Higher education advocates often see community colleges as introducing students to college cheaply. Students can attend these colleges cheaply and then use their education to transfer to traditional colleges. But according to an article in Community College Times, in some cases the associate’s degree might be good enough:

In many cases, certificates and associate degrees offered by community colleges can lead to higher salaries than four-year degrees, according to a report from the policy center Demos. Degrees in engineering and health care—two fields where worker shortages continue—are particularly lucrative, it says.

The Demos study, “Graduated Success: Sustainable Economic Opportunity Through One- and Two-Year Credentials,” indicates that people who earned two-year degrees in engineering and health care earn about the same salary (in the mid forties) as the average person with a bachelor’s degree in the social or natural sciences. They actually earn more than someone with a bachelor’s degree in education.

The comparison is somewhat random because the study compares the earnings of people with degrees in different areas. Presumably the average person who earns an associate’s degree in education earns a good deal less than someone with a bachelor’s degree in the same field. Someone with a bachelor’s degree in engineering or health care earns more than someone with an associate’s degree in engineering or health care, etc.

Still, the study demonstrates that a two-year degree can prepare people for genuine careers, even without additional study.

It’s not all good news for community college graduates, however. The report also indicates that even after financial aid low-income students at community colleges pay an average $7,000 out of pocket for their educations. That sort of debt cuts pretty deeply into a salary, no matter how high.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer