Associate’s Degrees and Certificates Can Be a Path to the Middle-Class, Finds New Report on Colorado

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The number of subbaccalaureate credentials granted in Colorado is rapidly growing with some graduates earning as much as, or even more than, those with bachelor’s degrees. These findings are from a new American Institutes for Research analysis looking at 10 years of data on graduates of all public and many private institutions in Colorado who work in the state.

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The number of subbaccalaureate credentials granted in Colorado is rapidly growing with some graduates earning as much as, or even more than, those with bachelor’s degrees. These findings are from a new analysis looking at 10 years of data on graduates of all public and many private institutions in Colorado who work in the state.

"Education Pays in Colorado: Earnings One, Five and Ten Years After College" was written by Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and a vice president at the American Institutes for Research (AIR). It expands on previous work that examined the first-year earnings of associate and bachelor degree holders employed in Colorado. These reports come from a partnership between the State of Colorado and College Measures, a joint venture of AIR and Matrix Knowledge Group.

“The postsecondary education system in Colorado offers many pathways that can help students secure good jobs with middle-class earnings,” Dr. Schneider said. “And they’re not only doing it with bachelor’s degrees. Those with an associate’s of applied science, for example, make more than $40,000 in median earnings a year after college, or about $10,000 more than the state median per capita income.”

Between 2009 and 2013, the number of associate’s degrees grew the fastest, seeing 104 percent increase. This was followed by bachelor’s degrees (58 percent), short-term certificates, or those taking less than a year to complete, (32 percent), and longer term certificates, or those taking between one or two years, (30 percent).

Key findings from each credential level includes:

Short-term certificates (less than one year to complete)

  •     Those who studied business administration, management and operations earn more than the statewide median one and five years after completion, but fall behind 10 years after.
  •     Certificate holders in allied health diagnostic, intervention, and treatment professions; criminal justice and corrections; and fire protection earn more than the statewide median in years one, five and 10.
  •     Overall, those with the highest median earnings tend to come from schools in or near the Denver metropolitan area (Aurora, Arapahoe, Red Rocks and Front Range), likely reflecting regional differences in earnings and cost of living.

Longer term certificates (one to two years to complete)

  •     Graduates with a certificate in three fields—legal support services; criminal justice and corrections; and allied health diagnostic, intervention and treatment professions—are higher than the median earnings of graduates with bachelor’s degrees.
  •     Those who studied cosmetology and related personal grooming services; human development, family studies and related services; and several nursing programs earned below the median in years one, five and 10.
  •     Earnings of precision metal working certificate holders exceeded the state median at years one and five, but lagged in year 10.

Associate’s degrees

  •     An associate’s of applied science degree has far more market value than an associate’s in art or science: At year one, those with an applied science degree earn about $18,000 more on average than those with the other two associate’s types. By year 10, the gap narrows to $12,000.
  •     Graduates of an associate’s of applied science from three popular programs—registered nursing, allied health diagnostics and fire protection—had earnings higher than the state median at years one, five and 10.

Bachelor’s degrees

  •     Graduates from liberal arts fields such as English and the arts earn below the statewide median in years one, five and 10.
  •     Those who studied business administration, management and operations are among the highest paid graduates at all three milestone years.
  •     Registered nurses earn more than the state median in years one, five and 10, but the rate of salary increase over time is relatively low.

To read the full report visit, http://www.air.org.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education, and workforce productivity. For more information, visit http://www.air.org.

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Larry McQuillan
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