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ASSOCIATION FOR CAREER & TECHNICAL EDUCATION

Four-year Degree Not Required

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July 5, 2013

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Four-year Degree Not Required

Four-year college may not be the answer for all students, based on major and career area of interest, according to the authors of a recent Brookings publication.  

On average, there are benefits of getting a bachelor's degree that outweigh costs. But, to quote Should Everyone Go To College?  authors Stephanie Owen and Isabel Sawhill, "the key phrase here is 'on average'."

The authors used Census data to point out that college majors and occupations are not created equally when it comes to employment and earnings. For instance, the lifetime earnings of a college graduate who studied the arts and works in the service sector may be lower than the lifetime earnings of the average high school graduate. This aligns with research from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce demonstrating that 43 percent of young workers with licenses and certificates earn more than those with an associate degree; 27 percent of young workers with licenses and certificates earn more than those with a bachelor's degree; and 31 percent of young workers with associate degrees earn more than those with a bachelor's degree (these data points and similar research findings are available on ACTE's CTE Works! Fact Sheet).

Owen and Sawhill recommend making student outcomes by institution, including employment and earnings, more readily available to students and parents as well as simplifying financial aid to help first-generation college students better navigate the aid system. In addition, they point out the value of CTE: "there are many well-paid job openings going unfilled because employers can't find workers with the right skills-skills that young potential workers could learn from training programs, apprenticeships, a vocational certificate or an associate degree."

This emphasis on student outcomes is also apparent in a recent Gallup poll, in which 41 percent of U.S. adults responded that the most important factor in choosing a postsecondary institution was the percentage of graduates who are able to get a good job. Price was the second most important factor, at 37 percent.

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