When my dad was growing up on a farm, my grandfather made him and all my uncles work at the nearby sugar factory. The pay wasn’t that great, and the work was dirty and difficult. My grandfather had a motive for sending them to participate in this job.
“Do you like working there? No?” he asked. Then he continued, “Get an education. If you want a good job, you need to go to school and get a college degree.”
As a result, my dad and his brothers all excelled in education and earned advanced degrees with little surprises.
But, as my husband nears the end of his Ph.D. work, and as I stare at the Master’s diploma on my wall, I wonder if an advanced degree is really worth what you pay to get it. How cost efficient is even a four-year degree?
With college tuition rising, and financial aid dwindling, university is more expensive than ever. And when you are done, your return on investment may not be that great. Right now, the job market is tough, and you may find yourself saddled with a job that pays less than $40,000 a year — while your student loans may total upwards of $60,000. (Luckily, there are ways to reduce debt effectively. Here are 25 such ways.)
Good Jobs You Can Do with an Associate’s Degree
U.S. News and World Report has a rather interesting look at jobs you can do without getting a four-year degree. The following jobs are most often done by people with Associate’s degrees, and include the median pay for each job as reported by U.S. News:
- Dental Hygienist: $66,570
- Radiation Therapist: $72,910
- Respiratory Therapist: $52,200
There are other professional jobs that require some sort of vocational or long-term on the job training — no degree at all — and pay reasonably well. You might have to pay for training sessions and to take exams, but you generally pay less than attending school. U.S. News reports on some of those jobs, with their median annual salaries:
- Subway Operator: $53,220
- Powerhouse Electrical Repair: $61,040
- Nuclear Power Reactor Operator: $73,320
- Air Traffic Control: $111,870
Educational Return on Investment
Of course, it isn’t always about the money. Many people choose their professions based on a passion. For others, money isn’t a deciding factor due to their enjoyment of a frugal lifestyle. However, if you are looking for educational return on investment, it is clear that a four-year degree may not always deliver the best value for the money. (Although there are still plenty of jobs where a four-year degree — or an advanced degree — is required.)
I’m not saying education isn’t valuable. I’m all for education. But maybe a formal four-year degree isn’t always the way to go. Instead, it might be more cost-efficient, and you might get more long-term value, if you focus on a skill that others need. This is a type of education that we do not often think about. But in a society with increasing demands on specialization, the type of education that focuses on the development of specific skills might provide better returns for your education dollar.
Two of my cousins are radiation techs, and they make pretty decent money, especially considering how long they went to school, and how much they paid for their respective education. It took less than a year for one to pay off the loans for her program and the other took two years. Both of them also had their pick of jobs, since their skills are in high demand.
If you are concerned strictly about return on investment in areas that expect to see job growth in the next five to 10 years, you might do well to start looking at professional training programs and certain Associate’s degree programs. You just might be able to find a good job — and find it faster — if you consider options outside of a traditional four-year degree track.
Education is important. Though Miranda makes a great case, never ever use her reasoning as an excuse. If you thought this through, by all means, make the sensible and mature decision. However, if you are like most people in high school who couldn’t care less about their future (yet), stick with the 4 year university as you mature and figure out what you actually want to do.
One of these days, you will figure it out but don’t do anything like drop out of school if you don’t know what you are going to doing with your time yet.