I don’t like to say I told you so, but .. well, you know.

Today’s paper had an interesting story about the relative value of advanced degrees.

Turns out it’s not quite as simple as “the more, the better” when it comes to post-secondary training. In fact, a newly released comparison of student records and unemployment payouts in several states reveals that many two-year degree recipients earn better wages, at least at the outset, than many entry-level workers with four-year degrees. Here are some major findings, according to USA Today’s take (linked above). The bullet points are direct quotes:


• Some short-term degrees command higher salaries than bachelor’s degrees: In Texas, new graduates from technical associate’s degree programs earned average salaries more than $11,000 higher than those for graduates with bachelor’s degrees. In Colorado, graduates with associate degrees in applied sciences out-earned their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees by more than $7,000 and in Virginia by more than $2,000.

• Higher tuition does not necessarily lead to higher salaries: In Colorado, first-year earnings for graduates of Colorado State University’s flagship campus in Fort Collins averaged $36,777, slightly lower than the average $37,726 earned by graduates of CSU’s Pueblo campus. Tuition at the Fort Collins campus this fall for state residents is $7,494, compared with $4,894 at Pueblo.


The details may be new, but the broad-strokes lessons shouldn’t be., given the feedback I got from readers about some of the observations I made after President Obama announced his most recent policy push to make higher education affordable for everyone. Here’s a snippet of what I said:

“The truth is, despite broad generalizations that show the average worker’s lifetime earnings jump with each accumulated diploma, advanced degrees are not inherently good investments.

“The amount a worker earns depends a whole lot on his or her choice of occupation — something that makes sense to anyone who has ever held a job. That means an English major is not worth the same, in dollars, as an engineering degree. Or, as the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce summarized it in a 2011 paper titled “The College Payoff:” “In a surprising number of cases, people with less educational attainment earn more than those with more.”

“In fact, many of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy are in health care services and trades that require only a few semesters’ worth of school. There is no reason for every American to go to graduate school, or even to get a four-year degree. No matter how affordable we try to make it.

It’s true that higher education has more esoteric value than a paycheck. There’s the benefit of broadening your horizons, of developing research and critical thinking skills, of meeting new people and ideas — of learning about yourself and the world.

But a lot of student are counting on a more concrete and spendable ROI when they sign the dotted line for tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. As I said last week, figuring out our college debt problem will require action on a lot of fronts, but making sure students have a clear understanding of the financial risks and likely rewards seems like a big one.



Column: College affordability and student loan debt

Obama unveiling new plan to make college more affordable

Harkin helps push student loan bill through Senate

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©2013 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)

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