NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Associate's Degree Payoff: Community College Grads Can Get High-Paying Jobs

July 3, 2013

Outside of fields that require specific certificates or degrees, it's not always clear to students which higher education path they should take -- community college or a four-year university, says Joshua Wright, an editor at EMSI, an Idaho-based economics firm that provides data and analysis to workforce boards, economic development agencies, higher education institutions and the private sector.

There are many fields in which associate's degree graduates can make just as much or more than bachelor's degree holders. Indeed, based on first-year salaries of graduates, Jeffrey Selingo points out in the Wall Street Journal that some community college degrees have been shown to have a stronger early return than bachelor's degrees.

But what specific careers are we talking about? Here are eight of the highest paying:

  • Radiation therapists ($37.36 median hourly earnings).
  • Dental hygienists ($34.77).
  • Nuclear medicine technologists ($33.96).
  • Nuclear technicians ($32.85).
  • Diagnostic medical sonographers ($31.83).
  • Aerospace engineering and operations technicians ($29.48).
  • Engineering technicians, except drafters, all other ($28.54).
  • Respiratory therapists ($27.04).

Note: This list doesn't include the many high-paying jobs available through vocational technical education. Plumbers, electricians, welders -- and an array of other skilled trades -- often offer better wages than bachelor's degree-required fields.

Source: Joshua Wright, "The Associate's Degree Payoff: Community College Grads Can Get High-Paying Jobs, and Here Are Some Examples," New Geography, June 27, 2013.


Browse more articles on Education Issues