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January 01, 2013 11:00 AM HIgher Learning and Lower Earnings

By Daniel Luzer

College graduates earn more is the basic line used to explain why more college is good for America. While this is certainly true in a general sense, the accurate story of education and salaries is a little more complicated.

People with bachelor’s degrees don’t always earn more than people with mere associate degrees or certificates. According to a piece by Martha White at NBC News:

Certain students who earn associate’s degrees can get higher salaries than graduates of four-year programs — sometimes thousands of dollars more. Once they entered the work force, holders of what CollegeMeasures characterizes as “occupational/technical” associate’s degrees made about $6,000 a year more than people who earned associate’s degrees in non-occupational programs. Given the high demand for nurses, computer specialists, mechanical technicians and the like, that’s not unexpected.
The surprising finding is a comparison of those earnings to what bachelor’s degree graduates made, on average: $36,067.
People with liberal arts and humanities majors didn’t even fare that well: on average, grads with political science majors earned $31,184, history majors earned $30,230 and English majors only earned $29,222 a year.

Graduates with “occupational/technical associate’s degrees” earned starting salaries in the $40,000/year range.

So “college” in general helps people earn more money. Four years of college, however, doesn’t necessarily mean a greater salary than two years of college.

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer