Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

No need to fear: Your four-year degree still matters

Hatchet File Photo

Srividya Murthy is a sophomore in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences.

A new study released this week questioning the financial gains from a four year college degree might concern some GW undergraduates. We hope that the nearly $60,000 some of us pay will pay off in the long run in the form of a decent salary.

We go to college because we believe it matters.

That’s why the new study by College Measures came as a shock when it published that students who earn associate’s degrees and occupational certificates have higher salaries in their first year after graduation than students with bachelor’s degrees from four-year schools.

The study researched the earnings of recent graduates in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, and found that workers with technical associate’s degrees earned a mean annual salary of $50,827 in their first year after graduation, an average of $11,000 more than the initial salaries earned by bachelor degree-holding graduates.

Of course, two-year technical degrees are a valuable piece of the country’s economy and their growth will help college attainment and help close the class divide. But those of us shelling out thousands for four-year degrees do need some cold comfort.

The question creeps in: Would I have been better off spending a whole lot less on a two-year degree in a technical field?

This is not something we as college students want to hear, as many of us carry heavy student loans on our backs, hoping they will pay off down the road.  But we should this study with a grain of salt: Associate’s degrees may result in higher paying jobs in their first year after graduation, but that doesn’t say much about their long-term financial gains.

According to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau Report on mean earnings by highest degrees earned, an individual with a bachelor’s degree earns an average of $56,472 a year. At the same time, an individual with an associate’s degree earns an average of $39,867 a year. That’s a significant difference.

So while a student pursuing an associate’s degree will save money for two years, and might grant students access to a higher starting salary, they still have a narrower range of opportunities throughout their lifetime, and their chances of upward mobility will be slim.

Students graduating with a bachelor’s degree may earn a low starting salary, but their college degree shows that they have had a comprehensive education and a wider variety of skills than a student graduating with an associate’s degree.

This makes them more competitive in the job market in the long term and qualifies them for higher-earning positions, even if it is not immediately after they graduate.

So next time you read a survey that startles you, look again: Maybe the results won’t be as disturbing as you think.

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