Why Your Child Might Not Need a Four-Year Degree


Ed note: We know that – on average – amount of education correlates to income. As in: more education, more money. BUT, that only looks at the averages. What does it really mean for certain professions? Miranda Marquit digs into why some might actually do better by forgoing a traditional degree program. 


For decades, the middle class has seen a four-year degree as the path to prosperity. However, things might be changing. College is expensive, and there’s no guarantee of landing a good job when you finish.

Even though Marketplace reports that 2015 will see the best job market for college graduates since the Great Recession, many in the middle class have been shaken by the realities of high student debt and the difficulty of finding a job that pays enough to keep up with the loan payments.

In today’s world, does your child really need a “traditional” four-year degree to succeed financially? While the answer is nuanced, the reality is that it depends on your child’s temperament and preferences.

Occupation Matters

The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce offers a report called “The College Payoff” which indicates that occupation can make a difference when it comes to pay. It’s true that, on average, a college graduate will make more than someone with a two-year degree or no degree at all.

However, the Georgetown report also found there are some occupations that allow those with two-year degrees to earn more than some of their counterparts with four-year degrees. Think of a skilled electrician or welder versus someone with a four-year degree in history or journalism.

In some cases, it’s not so much about the degree you hold as it is about whether you have a marketable skill. There are a number of decently paying, skill-related jobs in the healthcare sector your child can qualify for after going through a certification course or completing a two-year degree. With the healthcare sector expected to continue to grow as Baby Boomers age, your child might be better off making a solid middle class income as a physical therapist assistant or in some other healthcare support occupation.

Skilled professions like electrician, avionics technician and plumber all have reasonable demand, offer comfortable wages and don’t require four-year degrees, although they may require training and certification. However, the programs for these occupations are often much less expensive than a four-year degree and your child could emerge ready for the workforce. In contrast, even recipients of a four-year degree may need additional on-the-job training when they enter these skilled trades.


Another consideration is the fact that the new economy makes entrepreneurship easier than ever. Technology offers opportunities for your child to make money without going to school. While business classes might be useful to provide a solid base of understanding, a successful entrepreneur doesn’t need a degree.

While college can provide education and skills for some jobs (you still need that piece of paper for some careers), the reality is that college isn’t for everyone. Before you push your child into the “traditional” college track, consider his or her individual needs and remember that there are good occupations available without the need for a four-year degree.

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