The article below originally appeared in the San Francisco Gate and is being reprinted with permission.
For the first time, California community college students interested in a particular career can check a new state website to see what people earn after completing a degree or certificate in the field.
Paralegal? With no degree, they earn less than $30,000. But two years after earning a certificate, their median salary is $41,546 and grows to $47,674 after five years. They earn less with an associate degree: $38,191 and $42,332, respectively.
Accountant? Those without an associate degree or vocational certificate in this field earn about $20,000. But two years after achieving those basic levels – not the full certified public accountant degree – they’re getting about $32,000. After five years, it’s more than $38,000.
Journalist? Just marry rich. Income actually declines with more schooling – at least at the community college level.
The new Salary Surfer website from the California community college system reveals the median, annual incomes of workers who have graduated with a degree or certificate from 179 of the most widely enrolled programs in the state’s 112 colleges. The site offers no school-by-school information, but does show which colleges offer each program.
“The news is really quite good,” said Brice Harris, the statewide chancellor who presented the new website Wednesday. “You see a tremendous return on investment for the taxpayers of this state, and for the time and money invested by students.”
While community college graduates don’t earn as much as graduates of four-year programs overall, nearly 45 percent of them earn the same median wage as someone with a bachelor’s degree – more than $54,000 a year.
Community college officials say they’re thrilled to be able to offer the salary information. They say it’s part of their overall effort – prompted by the state’s budget crisis in recent years – to encourage students to have an academic plan and a goal, all to get them through school more quickly, successfully and, yes, cheaply.
In April, the college system released its “Student Success Scorecard” website, letting students compare program completion at every college.
The new Salary Surfer site offers only statewide data, but the hope is that it will motivate students to stay in school by giving them a clearer goal when choosing classes. State officials also hope college counselors will use the information to provide more tangible advice to students. They said colleges could use it to decide what classes are worth offering more of – or less.
For example, many careers pay better if students have a certificate vs. a degree – or vice versa. A sign language interpreter with a vocational certificate earns about $40,000 after five years, while one with an associate degree earns just $29,000. The difference is in the training and duration of the program.
Devon Burroughs, 20, works as a part-time peer advocate at the Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco, helping youth with truancy problems. The job pays $12 an hour, which translates to $6,240 a year.
But Burroughs has dreams of working in television and plans to enroll at City College of San Francisco this fall.
“I want to do sports broadcasting,” he said.
Told about Salary Surfer – and that the new site shows the median salary of people with a certificate or degree in television is about $25,000 after two years, and between $34,000 and $42,000 after five – Burroughs was intrigued.
“This is the first time I’m hearing what I might make,” he said. “It’s actually interesting – it makes me want to get in front of a computer and see what careers might give me something else.
“If I’m having a family, I would definitely want to make more money than $24,000 or $34,000.”
That sounds like the website is already having the motivating effect its developers intended.
In fact, many of the careers featured on the site have median salaries of only $20,000 to $35,000, like teaching assistants, who earn $32,000 at best.
Harris said that the information is likely to help students see why it can be a good idea to get a four-year degree.
David Rattray of the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce joined Harris in presenting Salary Surfer and said he hoped the University of California and the California State University would create similar Web tools.
“I’d love to see them continue in the same direction,” Rattray said. “Connecting employment data to education data is historic and should be followed by others.”
Salary Surfer: salarysurfer.cccco.edu/SalarySurfer.aspx
Associate degrees with the highest median incomes five years after earning the degree
— Electrical and power systems transmission: $96,200
— Physician assistant: $95,700
— Radiation therapy technician: $91,300
Median wages, after five years
— For students with associate degrees in vocational disciplines: $61,600
— For students with associate degrees in nonvocational disciplines: $39,300
California community college system