The question, "is a college degree worth it?" persists as tuition rates increase and student loan debt skyrockets. But the Wall Street Journal breaks down the question over the investment of a college degree even further by asking:  If a student does attend and graduate college, does the graduate from a flagship state university with a bachelor's degree earn more? Or the graduate with a two-year degree from a community college or career college?

Education Pays

A New York Federal Reserve study supports the standpoint that a college degree is, indeed, worth the investment, despite the steep cost of college and wage decreases in the job market. New York Federal Reserve economists calculated that the annualized return on investment for the cost of college vs. career earnings is 15 percent. And even more interesting is that salary data of graduates from public colleges found graduates with associate degrees in a technical field actually outpace many grads with a four-year degree, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Long-Term vs. Short-Term

Although the eventual earnings of a bachelor's degree may exceed an associate's degree, it doesn't change the fact that two-year degrees in nursing, industrial production, fire protection and engineering can offer solid starting salaries above $60,000, according to a study by College Measures in Colorado. College Measures, a partnership of the American Institute for Research and Matrix Knowledge, also found that grads with a bachelor's degree (in any field) during their first year in the workforce was an average starting salary of only $38,860.

Two-year degrees pay off, especially in industries like construction, IT, high-tech manufacturing and health care, states Mark Schneider, president of College Measures.

Leverage Program Offerings

In comparison to the traditional four-year bachelor's degree, the more nontraditional two-year associate's degree has been stigmatized as less valuable or credible. Yet, by emphasizing how earning an associate's degree provides a specialized skill set and preparation for a specific career, career colleges can help assuage student concerns over future gainful employment. Certain industries are actually in need of qualified workers. For skill-specific jobs, career diplomas, certification courses, and associations programs can train students to meet the needs of these in-demand jobs.

As career college programs focus on career-oriented training for targeted fields, the job market becomes increasingly in need of qualified workers to fulfill these in-demand jobs. Additionally, an associate's degree program not only provides economically beneficial opportunities for new students, but provides relevant opportunities for people in search of a career change (without incurring astronomical costs).

Top Paying and In-Demand

Career Colleges that offer associate's degrees are in a good position to adequately prepare graduates for a successful, high earning career. Business Insider highlights the following highest-paying jobs that only require an associate degree, based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Computer network support specialists -  Median annual wage (2012): $59,090; Projected job openings (through 2022): 39,600
  • Radiation therapists  -  Median annual wage (2012): $77,560; Projected job openings (through 2022): 8,400
  • Dental hygienists  -  Median annual wage (2012): $70,210; Projected job openings (through 2022) 113,500
  • Physical therapist -  Median annual wage (2012): $52,160; Projected job openings (through 2022) 45,100
  • Occupational therapy assistants -  Median annual wage (2012): $53,240; Projected job openings (through 2022) 20,500
  • Web developer -  Median annual wage (2012): $62,500; Projected job openings (through 2022) 50,700

For the complete list of top-paying jobs requiring a two-year degree, visit Business Insider's 26 High-Paying Jobs That You Can Get With an Associate's Degree. College admissions can also help students identify degree programs with economic payoff by using Employment Projections as a guide.


Recommended for You: Are Recent College Graduates Succeeding? Results Are In


Resources: Photo Credit (1) Surprising Findings on Two-Year vs. Four-Year Degrees (2) 26 High-Paying Jobs That You Can Get With An Associate's Degree (3) Occupational employment, job openings and worker characteristics (4) Why colllege grads are heading community college