The right amount of higher education

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In choosing a career, it’s important to know your personal interests and talents, the job outlook for occupations matching your interests and talents, the education required, and the earnings you can expect—annually and over a lifetime.

Several recent economic studies shed light on the outlook for national and local jobs, and help answer the question, “How much higher education do I need?”

More job openings for skilled workers

A 2010 study from Georgetown University, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements through 2018,” concluded that:

By 2018, the U.S. economy will create 46.8 million job openings and 63 percent of these will require workers to have at least some college education.

By 2018, the postsecondary system will have produced 3 million fewer college graduates than demanded by the labor market.

While 65 percent of workers with a high school diploma and no college experience have household incomes placing them in the middle class or above, completion of an associate degree raises this proportion to 80 percent.

Middle-skills jobs on the rise

One in every five jobs and nearly half of those that pay $35,000 or more a year are “middle-skills” jobs that require training beyond high school, but less than a bachelor’s degree.

These jobs include nurses, computer support specialists, auto mechanics, dental hygienists, fitness trainers, heating and air conditioning mechanics, hairstylists, paralegals, pre-school teachers, and medical laboratory technicians.

Hampton Roads, in particular, is ripe with opportunity in the ship-repair industry. TCC’s Southeast Maritime Transportation (SMART) Center is the only National Science Foundation Advanced Technology Education Center solely focused on increasing the number of well-qualified, skilled technicians in the maritime and transportation industry. The good news is maritime transportation occupations are the fastest growing category in transportations with a promising outlook for years to come, given the industry is dominated by an aging workforce.

Middle-skills jobs and middle-class pay

In their 2011 report, “The College Payoff: Education, Occupation, Lifetime Earnings,” labor market economists at Georgetown indicate that 28 percent of workers with an associate degree earned more than the median earnings of workers with bachelor’s degrees.

That’s worth repeating: Nearly 3 in 10 workers with associate degrees earn more than do half of those with bachelor’s degrees. The high earnings of registered nurses have a lot to do with that, but it’s not just nurses.

The economic benefit of additional education and training over a lifetime can be substantial.

Some postsecondary education, even without earning a degree, adds nearly one-quarter of a million dollars to lifetime earnings.

An associate degree is worth over $420,000 in lifetime earnings above what you can expect to earn as a high school graduate.

Add it up and the middle looks like a pretty nice place to be!


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