The romantic ideal of going to college to study what you love and to learn how to be a learner, so to speak, is rapidly falling by the wayside.
As college costs soar and new graduates struggle to find a job as well as pay off student loans that average $25,000 per student, many people are arguing whether going to a four year university is even worthwhile.
Another option that many don’t think about is pursuing a two year associate’s degree.
A community college is often seen as a lesser quality, less expensive option to a four year college. Many see it as a stepping stone for a mediocre high school student to improve his academic record to transfer into a four year college.
However, this thinking denies the student another important, cheaper, option–attending a community college to earn a practical degree and begin working right away.
How An Associate’s Degree Can Be Better Than a Four-Year Degree
All the Benefits without the Debt
The argument is that those with associate degrees won’t make as much as those with a bachelor’s degree, but this is no longer true.
Consider Berevan Omer who graduated from a community college one week and started working “the following Monday as a computer networking engineer at a local television station , making about $50,000 a year” (CNN Money). His salary is $7,500 more than the average starting salary for 4 year college graduates (CNN Money).
Sure, some may say, a graduate with an associate’s degree may make more in the beginning, but eventually a graduate with a bachelor’s degree will catch up.
This is true, but think of what happens in those years.
Consider the case of Joe who recently graduated with an associate’s degree and Ellen who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Joe may buy a house at 23 and make house payments while Ellen, who is searching for a good job, will rent for several more years, not buying a house until she is 30. Theoretically, Joe will be able to pay off his house by the time he is 53, while Ellen won’t pay hers off until she is 60.
Because Joe is making a decent living earlier in life, he can begin investing sooner than Ellen. This may be many years sooner because he likely isn’t saddled with huge student loan debt that he must repay, as Ellen is. Perhaps Ellen finally feels able to invest at 30, but she is still paying down student loans, so she can’t invest as much as Joe. Thanks to the power of compounding interest, those extra years Joe had to invest help narrow the gap between how much money he makes in his lifetime and how much Ellen makes.
Because community college programs often teach students specific skills rather than theories, those with associate’s degrees may be better able to make a decent salary right from the beginning. Many of the jobs that only require a two year degree yet offer an excellent salary are in the medical field. Some of the enviable salaries new graduates with associate’s degrees make include $70,408 for dental hygienists and $65,853 for registered nurses (CNN Money).
However, there are also lucrative jobs outside the medical field.
An electrical technician, for instance, earns a median salary of $46,426, but “‘electrical technicians have the highest increase in earnings over a 15-year period’ according to Wendy Cullen, vice president of employer development for Everest College” (Bankrate).
Meanwhile, unfortunately, many with recent bachelor’s degrees are making your coffee at the local Starbucks. In fact, “many people with bachelor’s degrees are working in fields other than the ones in which they majored, according to a new report by the Center for College Affordability and Productivity” (CNN Money).
Related: Best Careers for the Future
A Smart Path to a Bachelor’s Degree
If a person graduates with an associate’s degree and lands a plum job, a smart path to a bachelor’s degree, if she would like one, is to have the employer pay for it as part of professional development. Not only does she side step the debt that comes with a four year degree, but she continues to earn a good salary while continuing her education. Once she earns the four year degree, she’ll make even more money. The income stream continues and grows from the time she first earns her associate’s degree.
If you or your children are considering attending college, don’t automatically assume that a bachelor’s degree is necessary to earn a good salary.
Now, in many cases, an associate’s degree may offer significant advantages over earning a bachelor’s degree.