Beyond the bachelor's degree: Associate degrees see higher growth rate in the future

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 11:56 p.m. MDT

But while Kofke needed a bachelor's to fulfill his dream of being a teacher, in the workplace today, many people are being overeducated for the jobs they end up having, said George Leef, director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy based in Raleigh, N.C. He said many college grads today are underemployed and that by pushing a bachelor's (or even a college) degree on everyone, it contributes to degree inflation.

Marquit, who has been writing about finance for the last several years, recently wrote an article about degrees for AllBusiness.com and concluded that "a formal four-year degree isn't always the way to go."

"In this economy, and with the way things are moving, you have to have a marketable skill," Marquit said. "We have this sentiment that 'if you don't have a four-year degree, you are doomed.' That isn't true. But it is important to get an education in a marketable skill."

Earlier this year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics named registered nurses (an occupation that only requires an associate degree) as one of the fields expected to have the largest job growth over the next eight years. And of those jobs with the most projected growth, it has the highest median annual salary at $64,690.

In its report, the bureau predicted that from 2010 to 2020, the number of registered nurses will grow by more than 700,000 – a 26 percent increase.

Other jobs like dental hygienists, which make about $68,250 a year, and occupational therapy assistants which make about $51,010 annually also only require a two-year degree and are seen as some of the fastest growing jobs.

In February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that generally a person with more education will make more money, but a person who gets an associate degree in a technical field "may very well have higher earnings than those with higher levels (of education)." For instance, it reports that a person with an associate's degree in engineering will make about $1,000 more a month than a person with a bachelor's in elementary education.

On average those with some college and no degree earn about $600 less a month than those with an associate's degree, the report states. And those with a bachelor's degree make about $1,200 more than those with an associate's.

Difference between the A's

People who get an occupation specific degree and then go into that field end up making about 30 to 40 percent more than those who don't go into their specific field of study, said Stephen J. Rose, who has worked for the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce for the last 10 years. But he also mentioned, that the more education a person gets, the less important it is to work in his or her field of study.

This is why many people push students to get a bachelor's degree. Bachelor degree holders earn, on average, about 31 percent more than workers with an associate's degree, according to Rose, Anthony P. Carnevale and Ban Cheah in their report The College Payoff.

"No matter how you cut it, more education pays," the report concludes. But it also emphasizes that even for those like Allison who don't get a bachelor's or graduate degree, two-year degrees holders make a "sizeable economic return" by going to college.

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