Tennessee: Certificate holders out-earn 4-year grads

Tennessee workers with associate degrees and long- term certificates often start at higher wages than four-year graduates, according to a new College Measures study. It takes five years for graduates with bachelor’s degrees to catch up.

“You don’t need to go to a flagship university to get a good job. There are many successful paths into the labor market,” said Mark Schneider, author of the report. “Students have the right to know before they go and know before they owe.”

The EduTrendsTN website, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group, has detailed data on labor market returns in Tennessee.

At the end of the first year in the workforce, long-term certificate holders earned more than $40,000, those with associate degrees, $37,000 and those with a bachelor’s, $34,262. After five years, the median wages of bachelor’s graduates were similar to two-year graduates’ earnings  ($41,888 versus $41,699), and slightly trailed certificate holders ($42,250).

“Many sub-baccalaureate credentials can be entryways to the middle class,” Schneider said.

Learning how to fix things or fix people pays off, writes Schneider on The Quick and the Ed. For associate degree graduates, electric engineering technicians earned the most ($61,000) after five years. Graduates in nursing and allied health fields also did well.

Graduates in business, liberal arts and management and information systems earned less than the state median. Human Development and Family Studies graduates earned much less.

After five years, associate degree graduates average $41,699, a few dollars more than Tennessee’s median household income.

“Five years after graduation, the 15 Tennesseans who got bachelor’s degrees in ethnic, cultural minority, or gender studies were making an average annual wage of $26,000, actually about $2,000 per year less than they were making one year after graduation,” notes Fawn Johnson on National Journal. 

In a recent survey, 99 percent of parents with children in college said that college is “an important investment in one’s future.” Yet, “only about half of students, graduates, and parents of college students had engaged in an ‘in-depth’ conversation about how student loans would be managed or paid for after graduation.”

Major decisions: What graduates earn

The average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree will earn $1.19 million over a lifetime, compared to $855,000 for an associate degree holder and $580,000 for a worker with only a high school degree, estimates The Hamilton Project.  But the choice of a college major makes a huge difference in earnings.

Overall, more-educated people earn more.  But graduates in engineering, computer science and other quantitative fields will earn a lot more than people who major in early childhood education, family sciences (home economics), theology, fine arts, social work, and elementary education.

In the lowest-paying fields, four-year graduates can expect to earn less than the average worker with an associate degree.

For the median bachelor’s graduate, cumulative lifetime earnings across majors range from just under $800,000 (early childhood education) to just over $2 million (chemical engineering).

Figure 2: Median Lifetime Earnings for Select Majors (In Millions of Dollars) 

What will I earn with a degree?

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees, reports AP. A new state web site will provide median earnings, employment and post-degree education by major, degree and campus.

Five years after earning an associate degree in cardiovascular technology, community college graduates average $60,869. Other top-earning degrees are radiation therapy technology, fire protection technology, nuclear medicine technology and clinical trials research associate.

The median income for associate degree graduates in all subjects was $30,345 after five years. (The search function isn’t fully operational for associate degrees and doesn’t work at all for certificates.)

Nuclear engineering graduates average $89,537 a year five years after earning a bachelor’s degree. Theater graduates average $10,400.

“Of course, there are many paths to success. So this is not a recommendation, it’s just a way to arm students and families with good, useful information,” said Peter Hans, who pushed for the project when he was chairman of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors.

Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, said North Carolina’s program, inaugurated last week, is one of the best at showing the value of a degree. He expects college instructors to hate it. “They don’t get up every day and think about getting somebody a job. They’re teaching history or something, so this is news to them,” Carnevale said.

All the top-paying degrees are in engineering and technology. assocdegreechart

Maine also has launched a site with earnings information by degree for community college and state university graduates.

Students use math, physics to build potato guns

Tyler Jewell, a Dixie Tech student, fires his potato cannon.

Engineering isn’t for couch potatoes at Dixie Applied Technology College in St. George, Utah. Students demonstrate their grasp of “fluid power” by building potato guns and seeing who can shoot a spud the farthest, reports AP.

