Is a College Degree the Right Choice for You?


One size doesn't fit all in the world of education. Although a four-year degree is a proud accomplishment, college isn't for everyone. And it shouldn't be. The good news is there are many careers that pay good money to workers with a high school diploma or a two-year associate's degree. But you have to know where to find the jobs. Some of the hottest areas of the job market need no more than a two-year associate's degree from a community college. "BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) data shows that most job openings are in those occupations that require less than a four-year degree," says Roger Moncarz. He's a branch chief in the Employment Projections Program with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"The hottest areas are food preparation and serving workers, production occupations -- such as team assemblers, machinists, printing machine operators, welders and construction workers, "There are numerous opportunities for people who don't go to college. Many of them happen to be lower-paying jobs, but there are opportunities." Many of those opportunities are due to people retiring. The aging population is an especially big factor in health care, for example. Medical professionals are retiring at the same time as the need for their services grows.

"We certainly see health care looming large -- personal care aides and home health aides will continue to grow,"In recent years, despite the recession, health care employment has continued to grow, "Health care is an area that we project t to grow at a rapid rate in the future, and there are jobs for people with less than a four-year degree in the healthcare sector." Most new health-care workers get their education at a community college. This includes 52 percent of new nurses, according to the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC).

"I would certainly say that anything in the health care field not only has job opportunities, but is a career of the future," says Laurie Quarles. She's a legislative associate with the AACC. "Those who've done the coursework in math and sciences are in a much better position to get into those programs, because they are competitive." Also, nearly 80 percent of U.S. firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical technicians get their training at community colleges.

An associate's degree increases annual earnings by an average of $7,200 (US), according to the AACC.

Price is a big advantage of attending a community college instead of university. The annual tuition at a community college is a lot less than tuition at a four-year public research institution, according to the AACC.

"A degree is just a piece of paper -- what's important is the learning process," says Ivan Desjardins. He's the coordinator of a two-year accounting technician program. "In some [career] areas the two-year diploma is basically the standard."

Graduates of Desjardin's diploma program find their skills are in high demand. And they can always choose to return to school later on to earn a degree if they want to become professional accountants.

"In terms of salary they're not making what they'd make with a four-year degree, but it's a great stepping stone," says Desjardins. "Some people are happy with it for the rest of their lives and others will use it to pursue something more in depth later on."

There can be big advantages to earning a diploma rather than a degree.

"A lot of our clientele are mature students who cannot go for four years," says Desjardins. "They've got jobs and families,  two years is more realistic.

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