Gail MarksJarvis: Why a four-year college degree isnít the only path to a secure lifestyle

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

August 14, 2017

If you arenít sure college is for you, consider this: You donít have to get a four-year degree to make a good living.

Contrary to the common belief that everyone must go to college, a new study from Georgetown University comes up with a surprising finding: There are still 30 million good jobs that donít require a college bachelorís degree, and people in them earn an average of $55,000 a year.

There is no question that some of the best jobs of the last generation have slipped away. Even after the recovery from the recession, there are still about 1 million fewer manufacturing jobs than there were in 2007 and about 1.6 million fewer in construction, according to researchers from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Yet, despite the fact that blue-collar employment has declined 30 percent since 1991, there are still solid jobs that donít require a college degree and offer pay that supports a middle-class lifestyle.

Of the 30 million good jobs for people without a bachelorís degree, over half ó 16 million ó pay over $55,000, according to the Georgetown researchers. About 24 million pay over $45,000 annually.

The researchers consider a good job one that pays people 45 and older at least $45,000, or $22 an hour. For younger people, $35,000 is considered good as long as people advance and make $45,000 when they are more experienced in middle age.

To be sure, there are more good jobs for those who earned bachelorís degrees than for those who didnít ó 36 million compared with 30 million, according to the Georgetown research.

Still, the four-year degree doesnít guarantee top pay. Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown center, has found that 28 percent of people who get associate degrees from community colleges end up with better jobs than those with bachelorís degrees.

And although college graduation is considered the ticket for prosperity, certain degrees lag when it comes to pay. Among them: communications, art and psychology. In previous research, the Georgetown researchers found that preschool teachers would be lucky to make $31,000 even though they earn bachelorís degrees. People with jobs in psychology and social work were also at the $31,000 level.

Associate degrees can sometimes take people further, provided the degree isnít general in nature and focuses on particular skills that are in high demand, such as nursing, computer specialists or mechanical technicians.

Since 1991, the number of good jobs suitable for people with only high school diplomas has dropped by more than 1 million positions. Yet workers who had two-year associate degrees were positioned for 3 million net new jobs during the same period, the researchers found.

Today, computer support technicians make $60,000 without a college degree. Thatís similar to financial managers, sales representatives and engineering technicians, which are all good jobs that donít require bachelorís degrees, according to the research. The researchers identify good jobs in blue-collar categories ranging from welders, plumbers, heating mechanics, electricians and carpenters to skilled services such as bookkeepers, food service managers, security guards and industrial production managers.

"We find good jobs in skilled services industries, such as health care, finance and information technology," the researchers said. "These new good jobs have steadily been replacing good jobs lost in traditional blue-collar industries."