Weighing your educational track against your career path

Published on 10/17/2019 by Heidi Green


With the average cost of college tuition increasing each year in the U.S., it’s no wonder that 8 out of 10 families listed cost as the deciding factor when selecting a college. In fact, according to US News and World Report, the average price for “in-state tuition and fees at ranked public schools rose by 4%, and the average out-of-state price increased by the same percent. Similar to previous year-over-year increases, the average tuition and fees at private colleges climbed 3%.” For the 2019-2020 year, the price for public college (in-state) hovered at $10,116 with private college tuition and fees averaging at $36,801.

Even with the most stringent of savings plans and collective “college funds”, in many instances, college-bound students will seek out financial aid and loans to help pay for their education, anticipating finding gainful employment upon graduation that will provide them the ability to repay loaned funds. The cost of higher education is by far one of the hottest topics on the political circuit, ranging from proposals of student-debt forgiveness to policies for access to free or reduced-cost education. Therefore, the decisions that adults are making regarding education and their career choice are paramount.

As individuals make the decision to attend post-secondary school and are mapping out their future employment paths, data exists to help them navigate the most lucrative post-grad occupations. On the flip-side, some individuals may decide on a different route entirely than the standard 4-year degree, taking advantage of two-year programs, trade certification programs or opting for no post-secondary education plan.

 Does a college education still pay?

According to Bls.gov, the median annual wage in 2018 determined by typical entry-level educational requirements suggests that individuals with bachelor degrees or higher attain more income. Listing the median annual wage for BA holders at more than $87,000 per year vs. little more than $43,000 per year with a high school diploma, a college education can still pay, but you may have to factor in how long you will be paying for it and what field you work in. Interestingly, the median annual wage for a person with a Master’s Degree was $77,430, and you must consider the additional fees for attaining the advanced degree. This suggests evidence supporting the idea of going to college, graduating with a BA, and securing a job, but specifically one that offers a tuition reimbursement program to help further your education to help offset costs.

When thinking about the level of education you wish to attain (or pay for), keep in mind what degree(s) occupations are expecting you to have and what those jobs are paying

For instance, to become an air traffic controller, reported at an annual mean wage of $120,830, Bls.gov notes that you may not need a bachelor’s degree to enter that field. Similarly, commercial pilots and transportation/storage/distribution managers, listed at having mean salaries above $90K, both require less than a bachelor’s degree at entry-level. However, becoming an Actuary – a person who calculates risks by definition – requires a bachelor’s degree to land a job at the projected median wage of $120,880, which is almost identical to what is reported for an air traffic controller according to BLS.gov. This suggests that there are certainly options when it comes to the training level you pursue vs. the job path you take. An incredibly helpful source is the Occupational Employment Projection table that charts occupations, their projected growth, what the projected median wage is expected to be, and the education or training typically required to enter that field.

Choosing your course of study keeping the jobs expected to be available in mind

Aside from decisions based on potential income, from an employment number stance, the occupations that required bachelor’s degrees (22 percent of employment) included RNs, teachers from K-12, and many management, business, finance, and engineering occupations. Jobs that require HS diploma or equivalent made up 39 percent of employment and typically include construction, production, and retail salespersons, cashiers and general office clerks.

The projected occupation chart also indicates what types of jobs are projected to increase annually through 2028, and will list the level of education required to enter that field. For example:

  • Software developer for applications vs. Software developer for systems software – both require entry-level bachelor’s degrees, both offer a median wage in the range of $100-110K, yet the application software developer has a projected occupational openings annual average from 2018-2028 of 99 (thousands) vs. 35 (thousands) for the latter
  • Similarly, in the case of the Middle School Teacher the Elementary School teacher – both require bachelor’s degrees, both have similar annual median wages, but the projected occupational openings annually from 2018-2028 for elementary school teachers are double that of middle school teachers through 2028.

 Based on the small sampling of data above, it’s worth looking into the course of education you choose using projected employment numbers as a resource. Paying for four years of education could be very disheartening if your future occupation is trending significantly downward in terms of openings and income once you have put in all that hard work to get that diploma in hand. Of course, loving what you do is a significant factor, but some exploration of options may surprise you with a profession you might not have considered before.

 

 

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