Press "Enter" to skip to content

Giving thought to low wage occupations

There are a lot of ways to measure the value of a two-year degree. Demand for graduates is certainly one way to look at a degree’s value. The wages that a two-year degree commands is another way to measure value. Unfortunately, degrees in high demand sometimes power low wage occupations. In those cases, graduates must consider the trade-offs between their employability and their earning power.

A recent Stacker study examined the lowest-paying two-year degrees, and the results are somewhat surprising. Community college administrators should pause to examine why they spend so much training students for chronically low wage occupations.

According to the Stacker study, students recover the lowest ROI on the following two-year degrees, based on their starting- and mid-career salaries:

Rank Degree Average starting salary
1 Early Childhood Education $26,200
2 Child Development $26,800
3 Phlebotomy $29,600
4 Social work $29,900
5 Early Childhood and Elementary Education $27,700
6 Pharmacy Technician $28,000
7 Medical Transcription $28,800
8 Administrative Medical Assistant $29,800
9 Social Services $34,100
10 Medical Insurance Billing and Coding $30,300

WCC doesn’t offer degrees in all of these fields, but it does offer degrees in some of them. Perhaps it is time for the Board of Trustees to ask why we – as a community – are funding and facilitating the training of people to fill low wage occupations.

Were you to look at a list of the fastest-growing occupations, you’d find some of these very positions there. Sadly, that simply confirms that there is a growing demand for college-educated, low-wage workers.

Training workers for low wage occupations is a disservice

The Board of Trustees should consider establishing a policy of evaluating degree programs in part by their starting and mid-career salaries. Degree programs designed to fill occupations that do not reliably pay at least 1.25 times Washtenaw County’s “living wage” should be targeted for elimination. Further, the Board should conduct this evaluation annually. As a community, we cannot be complicit in trapping people (often women and minorities) in low wage occupations that do little more than create a reliable supply of ALICE households.

That’s not why we fund a community college, and it’s not a good way to ensure the long-term financial security of households in our community.

Photo Credit: Herald Post , via Flickr