College graduates earn more is the basic line used to explain why more college is good for America. While this is certainly true in a general sense, the accurate story of education and salaries is a little more complicated.
People with bachelor’s degrees don’t always earn more than people with mere associate degrees or certificates. According to a piece by Martha White at NBC News:
Certain students who earn associate’s degrees can get higher salaries than graduates of four-year programs — sometimes thousands of dollars more. Once they entered the work force, holders of what CollegeMeasures characterizes as “occupational/technical” associate’s degrees made about $6,000 a year more than people who earned associate’s degrees in non-occupational programs. Given the high demand for nurses, computer specialists, mechanical technicians and the like, that’s not unexpected.
The surprising finding is a comparison of those earnings to what bachelor’s degree graduates made, on average: $36,067.
People with liberal arts and humanities majors didn’t even fare that well: on average, grads with political science majors earned $31,184, history majors earned $30,230 and English majors only earned $29,222 a year.
Graduates with “occupational/technical associate’s degrees” earned starting salaries in the $40,000/year range.
So “college” in general helps people earn more money. Four years of college, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a greater salary than two years of college.