Job Prospects Improve for Americans with Associate Degrees

Job Prospects Improve for Americans with Associate Degrees

In the US, as in other advanced economies, earning a college degree remains the best path to a good-paying job and a fulfilling career: The vast majority of jobs created since the Great Recession have gone to college graduates, while the wage gap between high school and college graduates is the widest it has been since economists began measuring it. Nonetheless, there are signs that the economic impact of the growing the number of Americans with college degrees is reaching the point of diminishing returns.

Meanwhile, employers have begun to talk about training “new collar” employees in roles that require digital skills but not necessarily college educations. This reflects both the realities of today’s tight labor market, particularly for tech talent, as well as a growing understanding that not everyone is cut out for college and that starting a college degree program without finishing it can be worse than not attending at all.

In that context, Bloomberg’s Jordan Yadoo highlights a new study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which finds that the number of “good jobs” held by people with associate degrees (the typically two-year degree granted by community colleges and vocational schools) grew by 3.2 million from 1991 to 2015, even as the number of workers in “good jobs” with just a high school diploma fell by over one million:

The report defines “good jobs” as those paying an average of $55,000 per year, and a minimum of $35,000 annually. Associate’s degree holders have found such work in blue-collar and skilled-services industries, according to the study, which was conducted in collaboration with JPMorgan Chase & Co. The study’s findings counter the “dominant narrative” that a traditional four-year college education is the only pathway to a stable, middle-class job, according to Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center and lead author of the report.

Another report last year also found that associate degree holders were getting hired at rising rates, amid a boost in hiring among degree holders of all levels and increasingly competitive starting salaries for educated employees.

Overall, the Georgetown study found, there were 30 million workers in the US without bachelor’s degrees who nonetheless hold “good jobs” in 2015. That looks like good news for the less-educated segment of the US workforce, but as the Wall Street Journal’s Lauren Weber notes, that’s a fraction of the 75 million American workers without BAs, and overall, the share of good jobs going to non-college graduates has dwindled from 60 percent to 45 percent.