Graduates with technical degrees and certificates often earned significantly more than did those with other academic credentials.
When it comes to getting a job that pays good wages, students in Texas might get more bang for their buck by attending a technical, two-year program than they would by earning a four-year bachelor's degree, according to a report presented on Thursday to the state's Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The report, which echoes findings released last year by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, was prepared by College Measures, a partnership of two research and consulting groups, the American Institutes for Research, and Matrix Knowledge Group.
Among the findings, graduates with technical degrees and certificates often earned significantly more money than did those with other academic credentials. And students who graduated from regional and lesser-known universities typically earned just as much as those who graduated with the same degrees from the state's flagship campuses—the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University at College Station.
College Measures, which is supported by the Lumina Foundation, provides data to help students, parents, and policy makers determine how well colleges are educating students and preparing them for jobs. It has found similar results in its studies of public higher education in Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The new report comes at a time when Texas lawmakers are considering proposals to loosen high-school graduation requirements to allow more students to pursue technical trades in fields where employers are having trouble finding enough workers. Skeptics of that approach argue that students who are more broadly educated generally fare better over the long haul.
The College Measures study makes the case for looking at the short-term gain. It found that, one year after graduation, those with two-year technical degrees earned, on average, more than $50,000, about $11,000 more than graduates with bachelor's degrees. And compared with graduates of two-year colleges who had focused on academic subjects, those with technical degrees were making about $30,000 more.
Those who went on to receive master's degrees earned, on average, $63,340, or $24,000 more than the median first-year earnings of those who stopped with a bachelor's degree.'The Truth Is, We Don't Know'
Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and a vice president of the American Institutes for Research, acknowledged in an interview on Thursday that the salary someone makes one year after graduation doesn't necessarily reflect a person's lifetime earnings potential. Many educators point out that, with rapidly changing work-force needs, students who complete narrowly focused technical degrees or certificates might land lucrative jobs right away but struggle to move on if those jobs dry up.
"We've all heard about the philosophy majors who start out as baristas at Starbucks and go on to become barristers, and the person with a technical degree who's going to be replaced by robots," Mr. Schneider said. But when it comes to tracking salaries 10 years down the road, "the truth is, we don't know."
He said he hoped to extend his studies to examine earnings three and five years after graduation.
Another key finding, he said, is that "you don't have to go to the most prestigious schools to do well in the labor market."
You also don't need a bachelor's degree to do well, with holders of certificates—one of the fastest-growing credentials community colleges offer—sometimes outearning recipients of B.A.'s.
The median first-year earnings of graduates of some certificate programs, including several in health care, top $70,000. That's $30,000 more than the statewide median salary for bachelor-degree graduates. Among the high-paying jobs certificate holders are landing in Texas are in construction engineering and pipe fitting.
The report compares how students who attend different types of programs in the same field might fare a year after graduation. For instance, someone who earned a certificate in business administration/management could land a job paying $37,000, compared with the $26,000 that went to an associate-degree graduate in the same field.
But certificates don't always lead to higher-paying jobs. Just ask cosmetology students, many of whom earn $13,000 or less. Graduates with technical associate degrees in registered nursing earn an average of $68,000, while someone coming out with a certificate in the field can expect to make about $20,000.
Despite all the attention paid to the need for more graduates in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields, biology graduates at both the bachelor's and master's level earn less than statewide medians, the report concludes. Math graduates fare better, outearning biology graduates by more than $20,000 statewide.
Texas' higher-education commissioner, Raymund Paredes, said on Thursday that the report confirms what earlier studies have shown about the value of technical degrees, but that students need to be educated about the long-term ramifications of choosing different paths.
"Many students, because of time and financial constraints, can't invest the time and money it takes to pursue a four-year degree in a field that pays well," he said. "Certificates can be a very viable pathway for many high-school graduates."