With more years in the workforce and far less student debt to deal with, two-year grads can come out with a higher lifetime worth than their four-year counterparts. Check out these 11 jobs that provide four-year degree pay and benefits without requiring a bachelor's degree.
Aside from earning a decent wage -- the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median electrician salary is $46,426 per year -- future electricians can frequently opt out of paying tuition by landing one of the many apprenticeships available in the field. In addition to sidestepping $20,000-plus in student loan debt that the average four-year grad takes on, electrical technicians who complete a four-year paid apprenticeship program enter the field with experience and a bank account that's in the black.
The BLS reports that the radiologic technician field is one of the fastest-growing occupations, expected to expand by 17 percent between 2008 and 2018. Though workers are on their feet for most of the day and are required to complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years -- don't worry, it's usually paid for by the employer -- technicians can be rest assured that their salaries will cover a foot massage every now and then.
The job's flexibility and high hourly wage make it attractive to family-oriented employees, as does the fact that approximately half of dental hygienists are given an employee-sponsored benefits package, according to research from the American Dental Hygienists' Association. An associate degree is the only requirement to break in. That means future dental hygienists take on far less debt than their four-year college counterparts.
Graphic design students can opt for a four-year degree, but they can also learn the technical aspects of the trade in a two-year degree or certificate program and then intern to pick up the artistic side. The BLS reports that graphic designers draw in a median salary of $42,400; freelance and contract designers bring in $57,000. Design directors and those with owner or partnership interests in their firm earn a median salary of $95,000.
Vernon adds that registered nurses, or RNs, who graduate from an accredited diploma or two-year program fare well fiscally, earning a median of $62,450 per year. They also generally enjoy added job perks, including flexible schedules, generous benefits packages, the ability to work in a wide variety of settings and tuition help should they decide to pursue further education. With job opportunities expanding at a rate of 22 percent per year, according to the BLS, finding a position shouldn't be a hassle either.
Behind every good attorney is a good paralegal. Dedicated to helping attorneys prepare cases, organize files, draft contracts and maintain ongoing relationships with clients, paralegals find work in law offices, federal government offices, private companies and corporations and nonprofit organizations.
Newbies can break into the field with a two-year associate degree program (or a shorter certificate program for career changers who already hold a bachelor's degree) and can expect a median salary of $46,210, according to the BLS, with the top 10 percent of paralegals reeling in $73,450 per year.
According to CareerBuilder.com's salary data site, CBsalary.com, solar energy installers earn $50,479 per year on average. To break into the profession, wannabe solar experts can enroll in a diploma or two-year degree program through their local community college or technical school, or they can get paid to learn by taking the apprenticeship route.
After taking 12 to 14 weeks of academy training, law enforcement personnel ages 21 and up are rewarded with a decent salary, a great benefits package that frequently includes tuition reimbursement perks and the ability to move into a wide array of federal, local and private agencies. According to the BLS, police and sheriff's patrol officers earn a median salary of $51,410. Those who move up the ranks to a supervisor position earn a median salary of $75,490.
"We're seeing a lot of (job opportunities) with major national brands right now, and a lot of these positions pay very well," he says.
According to Shatkin, future funeral directors won't have to look too hard for a job. "There are a whole bunch of baby boomers who are getting up there in age," he says. "It's always something that people are going to need."
Shatkin adds that you can break in with a two-year degree (though the BLS notes that some jobs in the field require a four-year degree). Statistics show that investing in information technology education pays off in the end. Computer support specialists bring in a median salary of $44,300 per year and a full benefits package, which may include free tuition reimbursement. Computer support specialists also shouldn't spend too long in the job hunt since the field is growing by 14 percent each year, according to the BLS.