Top job: dental hygienist

The best jobs of 2013 — ranked by pay, work environment, stress and job opportunities — start with actuary, biomedical engineer, software engineer and audiologist, according to CareerCast.  Dental hygienist, ranked sixth, is the top job that requires only an associate degree.  Pay averages $68,250  and demand is growing rapidly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Worst jobs are enlisted military personnel, lumberjack and, bottom of the barrel, newspaper reporter.

High pay, no bachelor’s degree

Air traffic controllers average more than $100,000 a year — without a bachelor’s degree, reports the Wall Street Journal. Also  lucrative: radiation therapist, dental hygienist, nuclear medicine technologist and fashion designer.

10 top jobs for two-year graduates

The 10 top-paying jobs for associate degree graduates are lead by air traffic controller (median pay of $108,040), construction manager ($83,860) and radiation therapist ($74,980), according to NerdWallet.

Among fast-growing jobs, occupations requiring an associate’s degree had the highest average growth — 35 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Health care jobs are driving the rapid expansion of jobs requiring a two-year degree.

Three careers made the high-pay and high-growth list: registered nurse, medical sonographer and dental hygienist.

 Top Jobs Requiring an Associate’s by Median Pay

Virginia tracks graduates’ earnings

Virginia has published a database showing recent graduates’ earnings by college attended, degree and major, reports the Washington Post.

“Students and their families should have this information at their fingertips so they can make better-informed decisions about where to enroll, what to major in and how much debt they might comfortably take on relative to their likely earnings,” Mark Schneider, vice president of the nonprofit American Institutes for Research, told Congress last month.

Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, Nevada and Texas are working on providing similar data and Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have written a bipartisan bill, the “Student Right to Know Before You Go Act,”  which would encourage the trend, reports the Post.

Virginia’s site has limitations: It doesn’t include salary information for graduates who left the state or work in the military or federal government. It also doesn’t track four-year graduates who enrolled in graduate school rather than seeking a job. It may understate the long-term value of a bachelor’s degree.

In the first few years after college, vocational training pays off, according to 2009-10 data. The wages by degree levels chart shows higher median earnings for short-term certificate holders ($30,548) than for graduates with certificates taking more than a year but less than two ($28,490). Graduates with an associate degree designed for transfer students averaged $27,693, while new graduates with an associate degree in an occupational or technical field — nursing is the most common — averaged $36,372.  Two-year occupational graduates earned more than four-year graduates  ($33,122).

According to the wages by program chart, a two-year graduate in auto mechanics averages $32,521, while a four-year graduate in communications/journalism averages $22,547.  A dental hygienist with an associate degree averages $ 52,246, more than a hygienist with a bachelor’s degree.