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Don’t Knock a Community College Education

Has it been engrained in your mind that a community college diploma or degree is not as good as a four-year Bachelor degree? NPR News’ Alex Friedrich conducted a survey in December 2010 asking high school students, parents, school staff and administrators about how technical and community colleges were perceived. Friedrich was inspired to do this after attending an education conference where students shared that there was a “stigma of community college”—that guidance counselors and teachers tended to advocate in favor of four-year colleges and universities.

Community college students

One respondent to Friedrich’s survey stated:

“When I was at high school, I always thought technical colleges were for people who knew the exact trade they wanted to do, but community colleges I considered for those who weren’t intelligent enough to get into anywhere else.”

Higher Degrees Don’t Always Mean Higher Salaries

The stigma against community colleges and shorter education programs seems to still persist.

“An associate’s degree has long been considered an inferior alternative to a bachelor’s degree,” states Liz Weston in her Reuters’ column (April 20, 2015).

“Nearly 30% of Americans with associate’s degrees now make more than those with bachelor’s degrees, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce.” ~ Jon Marcus, CNNMoney, February 26, 2013

However, Weston talks about the benefits of completing certain two-year degrees and how some of these programs even lead to higher than average paying careers. (Her column is aptly called  “Two-year degrees can really pay off”).

Weston cites some jobs that require an associate degree with higher than average median salaries, based on U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Her examples include diagnostic medical sonographers, occupational therapy assistants and physical therapist assistants (these three are among the BLS’ 20 fastest growing occupations between 2012 and 2022) as well as  dental hygienists, funeral service managers, web developers, electrical and electronics drafters, registered nurses, respiratory therapists, radiation therapists, nuclear technicians, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, radiologic technologists and magnetic resonance imaging technologists…

Check out the median salary and job outlook for some careers that require an associate’s degree compared and compare this to the average for all occupations overall in the United States.

Associates Degree Salary Comparisons

Notice how the major medical imaging careers have higher than average growth rate and salaries.

Occupation Median Wage/Hour (May, 2014) Growth Rate (2012-2022)
All Occupations $17.09/hour 11%
Diagnostic medical Sonographers $32.47/hour 46%
Occupational therapy assistants $27.38/hour 43%
Physical therapist assistants $26.16/hour 41%
Dental hygienists $34.38/hour 33%
Funeral service managers $33.11/hour 13%
Web developers $30.52/hour 20%
Paralegals and Legal Assistants $23.24/hour 17%
Registered nurses $32.04/hour 19%
Respiratory therapists $27.27/hour 19%
Radiation therapists $38.51/hour 24%
Nuclear technicians $35.91/hour 15%
Cardiovascular technologists and technicians $26.12/hour 30%
Radiologic technologists $26.86/hour 21%
Magnetic resonance imaging technologists $32.26/hour 21%
Nuclear medicine technologists $34.66/hour 20%


Changing Perceptions

Remember the survey respondent, from earlier, who said he had thought community college was for people “who weren’t intelligent enough to get into anywhere else.” Well this is what he said next:

“I learned how wrong I was, though, when a great number of my brightest friends picked the local CC.”

The most intelligent thing to do is: do your research. If you can save on tuition by attending a shorter program that turns into a career that interests you and gives you a sustainable salary, then that’s definitely a good move.

Not that we’re against four-year Bachelor degrees or higher degrees either. Each type of program can have its own purpose and benefits.

The trick is finding the one that works best for YOU.

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