131.
There remains potential, however, for shifts to allow a bachelor’s degree holder to end up out earning the average associate’s degree holder over the course of a career.
Even so, as Richard Vedder, the director of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, pointed out in The Chronicle of Higher Education in December 2010, the constant push for higher education has saturated the job market and forced more graduate and postgraduate degree holders to take jobs for which they are overqualified and/or underpaid.
“[T]he push to increase the number of college graduates seems horribly misguided from a strict economic/vocational perspective. It is precisely that perspective that is emphasized by those, starting with President Obama, who insist that we need to have more college graduates,” Vedder writes.
The market, it seems, is backing Vedder’s assertion.