Conventional wisdom says the more education you have, the more you’ll earn over your lifetime. But that’s not always the case. According to a new report by a New York-based policy center, some associate degrees lead to better-paying careers than bachelor degrees.
Specifically, the study done by Demos reports that 31% of associate-degree holders — in high-skilled fields like health care and engineering — earn more than someone holding a bachelor degree. Along the same lines, 43% of certificate holders make more than those with an associate degree.
Community College Times recently wrote this article on the new study, and we decided to weigh in using our national occupational and earnings data as a gauge. The analysis includes three education levels: vocational award, associate degree, and bachelor degree.
Using a tool we designed to look at local employment, we filtered for the various earnings levels and education categories. Included below is a look at national county-level data for the fourth quarter of 2009.
For this category, we sorted by occupations with median hourly earnings of at least $20. Notice that five of these jobs are in the installation, maintenance, and repair field. The most promising occupation in terms of growth and wages is electrical repairers, powerhouse, substation, and relay.
For this category, we found all occupations where the average education level is an associate degree and median earnings are at least $25 per hour. Nine of the 11 occupations that fit those criteria are in health care and engineering — just as the Demos study pointed out.
For this category, we looked at all bachelor-level occupations for only two fields — engineering and health care. We then included only those that make at least $25 per hour to make for a better comparison of the associate-level occupations above.
While this isn’t a direct comparison by any means, the average earnings at the bachelor level for health care and engineering occupations ($35.72) is higher than at the associate level. But in certain two-year health care occupations (dental hygienists, radiation therapists), the earnings are better than in some four-year health care occupations.
For engineering occupations, meanwhile, the data suggests that a bachelor degree means more — in some cases much more — in terms of median salary.
If you’d like to see an earnings comparison for your region, please email Josh Wright or call 208.883.3500.