What Today’s Students Should Know About the Economic Benefits of Education

As we lay out in our Road Map to Student Success, career training is a path that’s unique for each student. That’s why we offer several scholarship programs that are geared toward different types of students, and we work with hundreds of schools across the United States that offer a variety of training programs. That’s also why we continually publish information aimed at helping students, parents and educators achieve their goals.

Whether a student wants to work toward a graduate-level nursing position or become a web developer in the world of information technology, career college training offers a path to both these goals. Whether you aim for a certificate, diploma or associate degree program, this decision can be the critical stepping stone that propels you toward the career you want.

For schools, we believe it’s important to educate students and build their confidence by showing them data that supports their decision to pursue career training. There can be a big difference between the way of life for someone with a minimum wage job and someone with entry-level skills in a thriving field or industry — such as health care, trades, IT and business. If you’re counseling or advising students who aren’t committed to secondary education, show them this outline of the benefits of education.

Let’s look at the economic benefits of career college, undergraduate and graduate programs.

What are the average salaries by degree level?

Before we dive into career-specific numbers, here are average salaries for each degree level.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average American with a high school diploma earns $692 per week, which comes out to $33,216 a year. Compare that with $494 per week for those without their degree — see how much difference completing a short-term program can make in your finances?

With an associate degree, the average weekly salary rises to $819. Over the course of an entire year, the associate degree salary rises to $39,312, resulting in extra annual income of more than $6,000. For a student with little debt, this trajectory can lead to a good starting point on which they can build their long-term professional plans.

And what about when a bachelor’s degree is earned? For students who complete a four-year degree, the average weekly income rises to $1,156 per week. The yearly salary spikes to $55,488. As you may know, some nurses pursue a master’s degree or graduate certificate. Or students who earn a business administration degree may opt for their MBA one day. Currently, the average salary is $1,380 per week, with the average yearly salary pushed to $66,240 for students with their master’s.

Personal benefits are icing on the cake

The value of career training and secondary education goes beyond wealth. You can build a sense of security and confidence in yourself to set higher goals. And you can inspire your family and friends to improve their lives as well.

Degrees also promote advancement opportunities within the workplace or with different companies within the same industry. Without some form of education, it’s hard to be competitive in today’s workforce. And there’s little room for advancement in a lot of fields. For instance, dental assistants weren’t always required to have a certificate or diploma to work in the field. However, with more workers juggling administrative and clinical skills, it’s pretty much a must in today’s world.

Finally, career training can lead to positions that have better job security and higher job satisfaction. Job security and satisfaction make it easier for us to enjoy our life, reducing the amount of time we spend experiencing stress or fear about how likely we are to be fired or replaced.

Big difference in unemployment rate

According to the BLS, the unemployment rate of those with a high school diploma or less education was 7.7 percent in January 2017, while the unemployment rate for students with at least some college education was 3.8 percent. So not only is your average annual pay likely to be higher with postsecondary education, but you’re twice as likely to gain employment.

These are compelling facts to share with students. Imagine America constantly monitors job statistics that are relevant for students. The more we help educate students about their potential, the more motivated they’ll be to complete our partner school programs.

How career training relates to all education levels

For our purposes, we’ll look at several career paths that have long-term opportunities for career college and trade school students. We’ll connect the dots that might not always get connected when students are in an “I need training and a job right now” mindset.

We’ll examine the salary and education potential for the following fields:

  • Health care, specifically nursing and medical assisting
  • Dental assisting
  • Information technology (web development, computer science, computer security)
  • Mechanical and trade skills in developing industries such as HVAC and renewable energy
  • Culinary arts
  • Graphic design
  • Business (accounting, business administration)
  • Criminal justice

Associate degree, diploma and certificate programs

These three pathways can be great ways for students to gain entry-level skills in fields that have higher-than-average starting pay. Although less time is spent in the actual classroom, the idea that associate degrees are “worth less” is false. Many associate degrees, diplomas and certificates offer training/education in high-demand career fields that require specific technical ability. For instance, to work as a welder, one must be certified by attending a vocational school. According to salary.com, the top 10 percent of welders earning $55,240.

