Study: College degree unnecessary for 30 million 'good jobs'

A college education has been billed to millions of Americans as a tried-and-true pathway to eventual financial security, but a new study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce has tallied 30 million "good jobs" out there that don't require a bachelor's degree.

The report was developed through a partnership with JPMorgan Chase to profile what researchers describe as "good jobs" for those who don't have traditional college degrees. For people under the age of 45, that means a position with an annual salary of at least $35,000. For those over 45, that minimum earnings floor is raised to $45,000.

The study's authors ultimately found the average good job in the U.S. that doesn't require a bachelor's degree pays $55,000 annually. But they also identified 16 million such positions that pay more than that.

"In the past, these good jobs were found almost entirely in manufacturing and other blue-collar industries like transportation and construction. Employment in blue-collar industries, however, has declined primarily because of robots and offshoring of jobs," the report said. "These industries still hold the majority (55 percent) of jobs that pay with no [bachelor's degree], but that is changing quickly."

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The 25 highest-paying jobs you can get without a bachelor's degree
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The 25 highest-paying jobs you can get without a bachelor's degree

#25: Aerospace engineering and operations technicians

They operate and maintain equipment used in developing, testing, and producing new aircraft and spacecraft.

Median annual wage (2016): $68,020

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,200

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#24: Magnetic-resonance-imaging technologists

They monitor patient safety and comfort and view images of areas being scanned to ensure quality of pictures.

Median annual wage (2016): $68,420

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 9,800

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#23: Gaming managers

They plan, direct, or coordinate gaming operations in a casino.

Median annual wage (2016): $69,180

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 800

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#22: Diagnostic medical sonographers

They use special imaging equipment that directs sound waves into a patient's body to assess and diagnose various medical conditions.

Median annual wage (2016): $69,650

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 27,500

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#21: Ship engineers

They supervise and coordinate activities of crew engaged in operating and maintaining engines, boilers, deck machinery, and electrical, sanitary, and refrigeration equipment aboard ship.

Median annual wage (2016): $70,570

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,500

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#20: Postmasters and mail superintendents

They plan, direct, or coordinate operational, administrative, management, and supportive services of a US post office, or coordinate activities of workers engaged in postal and related work in an assigned post office.

Median annual wage (2016): $71,670

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,800

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#19: Transportation inspectors

They inspect equipment or goods in connection with the safe transport of cargo or people.

Median annual wage (2016): $72,220

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 7,100

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#18: Captains, mates, and pilots of water vessels

They command or supervise operations of ships and water vessels, such as tugboats and ferryboats. 

Median annual wage (2016): $72,680

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award (Required to hold license issued by US Coast Guard.)

Projected job openings (through 2024): 17,200

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#17: Dental hygienists

They clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases like gingivitis, and provide other preventative dental care.

Median annual wage (2016): $72,910

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 70,300

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#16: First-line supervisors of non-retail sales workers

They directly supervise and coordinate activities of sales workers other than retail sales workers.

Median annual wage (2016): $73,150

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 69,900

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#15: Funeral-service managers

They plan, direct, or coordinate the services or resources of funeral homes.

Median annual wage (2016): $73,830

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 7,400

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Shutterstock

#14: Nuclear medicine technologists

They 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.

Median annual wage (2016): $74,350

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 4,200

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#13: First-line supervisors of fire fighting and prevention workers

They directly supervise and coordinate activities of workers engaged in fire fighting and fire prevention and control.

Median annual wage (2016): $74,540

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award

Projected job openings (through 2024): 33,400

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#12: Power-plant operators

They control, operate, or maintain machinery to generate electric power. Includes auxiliary equipment operators.

Median annual wage (2016): $74,690

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 14,100

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#11: Powerhouse, substation, and relay electrical and electronics repairers

They inspect, test, repair, or maintain electrical equipment in generating stations, substations, and in-service relays.

Median annual wage (2016): $75,670

Education required: Postsecondary nondegree award

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,900

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#10: Commercial pilots

They pilot and navigate the flight of fixed-wing aircraft on nonscheduled air-carrier routes or helicopters. Requires commercial-pilot certificate.

Median annual wage (2016): $77,200

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 15,100

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#9: Detectives and criminal investigators

They conduct investigations related to suspected violations of federal, state, or local laws to prevent or solve crimes.

