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6 Great Paying Jobs for 2-Year Associate Degree Holders

High school graduates looking to cut college costs can find good jobs with two-year degrees



By Neil Johnson
Posted 2013

Best Paying 2-Year Degree in 2013
Best Paying 2-Year Degree in 2013

High school graduates looking to cut college costs and avoid graduating buried by a mountain of debt don’t have to spend four years pursuing a degree in order to enter a well-paying career.

Some two-year associate’s degrees can lead to jobs with larger paychecks than what graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn, but with dramatically lower education costs and typically far less debt.


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The cost of a community college is about a third of the price of a typical state four-year school, according to U.S. News. The article cited finaid.org, saying the average debt for a public four-year college is $19,000 and more than $33,000 for a private school.

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Compare that to a two-year degree.

Collegeboard.org said 62% of students with an associate’s degree from a public college have no debt when they graduate and another 23% owe less than $10,000. Of public school, four-year graduates, 38% graduated with no debt and 12% owed more than $30,000, Collegeboard.org said.

There is also the advantage of a faster entry into your career and the job market.

In addition, Forbes.com said a study on the website NerdWallet stated that the number of jobs needing only a two-year associate’s degree will grow 35% through 2020. Overall job growth is expected to be about 14%.

Healthcare makes up most of the top paying jobs with a two-year associate’s degree and many of those also are in high demand, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said. Also, few need on-the-job training.

Here’s a look at some jobs that require only an associate’s degree to start but have a salary comparable to bachelor’s degree earnings:

1. Registered nurses

An associate’s degree in nursing gets you started. Its median pay is $64,600. Job growth should ride the Baby Boomer healthcare wave with the need for RNs increasing 26% by 2020. Many nurses start with an associate’s degree and study for a bachelor’s while working.

2. Dental hygienists

Along with an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, states require licensing. Some states allow hygienists to work on fillings and periodontal dressings for patients in addition to cleaning. The median pay is $68,000 and employment should grow by 38%.

3. Electrical and electronic engineering technicians

They build, inspect, help develop and work with high-tech electronics. An associate’s degree in electrical or electronic engineering technology is the start.  The median pay is $56,000 and the BLS expects job growth to be 5%.

4. Nuclear technicians

Much of the job is monitoring, measuring and testing nuclear equipment.  It requires an associate’s in nuclear science or related nuclear field to start and six months to two years training on the job. Their median pay is $68,000 and job growth is expected at 14%.

5. Diagnostic medical sonographers

They operate, monitor and maintain medical imaging equipment along with advising doctors on preliminary results and preparing patients.  An associate’s degree from a sonography program is needed. The median pay for sonographers is $64,000 and job growth should be 44%.

6. Radiation therapists

They give patients radiation treatments as well as maintaining and operating the equipment. An associate’s in radiation therapy is needed, along with a license and certification in most states.  The median salary is $75,000 and growth is projected to increase 26%.

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A few jobs that pay even more are available with an associate’s degree, such as air traffic controllers, operations managers or construction managers with salaries above $75,000. But they also require significant experience or training on the job, the BLS said.

Also, there may be a high demand and hefty pay for some jobs with an associate’s degree in different parts of the country, a CNN article said, such as construction workers in Tennessee, communications systems installers in Texas and medical technicians in Colorado.

The jobs come with salaries well above the average pay for workers with a bachelor’s degree in some of those states, the article said.


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