Data show some two-year degrees worth more than four-year counterparts

Data show some two-year degrees worth more than four-year counterparts
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POSTED: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 5:00am

UPDATED: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 1:22pm

Time isn't always money when it comes to higher education.

A new study by shows that in many states, the most prominent schools do not always give graduates the most valuable degrees. And in some cases, students who attend community colleges or trade schools earn higher salaries than students who pursue the same specialties in universities.

Louisiana was not included in that study, but the president of the Louisiana Community and Technical College System believes the results would have been the same here.

"We've been aware for several years that the graduate of many associate degree programs were out-earning baccalaureate degrees," Dr. Joe May said. "We thought it was just a fact of Louisiana, we didn't realize that this was occurring throughout the nation." 

The report disproves the conventional wisdom that going to a four-year school will always be a better investment than a two-year school.

"We kind of assumed that if you didn't go that route, that there weren't great opportunities," May said, and what the data is showing today, (is) that that's just not true." 

Depending on what someone wants to study, the most valuable degrees might not come from the most expensive schools.

"Today, more and more jobs that used to be considered low-skill are now middle-skill jobs," May claimed, "meaning that they require some education beyond high school, but often less than a bachelor's degree, and you get great salaries."

He mentioned nursing, welding, and process management as three fields in which students with an associate's degree may earn more than a student with a bachelor's degree. And students are taking notice.

"We've seen some of our programs this fall double in enrollment, literally going from 400 students to 800 students," May mentioned. "Why? Salary starts at about $65,000 a year from a process technology graduate."

The report from found that graduates of technical associate's degree programs in Texas earn $11,000 more per year than students holding bachelor's degrees.

But the earning power of a degree is completely dependent on the career a student chooses. Many professions, including architecture, medicine, accounting, and engineering, require at least a bachelor's degree.

"LSU, the first year, you have to hand-draw everything," said Cade Williams, a freshman architecture major. "So it's kinda of old-school, but it's going to help you in the long run."

Universities also offer social benefits like football games and Greek life that students are not likely to find at a community college.

"I live on campus again this year," said James Wallbillich, a sophomore from Baton Rouge. "It's nice to be able to walk to all your classes. I go to Christ the King down the road, I'm kind of involved there. It's easy to be involved in clubs, you've got the U-Rec. It's very easy to be involved on this campus."

Wallbillich is a psychology major, and attending a research institution like LSU has given him opportunities that could shape his career path.

"Right now, I work at a clinic for autistic children, where we do applied behavioral analysis therapy," he noted. "And I might be interested in making a career out of that." 

Earning power is something Wallbillich and Williams said was one of several factors that went into their decisions about what to study and which school to attend.

"A little bit, but not too much," Williams claimed, even though a degree in architecture requires five years of study instead of four. "I enjoy [architecture], and the hours are pretty good."

"It's definitely a consideration, especially if you're going to have a family or support yourself," Wallbillich said. "But I think it's going to all take care of itself."

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