The Industrial and Facilities Maintenance students are studying hydraulic, pneumatic, pump and valve system science. The potato gun — or bazooka or cannon — competition has been an annual tradition for three years now said Vic Hocket, Dixie Tech’s president.

Amid cheers from the small crowd gathered to watch, the competitors aimed for a line about 100 yards down the tarmac. A spotter measured the distance each potato flew.

“Everyone’s seen the combustion-style potato gun,” Hockett said. “With this competition, there’s zero combustion. It’s all air powered. The idea is to create a vessel to hold enough air pressure and air volume to propel a potato when the air is dumped.”

Jason Ray, a former long-haul truck driver, is training for a new career in industrial maintenance. He built a metal tube gun, which he held over his shoulder like a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

“This is a coaxial design where the barrel is inside the reservoir,” Ray said. “It uses a composite piston, so when you charge it with air, the incoming air pressure forces the piston against the barrel and it seals it. And then when I press the on-off switch it activates the solenoid sprinkler valves, dumping all the air pressure that’s behind the piston. And the air pressure that’s in the reservoir forces the piston back.”

Dustin Lang put his employment at local salad dressing maker Litehouse Foods to use by utilizing stainless steel tubing and a fast-acting gate valve for his ground-mounted launcher.

“We went through all the mathematical scenarios of how long the barrel has to be, with how many psi and what the barrel diameter (should be),” Lang said.

Students have to master “some pretty elaborate concepts,” said Steve Carwell, who directs the operations management program.

‘College premium’ is exaggerated

The “college premium” has been exaggerated by high-profile studies, write Andrew G. Biggs and Abigail Haddad in The Atlantic. So has the payoff for majoring in a STEM field.

Smarter people are more likely to earn a college degree and to major in engineering, science and math, they write.

Only 58 percent of new college students who began in 2004 had graduated six years later, according to federal data. “Dropout rates are even higher at less selective colleges, whose students are presumably most on the margin between attending college following high school and entering the workforce.”

Calculating returns to education only for those who attend college and graduate is like measuring stock returns for Google while ignoring those for General Motors.

High school students who go on to college are quite different from those go directly to the workforce, they write.

(The collegebound) took a more rigorous high school curriculum, scored better on tests of reading and math, came from higher-income families, were in better physical and mental health, and were less likely to have been arrested. These are all correlated with higher earnings regardless of whether a person attends college . . .

Controlling for “both the risk of not graduating from college and differing personal characteristics” cuts the “earnings boost attributable to college attendance” in half, write Biggs and Haddad.

Graduates in technical fields earn significantly more than graduates in “softer” majors, studies have shown. “High school graduates aiming for high-earning majors such as engineering enter college with higher average SAT scores, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, while those aiming for lower-paying majors have lower average SAT scores,” write Biggs and Haddad. “High-paying jobs also entail longer work hours.”

Majors matter

Should you major in drama, anthropology, nursing or mechanical engineering? Majors matter when it comes to earnings and employment, reports the Bay Area News Group. With a bachelor’s in drama, a recent graduate can expect to earn $25,000 a year. Anthropology majors average $27,000 with 12.6 percent unemployment. Nursing graduates start at $48,000, while mechanical engineers can expect to earn $57,000 just out of college.

With experience, pharmaceutical and engineering majors nearly triple the salaries of arts majors.

Where the money is — and isn’t

NPR charts The Most (And Least) Lucrative College Majors.

Erin Ford graduated from the University of Texas two years ago with a bachelor’s degree in petroleum engineering. Recruiters came to campus to woo her. She got a paid summer internship, which turned into a full-time job after she graduated. Now, at age 24, she makes $110,000 a year.

Michael Gardner just graduated from City College in New York with a degree in psychology. He applied for more than 100 jobs, had trouble getting interviews and worked at Home Depot to make ends meet. “Every single day while I was at work, I’m thinking, ‘I just hope I really don’t get stuck.’ ” Gardner just got a job earning $36,000 a year as a case worker — and he feels lucky to have it.

