Study: 2-Year Tech Program Grads Out-Earn 4-Year Liberal Arts Grads

Note: This story was originally posted before the government shutdown started and Tuition Assistance for servicemembers was up in the air. Thankfully, some colleges have stepped in to help keep education options available, and many will offer the programs mentioned here.


The days of the 4-year degree being a ticket to a high income, just because you finished a bachelor’s, may be coming to an end – if they ever really existed at all. The reason: While employers are cutting back on hiring four-year degree holders who don’t bring much in the way of specific job skills, those with technical certificates at the 2-year/associates degree level and specific, definable skill sets are still in demand – and drawing solid salaries and hourly wages.

That’s the upshot of a recent study from, which took a close look at compensation earned by graduates of various educational programs in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

College Measures is the result of a partnership between the American Institutes for Research and Matrix Knowledge Group. The  new organization strives to focus on using data to drive improvement in higher education outcomes in the United States.

In a report released this week called Higher Education Pays – But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than Others, CollegeMeasures concluded that some short-term higher education credentials were worth substantially more in the workplace than full four-year degree programs.

The report also found that earnings were closely correlated to the subjects studied, and that this correlation was stronger with subject matter than it was with the name on the diploma. In other news, it’s not where you study, but what you study, that counts.

Among the findings:

  • •  In Texas, graduates with technical associate’s degrees earned on average over $11,000 more in their first year after graduation than did graduates with bachelor’s degrees. Graduates with career-oriented associate’s degrees in Applied Sciences out-earned their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees in Colorado by more than $7,000 and in Virginia by more than $2,000.
  • •  Among students of state university systems, graduates from flagship campuses who go straight into the labor market, on average, do not earn more than graduates from many of the regional campuses. Flagship campus graduates are, however, more likely to go on to advanced training in their fields, eventually.
  • •  Graduates with bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, music and other liberal arts fields almost always come in at the bottom of the pay scale for college graduates, all other things being equal. Creative writing was the lowest-paying of all majors.
  • •  Engineering graduates earned the most of all fields of study. This was true in every state studied.
  • •  Nurses out-earn business school graduates.


The study also concluded that technology, engineering and mathematics the last three majors in the so-called STEM acronym, were usually very well compensated in the job market. However, those in straight sciences, aside from technology, engineering and mathematics (for example, biology) did not earn a significant wage premium compared to other fields.

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