Here’s a closer look at what an associate degree, diploma or certificate can mean in these areas.

Health care

Nursing: Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) both provide basic nursing care. Certificate or diploma programs can take about a year to 18 months to complete, and LPNs and LVNs can work in multiple settings, including hospitals, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, private homes and extended care facilities. Their average pay is $44,090 per year, according to the BLS. For LPNs and LVNs seeking to move up to become registered nurses (RNs), a program is available known as the LPN-to-RN bridge program that enables LPNs to follow an accelerated plan to earn an associate degree to become an RN. From there, RNs can follow an RN-to-BSN program path to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Medical assistant: Medical assistants are charged with performing administrative and clinical tasks such as getting a patient’s vital signs and filing their insurance information for hospitals, doctors’ offices and other facilities. Most medical assistants earn a certificate that takes about a year to complete, while others enter the profession straight from high school and learn via on-the-job training. Learning tasks such as handling insurance or becoming an office manager can lead to other associate degrees or bachelor’s degrees in human resources or office management. The average medical assistant earns $31,540 per year.

Dental assistant: Dental assistant duties are similar to those of a medical assistant in terms of doing administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and clinical tasks like taking X-rays. The average salary for a dental assistant is $36,940. Certified dental assistants can become expanded function dental assistants with additional training or pursue an associate degree to become a dental hygienist, cleaning teeth and advising patients. An associate degree for a dental hygienist usually takes three years to complete, and dental hygienists earn an average salary of $72,910 per year.

Information technology

Web developer: Web developers use computer systems to develop and create websites. This is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. An associate degree in web design or a related field like graphic design or programming is necessary to become a web designer, and the average salary is $66,130. If you’re interested in a career in management, a bachelor’s degree is a smart addition to your education. These degree programs are available in traditional settings as well as online.

Computer science: A degree in computer science allows you to become a computer programmer, meaning you write and test code that enables computers to run various applications and software. This is a position where an associate degree doesn’t guarantee you’ll find employment opportunities, as most programmers have a bachelor’s degree. The associate degree is generally takes two years to complete and qualifies you for both entry-level work and the opportunity to transfer coursework to a four-year degree program.

Computer security: In this era of big data breaches, computer security is a major concern. Information security analysts are tasked with protecting networks and systems. Much like hiring practices with computer programmers, employers prefer to hire workers with bachelor’s degrees, but associate degrees are offered in cybersecurity. These are two-year programs than can translate into entry-level careers in IT security, including computer support technician, which comes with an average salary of $52,160 per year.

Mechanical and trade skills

Skills such as plumbing, auto repair, woodwork, painting, machine shop workers and more are vital to every part of the U.S. economy and pay in kind. Two particularly fast-growing industries in this area are heating, ventilation and air conditioning (commonly known as HVAC) and renewable energy. With a growing population, it only makes sense that we’ll need more residential and commercial spaces built. Along with innovation in technology, we should see high growth and awesome changes coming in the

HVAC-related professions.


HVAC mechanics and installers: Modern thermostats and appliances are being built with additional components that allow them to be controlled via digital technology such as smartphones and laptops. Laborers trained to install and repair these systems can work almost anywhere. Pay in this arena is $45,910 on average, and either a certificate or apprenticeship is required. Hands-on experience can lead to involvement toward a bachelor’s degree in HVAC technology.

Culinary arts

Culinary arts: While many food workers learn on the job, chefs and head cooks of restaurants get professional education via community colleges, technical schools or culinary arts schools. Culinary school locations range from down the street to some of the most prestigious cities around the world. An associate degree from a culinary school normally takes one or two years to finish, and it often is a stepping stone to a bachelor’s degree. The typical salary of chefs and head cooks is $43,180.