There are no surprises in the high-earnings chart. On the low side, a health/medical prep degree doesn’t pay well because it requires graduate work.

Income by major

Higher ed pays — for technical grads

Higher Education Pays: But a Lot More for Some Graduates Than for Others concludes a Lumina-funded report by Dr. Mark Schneider, the president of College Measures. “What you study matters more than where you study,” says Schneider, a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR).  Learning technical and occupational skills pays off, even for graduates of low-prestige colleges and universities. A music, photography or creative writing graduate from a prestige university will struggle.

Schneider analyzed first-year earnings of graduates of two-year and four-year colleges in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

Some short-term credentials, including occupational associate’s degrees and certificates, are worth as much or more than bachelor’s degrees, the study found. For example, Texans with technical associate’s degrees averaged more than $11,000 more than four-year graduates in their first year in the workforce.

Certificates that require one or two years of study may raise earnings as much as an associate degree, especially a transfer-oriented degree.

In Texas, certificate holders earned almost $15,000 more on average than graduates with academic associate’s degrees, but about $15,000 less than graduates with technical associate’s degrees.

Not surprisingly engineering degrees have the biggest payoff, followed by nursing and other health-related fields. What is a surprise is the weak demand for biology and chemistry graduates. “The S in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is oversold,” the report found.

Despite the clamoring for more students to focus on STEM, the labor market shows less demand for science skills. Employers are paying more, often far more, for graduates with degrees in technology, engineering and math. There is no evidence that Biology or Chemistry majors earn a premium wage, compared with engineers, computer/information science or math majors. The labor market returns for science are similar to those of the liberal arts, like English Language and Literature.

Women now make up a majority of biology graduates and about half of chemistry majors.

“Prospective students need sound information about where their educational choices are likely to lead” before they go into debt, the report concludes.

Hands-on engineering at STEM camp

At Foothill College‘s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) summer camps, young engineering instructors don’t use books, lectures or lab exercises. The hands-on engineering curriculum lets high schoolers fly remote-control hovercraft, build robots and strap in for helicopter simulations, all in the name of science education, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

“In high school, they get a prescribed lab, they don’t really get to be creative,” said Peter Murray, the dean of physical sciences, mathematics and engineering at Foothill. “Here, we give them a whole bunch of parts and a plan, but we don’t tell them how to do it.”

The STEM summer camps are designed to attract groups that are underrepresented in science and engineering, such as women, minorities and low-income students. About half the students are female. Because the weeklong programs are free, students of all backgrounds can participate. 

In a robotics session, students were challenged to build and program a robot that could travel by itself through a cardboard maze. On the first day of camp, most robots just sat at the entrance of the maze, ramming helplessly into walls or spinning uncontrollably.

“At first it was hard because we were trying to figure it out; we didn’t know what we were doing,” said Sonia Romo, of Santa Clara, a camper at the STEM summer camps and an engineering novice.

Romo’s robot, dubbed Mr. Whiskers, made it through the maze once, but failed in a second try. The team had to “go back to the drawing board, think of all the possible bugs in the code, try a fix and test, test, test.” Mr. Whiskers made it through the maze three times by the end of the week. It “feels really good,” Romo said.

Not all degrees are created equal

For today’s college graduates, “what you make depends on what you take,” advises Hard Times 2013, a new report by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “Not all degrees are created equal.”

Overall, 7.9 percent of recent college graduates are out of work, but jobless rates are lower in health care, education, business and engineering fields, higher in non-technical majors such as the arts (9.8%) or law and public policy (9.2%).

• Even as the housing bubble seems to be dissipating, unemployment rates for recent architecture graduates have remained high (12.8%).

• People who make technology are still better off than people who use technology. Unemployment rates for recent graduates in information systems, concentrated in clerical functions, is high (14.7%) compared with mathematics (5.9%) and computer science (8.7%).

Median earnings among recent college graduates range from $54,000 for engineering majors to $30,000 for graduates who majored in the arts, psychology and social work.