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Two-year degrees that pay: See the Top 10 for 2014


Recent studies have shown that students contemplating college enrollment may want to go by route of community college, as two-year associate’s degrees are due to have the highest average employment growth through 2020. With student loan debt estimated at a whopping $1 trillion, families are beginning to consider that the four-year university experience may not be the only way of securing a lucrative job opportunity.

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It may come as a surprise to no one that the amount of student loan debt now exceeds credit card debt in the United States and while all jobs are anticipated to have an average growth rate of a mere 14%, high-growth jobs requiring an associate’s degree should see an average increase of 35%. On average, lower tuition rates coupled with high median earnings on the job means these graduates should have the ability to pay off their tuition in just two years. Additionally, many of the jobs that require only an associate’s degree pay more than those requiring a bachelors or masters.

According to a chart published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers lead the pack with an estimated median salary of $108,000. Forbes magazine reported that, in order to obtain such a position, students would be expected to attend a Federal Aviation Administration certified school and receive long-term on-the-job training. On the downside, the position is deemed more stressful than many and isn’t expected to be a high-growth job. Coming in at number two are radiation therapists, who should see estimated earnings of $ $77,560—with a growth of 8,400 by 2022.

“The common, accepted advice is to go to school for four years or longer, but there are great opportunities to go for less time and still get a high return on your investment,” said Joseph Audette, VP of Financial Literacy and Education at NerdWallet—a financial literary website. “It’s not just about going to college. It’s about going with a plan for success.” “Why go through additional years of school and have more debt when the job isn’t going to be paying as much?”

Upon examination of the BLS chart, readers may notice a trend. The highest paying associate’s degrees and those with the highest projected growth rates fall into the three categories of healthcare, engineering and other areas of technology. Two jobs that appear most ideal include: registered nurses, who can earn a median of $65,000 (3.5 million jobs have been projected for 2020.) and medical sonographers, who administer ultrasounds.

Forbes noted that many of these jobs are health-care and engineering support positions, as previously mentioned. The magazine also cited the aging baby boomer population and the increasing automation of technology and manufacturing machinery as an explanation for such statistics. Hiring more support positions versus highly trained professionals is more cost-efficient for employers, said Audette at NerdWallet, who expects the trend to continue over the next few decades.

The following, are the top ten occupations in which associate’s degree holders (or associate’s degree plus some college) comprise a percentage of workers. Keep in mind that the educational attainment varies for most occupations, as the educational requirements for some occupations change over time.


10. Magnetic resonance imaging technologists

  • Median annual wage (2012): $65,360
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 11,300
  • Work experience: Less than five years
  • Description: Monitor patient safety and comfort, and view images of area being scanned to ensure quality of pictures.
  • On-the-job training: None
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9. Registered nurse

  • Median annual wage (2012): $65,470
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 1,052,600 Work experience: None
  • Description: Provide and coordinate patient care, educate patients and the public about various health conditions.
  • On-the-job training: None
  • Find a Nursing program you’ll love >

8. Diagnostic medical sonographers

  • Median annual wage (2012): $65,860
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 35,300
  • Work experience: None
  • Description: Use special imaging equipment that directs sound waves into a patient’s body to assess and diagnose various medical conditions.
  • On-the-job training: None
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7. Funeral service directors

  • Median annual wage (2012): $66,720 Degree required: Associate’s degree
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 3,200
  • Work experience: Less than five years
  • Description: Plan, direct, or coordinate the services or resources of funeral homes.
  • On-the-job training: None
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6. Nuclear technicians

  • Median annual wage (2012): $69,069
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 4,100
  • Work experience: None
  • Description: Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production.
  • On-the-job training: Moderate training
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5. First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers

  • Median annual wage (2012): $70,060
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 50,300
  • Work experience: Less than five years
  • Description: Coordinate activities of sales workers other than retail sales workers.
  • On-the-job training: None
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4. Nuclear medicine technologists

  • Median annual wage (2012): $70,180
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 7,200
  • Work experience: None
  • Description: Use a scanner to create images of various areas of a patient’s body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients undergoing the scans.
  • On-the-job training: None
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3. Dental hygienists

  • Median annual wage (2012): $70,210
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 113,500
  • Work experience: None
  • Description: Clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care.
  • On-the-job training: None
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2. Radiation therapists

  • Median annual wage (2012): $77,560
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 8,400
  • Work experience: None
  • Description: Check equipment, observe patients’ reactions to treatment, and document the session.
  • On-the-job training: None
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1. Air traffic controller

  • Median annual wage (2012): $122,530
  • Projected job openings (through 2022): 11,400
  • Work experience: None
  • Description: Monitor and direct the movement of aircraft.
    Median annual wages of air traffic controllers are the highest of any occupation in which workers typically do not need a bachelor’s degree.
  • On-the-job training: Long-term
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