Graphic design

Graphic designers are unique because they can work either on computers or sketching by hand. An associate degree in this field may not be the best option, as most employers want plenty of hands-on training and a portfolio of prior work. However, associate degrees can transfer coursework to a bachelor’s degree program in most cases. Many graphic designers obtain work by showcasing off their artistic skills rather than a degree. With an associate degree and stellar portfolio, you could potentially earn an average pay around $52,290.


Accounting: Certified public accountants (CPAs) require a fouryear degree and professional certification, but that doesn’t close the door on the profession. Bookkeepers, accounting clerks and auditing clerks all require some college education. They update and produce financial records and can work part or full time. The average salary is $38,390, and some of the coursework is the same for a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

Business administration: An associate degree in business administration qualifies you to wear many hats, preparing you for possible careers in information systems, health care and human resources, to name just a few options. An associate degree can lead to work as an office manager, tech support specialist and project assistant or fulfill many prerequisites for a bachelor’s degree. A tech support specialist averages an annual income of $52,160.

Criminal justice

The field of criminal justice is enormous, encompassing careers ranging from lawyers and judges to police officers and parole officers, court workers — even psychologists. An associate degree can lead you to becoming a police officer, paralegal, correctional officer, game warden or crime scene technician; however, all these positions require a clean criminal history. For a profession like a paralegal, certificates can be achieved at local colleges inside of a year, with an average salary of $49,500. Jobs like police officer or game warden require a degree plus training, typically at an academy. Police officers average $61,600. All jobs in the criminal justice field can be lifelong career paths. Economic impact of a bachelor’s degree for trade school starters

Bachelor’s degrees typically take four years to accomplish. But if you already have credits from an associate degree, diploma or certificate program under your belt, and some experience in the field, you might be inspired to go further. It happens all the time, especially in areas such as health care and business. Let’s look at how trade school and career college students might benefit by completing a bachelor’s education down the road.

Health care

Nursing: Registered nurses (RNs) can have completed either a two-year associate degree program or a four-year bachelor’s degree program. Many health care settings (such as hospitals) now require nurses to have a bachelor’s degree, however. So this is one field where further education is pretty much mandatory to progress in a career. Demand for RNs is growing at a 16 percent clip, far faster than other professions. RNs coordinate patient care, give advice and educate patients. Their average salary is $68,450 a year, and they’re on track to attain even more responsible positions such as nurse practitioner if they continue on to complete postgraduate work.

Pre-dentistry: If you have your eye on becoming a dentist, a Bachelor of Science degree in pre-dentistry is a prerequisite for acceptance into dental school. This covers courses like biology, chemistry and calculus and prepares you for the Dental Admission Test (DAT), which is also a prerequisite for dental school.

Information technology

Computer science: An overwhelming majority of computer programmers have a bachelor’s degree, and their average salary is $79,840 per year. A master’s in computer science can take you into the development aspect of computer programming and more of a “research” than “hands-on” work experience.

Computer security: Information security analysts must have a bachelor’s degree to do work at most companies. They work for computer companies, consulting firms, and business/financial companies. The median annual wage is $92,600, and the projected growth is 18 percent through 2024.

Mechanical and trade skills

HVAC: The hands-on experience of installing and fixing HVAC equipment can lead to the desire to design, build or test better systems for mechanical and thermal services. This can lead to a mechanical career, which requires earning a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering or mechanical engineering technology. These engineers mostly work in offices, although they often visit job sites. The average annual salary is $84,190 per year.

Renewable energy: A common bachelor’s degree is environmental scientist. This position usually works in the field to determine the effect we’re having on the physical world and also involves parsing data to make theories. The average salary is $68,910.

Culinary arts

A bachelor’s degree in culinary arts often speaks of a desire to get involved in culinary, restaurant or hospitality management. Many four-year culinary arts schools, such as Le Cordon Bleu, are famous across the world. Graduates can work anywhere from hotels to restaurants to convention centers.

Graphic design

Business administration: A bachelor’s degree is almost essential for graphic designers, who average $47,760 per year. It’s a consistently in-demand field, with demand both online and in physical signage. About 20 percent of graphic designers are self-employed.


