Career grads outearn 4-year grads

Florida’s community college graduates with vocational certificates and two-year occupational degrees start at higher salaries than state university graduates with bachelor’s degrees, the state reports.

Why? Two words: health careers. With an associate degree in applied science,  community college graduates are earning serious money as nurses, medical technicians, etc.  Others are prepared for jobs as computer techs, paralegals and utility workers. I’m surprised six-month certificate holders are earning more than four-year graduates, but many of those bachelor’s degrees are in non-technical majors with little labor market value.

Community college students in career programs aren’t pondering the meaning of life, but neither are most four-year students, who are piling up a lot of debt for that sociology degree.

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  1. The article overlooks a few things:
    1. The graduation rates of those schools are so low that the average entrant makes much less on average.
    2. Starting salaries don’t equate to higher total lifetime earnings. Many of those technician jobs have fairly flat pay scales.

  2. True, Ari, but if you fail to complete a 2-year or certificate program, you’ve piled up far less debt than if you fail to complete a 4-year program (many of which also have less-than-stellar completion rates). Also, since CC’s are open admission, we should expect a fairly high non-completion rate. And, the lifetime salaries earned by 4-year grads are also skewed: much higher for occupations that students who end up with 2-year degrees or certificates typically aren’t aiming for in the first place (with exceptions, of course).

  3. In Florida state schools, I’m told that the debt issue is likely to vary by campus. At UF, almost all the Florida residents (90% of students by state law, I think) have some state scholarships, since it is the flagship campus and the most competitive as far as admission standards. I know a recent UF grad and everyone she knew started out with 100% plus books; I think it is 1/4-1/2-3/4-100% according to some grades/SAT formula. Some of them lost the funding by failing to keep the minimum GPA, of course.

  4. I can remember being rather shocked when I was a recent graduate of an elite university that a fellow Army wife was making nearly triple my salary after having completed a 15 month ultrasound technician program. Within 5 years, my salary did grow to the point where it surpassed hers, but given the huge cost differential between my degree and her certificate and the fact that I shelved my career to raise my kids, I’m not sure that hers won’t ultimately be the better financial investment.

  5. Many of the certificate programs offered at CCs could well be offered at a vocational HS; certainly things like the ultrasound tech, MAs (medical assistant), NA (nursing assistant), surgical techs, dental assistants, cosmetology, auto mechanics, lots of the computer/office types, sheet metal etc. At the very least, most of the above could be done in the 4-year HS time frame, even done as a co-op or partnership program with CCs. Every student I’ve talked to at one of the local cosmetology schools would have LOVED to have had that option in HS, as have several of the MAs. (I know one of their programs cost $10k for the 10 months).

  6. Ari, With respect to your second point, the article actually does address the lifetime earning potential of 2 year vs. 4 year degrees. You need to click through to the Miami Herald story.

    Momof4, Not sure where you live, but here in NJ many vocational high schools do offer many of the programs you’ve outined. My current hair stylist is a vocational high school graduate. It is unfortunate that these options aren’t more widely available, though.

  7. Interesting. My hair stylist is also a graduate of a vocational technical high school program. As was the last one! They are both very enthusiastic, excellent at their jobs, young, and looking forward to a lifetime careers! Let’s bring back vocational technical high school options that work for so many students!

  8. I’m old enough to remember when high schools had two different tracks offered for students. We had things like auto/metal/wood shop, cullinary arts, horticulture (what would be known as groundskeeping today), and others.

    In today’s economic climate there is no way a high school could even offer the type of training needed to become a competent automotive technician, or sonograph technician, etc (equipment, insurance, safety, and so forth).

    Also, if you look at a community or junior college, many of these programs are limited entry (esp. in the health care sector) with requirements for knowledge of math (through algebra or pre-calculus), science (biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology), and so on.

    In an era where many students do not read at grade level (the average american reads at an 8th grade level) and have atrocious math skills, many of them wouldn’t make it through the above coursework before they quit or dropped out (not being a pessimist, but rather a realist).

    While many students would have wished the programs could have been available while they were in high school, from what I’ve seen, they probably would have been completely overcrowded and in an environment which actually requires one on one, or small groups to work with, it would have been a disaster.

  9. Where I now live, the local high schools have cooperative arrangements with a local tech school, actually run by the district, which offers many of the options mentioned to qualified HS students, who graduate from HS with most or all of their training completed. Yes, there are entry standards, but preparing kids for college, CC or work is the purpose of the k-12 system; to the extent that they are not doing it, they need to improve.