For years, the narrative was that if you wanted to be successful with a job that paid well, you had to attend a four-year college or university and get a bachelor's degree before starting a career. While a bachelor's degree is still required for many job opportunities and can certainly open doors, college isn't for everyone, and having a BA is far from necessary to land a fulfilling job with a healthy salary.
Research from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce indicates there are about 30 million good-paying jobs, defined as earning $17 per hour for full-time workers under 45 and $22 per hour for those over 45, out there for people without a four-year degree. Meanwhile, there are about 36 million good-paying jobs for workers with a BA.
Jeff Strohl, director of research at Georgetown CEW, and one of the authors of a recent study titled "Good Jobs that Pay without a BA," told us that adding the general perception is that the blue-collar economy is disappearing and if students don't attend a four-year school, they won't get anywhere in life. Neither of those is true.
Having a bachelor's degree can give you a leg up in certain fields, but it comes with a cost. According to the Institute for College Access and Success, about 68 percent of the class of 2015 graduated with student loan debt, averaging more than $30,000 per borrower.
And while the blue-collar economy is undergoing a metamorphosis, it isn't going anywhere.
Technological advances and jobs being shipped overseas have limited opportunities in manufacturing fields — although the industry continues to be the backbone of blue-collar work — but are being replaced with jobs in skilled-service industries. Financial consulting, wholesale and retail trade, construction, leisure/hospitality and health care make up the top five growth industries for workers without a BA, contributing more than 17.5 million good-paying jobs, according to the Georgetown research.
Maryland is also well-positioned when it comes to good jobs without a bachelor's degree. According to the Georgetown study, our small state ranks 15th in the sheer number of these kinds of jobs, with around 600,000, but the state ranks third in the share of good jobs available without a bachelor's degree, behind only Wyoming and New Jersey, at 46.7 percent.
But while getting a four-year degree isn't a requirement to obtain one of these good-paying jobs, the other major change in blue-collar work is that, unlike in years past, there is far less economic opportunity for someone who doesn't at least have a high school diploma, and having some additional education — getting your certification or obtaining a less-expensive associate degree from a community college — greatly increases your chances of landing a good-paying job.
This should all be good news for Carroll County high school students who aren't sure if a four-year college or university is right for them. The county's Career and Technology Center offers a number of programs that prepare students to get certified in their field and begin work right away, often with a good starting salary. Other programs there work in concert with offerings at Carroll Community College, such as the Cisco Academy, which trains students on networking concepts. Students may consider entering a career in information technology or go on to get a two-year degree from the community college's cybersecurity program.
College officials say they are seeing high demand in the fields of early childhood education, short-term health care, computer graphics, and banking and IT; and the college has various programs and partnerships to help prepare students for careers in those fields, as well as apprenticeship programs for health care, cybersecurity and digital media industries.
People have to make decisions about what's right for them when it comes to their career path, but be certain that there is no single "right" way to a good-paying job. For students who choose not to attend a four-year college, there are plenty of great resources right here in Carroll County to help them land a good job with a good salary.