Accounting: Becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) requires a four-degree and professional certification, with an average salary of $68,150 per year. A postgraduate degree path takes most accountants into management roles.

A bachelor’s degree in business administration allows a worker to pursue job opportunities such as financial specialist, human resources manager, management, sales or business operations. These are all highly sought-after positions, with HR managers averaging $106,910 per year.

Criminal justice

Higher profile jobs can become available if you have a bachelor’s degree in a criminal justice field, including working for the FBI, CIA or other specialty government agencies; becoming a fraud investigator; or pursuing a career as an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration.

How can trade school programs lead to a graduate degree? In some fields, earning a graduate degree is a natural segue into management or leadership positions. In other career areas, such as nursing, it can mean earning a specialist education and credentials. Some graduate programs last a year or two, some require anywhere from four to six years to complete. Here’s a closer look at what a graduate degree could mean for trade school students who take a long-term view of their education and career.

Health care

Nursing: A nurse with a graduate degree can elevate her position to nurse anesthetist, nurse midwife or nurse practitioner. Nurse practitioners have become sought after as health care in the U.S. is constantly changing. The average salary of nurse aestheticians is $164,030 per year.

Dentist: In addition to graduating from dental school, dentists must pass written and practical tests and be licensed in the state they’re going to practice in. The average salary for a dentist is $173,860.

Information technology

Web developer: A graduate degree in web development will prepare you for being a lead web developer, in charge of teams of other developers working together on large-scale projects. According to glassdoor.com, the average salary of a lead web developer is $93,472.

Computer science: Much like web development, a graduate degree is the gateway to becoming a lead programmer, involved not only in coding, but also in managing teams of people. According to glassdoor.com, the average salary of a lead programmer is $91,813.

Computer security: A graduate degree in computer security allows you to take a leadership role in the information assurance and security world. This involves developing, building, coding, maintaining and updating security systems for companies and other organizations. The average salary of an information assurance manager is $93,533.

Mechanical and trade skills

HVAC: There are no HVAC graduate degrees, but if you’ve taken the path of mechanical engineer, you can earn a Master of Science in mechanical engineering (MSME) or an MSME in product design. This can lead to work in the field at the highest of levels, including research and development.

Renewable energy: A graduate degree in environmental science can lead you to the position of energy manager, the person responsible for ensuring a company complies with environmental standards. The average salary is around $97,577.

Culinary arts

A graduate degree in culinary arts is for professionals looking to work in food expert areas, including master chefs. The courses are cooking-intensive, but other courses like nutrition are involved as well. According to Salary Expert, master chefs average $56,535 per year.


Accounting: A master’s in accounting degree can move you forward to the role of large-scale auditor or into management of an accounting firm. Financial managers also fall into this category, with an average salary of $121,750 per year.

Business administration: A Master of Business Administration (MBA) is one of the most frequently earned graduate degrees in the U.S. Positions earned with an MBA include business analyst, portfolio manager and department director, and their salaries approach six figures on average.

Criminal justice

Nearly every door in the criminal justice sector opens for you with a graduate degree in this area. Forensic psychologists, prison wardens, criminal profilers and district attorneys all work in this field with master’s degrees. Forensic psychologists average $75,230 per year, and job growth is forecast around 19 percent.

How to determine the length of your road to success

We believe every student success story starts with quality career-focused training. Many students thrive when they take things one step at a time and focus on a short-term program first. This helps them gain a foothold in their chosen field as well as acquire some entry-level experience. What’s more, with our help, we can continually work to inspire students throughout their education and job search.

When students complete their first big milestone and obtain an associate degree, certificate or diploma, they can realize that their journey is just beginning. The road to student success can be long, winding, unique to each individual — and incredibly rewarding.

Want to map your road to success?

If you want to start planning your first milestone in career training, apply for one of our scholarship programs and reach out to our partner schools in your area. Once you download our Imagine America mobile app, you’ll be ready to put one foot in front of the other and start moving forward. And if you know a person (or people) who could benefit from this information, be sure to share it with them!

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