Rethinking America's Bachelor's Degree "Addiction"

Bachelor's degrees: End the addiction | reTHINK TANK
Bachelor's degrees: End the addiction | reTHINK TANK

Do you need a bachelor's degree to get ahead in the United States? AEI's Mark Schneider and Rooney Columbus say no. Instead, they contend that graduates can ...


Somewhere along the way, Americans got the idea that a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university was really the best way to set one's self on a good career path. For a time, that may have been true, but the current situation for many graduates tells a different story. A large portion of bachelor's degree-seeking students never finish their degree, and if they do are often shackled with debt and a poor job prognosis.

Perhaps it's time to rethink ideas about bachelors degrees. Is it worth all the time and money? The answer might be, not always.

But what are other options help decide a fruitful future? Education scholars Mark Schneider and Rooney Columbus discuss how to get ahead in today's world and dispel the myth that a traditional college degree is the key to success in the career world.

[T]ime and time again, surveys tell us that the primary reason students attend college is to find a good job with good wages. Is the bachelor's degree a sure fire way to get there? Not always. Let's look at some data.

Business administration majors with bachelor's degrees from the University of Texas at Austin clearly earn more than sociology majors with the same degree from the same school one year after graduation. But now, head east of Austin and you'll find associate degree holders who out-earn the business major now and even in the long run.

This isn't isolated to just one school, though. They looked at data from schools in Florida and found results that throw a wrench into current ideas about college degrees.

Students graduating from public colleges might leave school with a bachelor's degree making less than $25,000 per year five years after school. For instance, an associate degree in photography will get you $21,000 a year. But so might a bachelor's degree in exercise physiology.

Now, on the flip side, Florida's graduates could earn median salaries over $75,000 if they choose the right associate degree or apprenticeship program from the right school. That's right, an elevator constructor apprenticeship can get you $96,000, five years after completion. ...

Certificate and associate degree holders in many applied or technical fields can actually out-earn their bachelor's degree counterparts five years post-completion, with graduates from some programs maintaining the earnings advantage at least 10 years after completion.

There are plenty of options for career paths, and the path to success is not the level of educational attainment one has, but the area of study. Does a degree offer the market a skill that's in demand, like electrical engineering, or does it offer something that has little demand, like medieval history?

As Rooney noted, "Most of the programs that lead to high wages have one thing in common, they produce graduates who know how to build things, they know how to fix things."

Associate degrees, technical school, trade school, or apprenticeships — plenty of educational options offer Americans a solid future career path.