Your Degree Matters

The research study, “Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities” (CollegeMeasures.org2013) provides important considerations for parents and students formulating their postsecondary plans. Although the report focuses on data from the state of Texas, it has important national considerations regarding selecting between community college, 4-year undergraduate, and certificate programs based on each student’s long-term educational and career aspirations.

Key findings:

  • Students receiving 2-year technical degrees in high demand fields have median first-year earnings over $50,000 and over $11,000 more than graduates from bachelor’s degree programs.
  • These students, earn on average, $30,000 more than other students completing 2-year degree programs.
  • Average earnings varies for 2-year degrees varies significantly from college to college ($20,000 – $65,000).
  • Students earning certificates in business administration/management and criminal justice/police sciences earn more than community college students earning academic and technical degrees in the same fields.
  • Earnings for students receiving bachelor’s degrees varies widely by field from $25,000 in biology to $47,000 in accounting.

The illustration below demonstrates the huge differences in earnings for students earning associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and technical degrees.

From this illustration, a typical student pursing a 2-year technical degree has significant options for continuing his or her education after community college. For example, the costs of attending a community college are significantly lower than attending a 4-year institution. Receiving a high demand technical degree provides a student with the opportunity to enter into the workforce at a significantly higher salary than the typical community college graduate with the option of continuing their studies at a 4-year institution and continuing on to earn a master’s degree. With many employers providing tuition reimbursement and loan forgiveness programs, such a student could earn a top salary and continue his or her education at a substantially reduced or no out of pocket cost.

The next illustration demonstrates the huge gap in earnings by degree field for students earning bachelor’s degrees.

Parents of students choosing to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology, the most popular major on most college campuses, should brace themselves for years of paying back student loans (56% of students from the Texas university system graduate with an average of $22,140 in student loan debt (Project on Student Loan Debt)) as students will enter into the workforce with the lowest earnings among students graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

Many parents and students are aware of the widely publicized job opportunities for STEM-related careers (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). However, the illustration below indicates that earnings widely vary between such STEM majors as biology and mathematics. Interestingly, research indicates that a student’s level of science and mathematics completed during secondary school is the clearest predictor of college preparation and graduation. Subsequently, students who excel in high school math and continue on to major in math will find themselves among the highest paid bachelor’s degree holders.

The following illustration demonstrates the huge variation in earnings for students pursuing a master’s degree based on their degree field. The most significant master’s degree field is clearly a MBA (Masters in Business Administration). While the gap between a student with a bachelor’s degree in business versus a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering is over $30,000, the gap for a student holding a master’s degree in business versus a master’s degree in engineering is only $1,000 with a MBA holder having higher earnings than master’s degree holders in all other degree fields.

For those students who are interested in pursing the highest paying community college technical degree programs, the next illustration demonstrates the earnings of the three most popular technical associate’s degree programs by college. Although graduation rates for community college students, as reported by The Chronicle of Higher Education(13.1% for public community colleges versus 24.4% for 4-year public institutions) are among the lowest of all institutions, for those students able to complete the course work and earn a technical degree, the Texas community college system offers low cost certificate programs with huge earnings potential. It is also important to note that the graduate rate of 59.3% for for-profit 2-year institutions in Texasis significantly higher than the 13.1% 2-year public community college and 24.4% public 4-year college graduation rates.

The Georgetown University report, Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees, provides insight for parents and students considering certificate programs. Among the important research findings is the significant difference in the cost of pursuing a certificate program through a public community college (Amarillo College, Central Texas College, Lone Star College System) versus private nonprofit (e.g., Jacksonville College, North American College, Southwestern Christian) and for-profit institutions (e.g,. Allied Health Centers, Arlington Career Institute, Dallas Nursing Institute).

The U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator website will allow you to identify the public, nonprofit, and for-profit community colleges or 4-year institutions in your state and by certificate or degree program.

Click here to download the Georgetown University report, Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees


High school students have many postsecondary options for entering into high paying jobs and careers. Students can avoid incurring large amounts of student loan debt by entering into the community college system. However, students must also carefully consider their areas of study (e.g., cosmetology versus mathematics), type of degree (e.g., associate’s versus certificate), and institution they will attend (i.e., public, private nonprofit, private for-profit). Parents and students must begin their postsecondary conversations prior to students entering into high school if they are to ensure that students have the widest range of postsecondary options after high school and that such options are appropriately matched to student’s interests, educational aspirations, and career options.



Over half of Texas students are suspended or expelled from school

A Justice Center report, “Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement,” reveals tragically high suspension rates of Texas’ students between the 7th and 12th grades:

  • Nearly six in ten public school students were suspended or expelled from school at least once
  • Nearly 150,000 students spent time in an alternative school
  • Nearly 80,000 students spent time in a juvenile justice education program
  • 83 percent of Black male students had at least one suspension (74 percent for Hispanic males and 59 percent for White males)
  • 75 percent of Special Education students were suspended or expelled at least once
  • 31 percent of students who were suspended or expelled had to repeat their grade at least once (only 5 percent for students who were never suspended)
  • 10 percent of students who were suspended or expelled dropped out of school

Clearly, being suspended or expelled from school, and the resulting time out of school can have a hugely negative impact on a student’s future.