Studies: Some community college grads earn more than those with bachelor's degrees

What and where students study has a long-term effect

New research shows that some community college graduates out-earn their bachelor's degree-holding peers even a decade after graduation, reports Jill Barshay for The Hechinger Report's "Education by the Numbers."

Mark Schneider, VP at the American Institutes for Research, examined immediate post-graduation, five-year, and 10-year employment outcomes in his "College Measures" studies by matching degrees to wage data from states' unemployment insurance systems.

Contrary to arguments that community college graduates may see their specific technical skills quickly go obsolete, some majors yielded median salaries higher than some four year graduates'—even ten years out.

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Schneider examined data from Texas, Florida, Tennessee, and most recently Colorado. He is still working on reports about Minnesota and Virginia.

On average, bachelor's degree holders make more than those with certificates or associate degrees, but that average obscures wide salary differences based on field of study.

For example, in Colorado, those who studied early childhood education or cosmetology at a community college made a median salary 10 years after graduation of less than $35,000—but individuals who studied fire protection made nearly $73,000. Meanwhile, the median salary for a graduate with a bachelor's degree in psychology, English, or history was less than $50,000.

"It's not the degree that matters, but what you got the degree in and to some extent, where you got it," Schneider says.

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He argues that four-year degrees, which often require taking on student debt, are not the only way to break into the middle class.

However, Schneider acknowledges many programs leading to the highest salaries require advanced math skills and self-discipline, so many students may not be prepared for them (Barshay, "Education by the Numbers," The Hechinger Report, 5/25).

The takeaway: Community college credentials result in high salaries, depending on what and where individuals studied, according to a VP of American Institutes for Research.

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