When Community College Graduates Earn More

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Maybe college, ah, isn’t really worth it. Or at least the full bachelor’s degree isn’t worth it in terms of increased earnings. According to an article by Michael Vasquez at the Miami Herald

State employment data that track the earnings of recent graduates show those who earned a career-focused associate’s degree or postsecondary certificate from a Florida community college are in many cases making more money than bachelor’s degree recipients at state universities.

What the numbers say: Bachelor’s degree recipients from the state’s 11 public universities earned an average starting salary of $36,552 in 2009. Meanwhile, those who received associate in science degrees from Florida community colleges earned an average of $47,708 — a difference of $11,000 more per year.

Vasquez suggests that this earning differentially may have to do with two things. The first is that community colleges “are dominated by job-specific training courses for occupations,” which means students have a certificate demonstrating that they can do something really specific, right away. Floridians with bachelor’s degrees, in contrast, often don’t have such a clear demonstration that they have practical skills, and that’s why they don’t get paid at much for their starting salaries.

The other reason for the surprising earning gap has to do with experience. In general people get paid more the more experience they have. Because people who earn associate degrees from community colleges are frequently nontraditional students; they often begin their college encounter with significant work experience. This allows them to command a higher salary than traditional college graduates, 22-year-olds with no work experience.

This earning differential doesn’t hold true for an entire career. Even if some community college graduates can earn higher starting salaries than those with bachelor’s degrees, over the long run the bachelor’s degree holders earn a lot more. Those “job-specific training courses for occupations” may help students earn some extra money early on, but most of those occupations have pretty low salary ceilings. [Image via]

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