The American labor market has shifted over the last 50 years from heavily steeped in industry to being largely dominated by technology.
Many of the manufacturing jobs that supported the middle class have disappeared, leaving a labor market that requires education and training to accommodate increasingly specialized and technical positions open to workers now.
The number of well-paying jobs available with only a high school diploma is shrinking, meaning advanced education is nearly essential, elevating the value of college degrees – associate’s and bachelor’s – in terms of how much workers can make over a lifetime.
Associate’s degrees carry more weight than might be expected. A 2013 study by the American Institute for Research shows that over the span of a lifetime, the median income gain for a worker with an associate’s degree compared to only a high school diploma is $165,000. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the potential income differential even higher at $400,000 over 40 years.
Families and individuals have discovered the value of two-year degrees. According to a study from Sallie Mae titled How America Pays for College, the years 2010-14 saw an 11% increase in the number of families who reported having a child enrolled in a two-year college program.
A Stepping Stone
It isn’t just about the extra earning potential an associate’s degree may provide. Graduates with a two-year degree can be halfway to a bachelor’s degree, and can enter the workforce to gain experience while pursuing a bachelor’s degree online.
An associate’s degree can be the stepping stone for careers in a number of fields such as healthcare or criminal justice.
Some careers possible with an associate’s degree in healthcare administration include:
- Occupational therapy assistant with projected job growth of 43% from 2014 to 2024 and an average annual salary of $57,000 in 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
- Health information technician with projected job growth of 15% and an average yearly salary of $38,800
- Occupational health and safety specialist with projected job growth of 4% and an average annual salary of $70,500
An associate’s degree in criminal justice could lead to these careers and others:
- Police officer with projected job growth of 4% from 2014 to 2024 and an average yearly pay of $59,500 in 2014, according to the BLS
- Private detective with projected job growth of 5% and an average yearly salary of $52,900
- Paralegal with projected job growth of 8% and an average annual salary of $51,800
Potential salary ranges and employment opportunities vary based on numerous factors, including an individual’s educational qualifications and work experience, as well as regional market conditions.