Surprising Findings on Two-Year vs. Four-Year Degrees Return on Investment Holds Steady at About 15% for Recent Graduates

Mark Peter & Douglas Belkin:

A college degree is worth it even as the cost of going to school rapidly escalates and real wages decline for graduates, WSJ’s Mark Peters reports on Lunch Break with Tanya Rivero. Photo: Getty

Who earns more, a recent graduate from a flagship state university with a bachelor’s degree or one who finishes a two-year program at a little-known community college?

The answer isn’t so clear.

As states for the first time mine graduates’ salary data from public colleges, they are finding that paychecks for holders of associate degrees in a technical field are outstripping many grads with four-year degrees, at least early in a career.

The growing body of data, from states including Texas, Colorado and Indiana, provides a sober new look at the value of a postsecondary education in a slowly recovering economy.

Overall, the findings reinforce the belief that a college degree is worth the investment. But they highlight the reconsideration of a long-held article of faith that a four-year college degree guarantees at least a middle-class life, while an associate degree is its poor country cousin.

In Indiana, figures show that after a year in the workforce there, a graduate of Ivy Tech Community College makes more on average than a graduate of Indiana University.