Median annual wage (2016): $78,120

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 28,300

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#8: Elevator installers and repairers

They assemble, install, repair, or maintain electric or hydraulic freight or passenger elevators, escalators, or dumbwaiters.

Median annual wage (2016): $78,890

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 5,900

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Apprenticeship

Photo credit: Getty

#7: Nuclear technicians

They assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production.

Median annual wage (2016): $79,140

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 2,800

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#6: Radiation therapists

They check equipment, observe patients' reactions to treatment, and document sessions.

Median annual wage (2016): $80,160

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 6,200

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#5: Power distributors and dispatcher

They coordinate, regulate, or distribute electricity or steam.

Median annual wage (2016): $81,900

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 3,900

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#4: First-line supervisors of police and detectives

They directly supervise and coordinate activities of members of a police force.

Median annual wage (2016): $84,840

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 43,000

Work experience: Less than five years

On-the-job training: Moderate-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#3: Transportation, storage, and distribution managers

They coordinate transportation, storage, or distribution activities in accordance with organizational policies and applicable government laws or regulations.

Median annual wage (2016): $89,190

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 27,100

Work experience: Five years or more

On-the-job training: None

Photo credit: Getty

#2: Nuclear-power-reactor operators

They operate or control nuclear reactors, move control rods, start and stop equipment, monitor and adjust controls, record data in logs, and implement emergency procedures when needed.

Median annual wage (2016): $91,170

Education required: High-school diploma or equivalent

Projected job openings (through 2024): 2,600

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

#1: Air-traffic controllers

They 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.

Median annual wage (2016): $122,410

Education required: Associate's degree

Projected job openings (through 2024): 7,500

Work experience: None

On-the-job training: Long-term on-the-job training

Photo credit: Getty

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Indeed, researchers said traditional blue-collar employment declined by 30 percent between 1991 and 2015, with a loss of 2.5 million manufacturing positions. Those losses were offset, however, by a gain of 4 million good jobs in the services sector – including contributions of 1.4 million and 1 million from health and financial services employers, respectively.

These good jobs for folks without a bachelor's degree aren't evenly distributed geographically, with California, Texas and Florida collectively accounting for more than a quarter of the country's total of 30 million.

With respect to the number of good jobs that exist in each state, however, workers without a bachelor's degree appear most likely to find relatively lucrative employment in Wyoming, New Jersey and Maryland. Nationally, men were found to hold 70 percent of these good jobs to women's 30 percent, while 67 percent of the jobs were held by whites.

"While it is important to highlight this segment of the job market, there are still hard truths to face. Workers with [bachelor's degrees] have gained far more jobs since the Great Recession of 2007-2009 (8.4 million) than workers with less education (3.2 million)," the report said, also noting that the share of good jobs held by folks without a college degree declined from 60 percent to 45 percent between 1991 and 2015.

In other words, more than half of good jobs in America are held by people with at least a bachelor's degree.

In some sense, this is to be expected, given the country's steady rise in educational attainment. More than a third (33.4 percent) of Americans who were at least 25 years old last year had completed four or more years of college, according to the Census Bureau. In 1991, only 21.4 percent of the country could say the same.

"In the heyday of the industrial economy, young people could leave high school and easily find a good job in a nearby factory or mine," the report said. "If an economic downturn cost them their job, experienced workers could just wait until the economy picked up and then return to a similar job. Those days are gone."

To that end, the study indicated the number of individuals with good jobs that had only attained a high school diploma dropped by 1 million between 1991 and 2015, despite the U.S. population expanding considerably over that period. An associate's degree or some college experience is now viewed as a prerequisite for millions of good jobs that still don't require a four-year degree.

Researchers found that 9.3 million of the 30 million good jobs were filled by individuals with some college experience in 2015, while another 7.6 million held an associate's degree. High school dropouts were found to hold just 1.7 million of the country's good jobs.

"This transfer of work toward more educated workers has occurred because the skilled-services industries and even the old blue-collar industries increasingly rely on workers with higher-level skills to meet competitive requirements and to fully exploit ever more flexible technology," the report said. "In addition, a variety of non-degree credentials are sometimes necessary to get those jobs, or to advance in them."

Copyright 2017 U.S. News & World Report

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