Associate degrees that focus on job skills and employment

Michael Vasquez crunches the salary numbers for college graduates in Florida. This is good news for the unemployed who attend community colleges for retraining and other adults seeking that associate degree.

What the numbers say: Bachelor's degree recipients from the state's 11 public universities earned an average starting salary of $36,552 in 2009.

Meanwhile, those who received associate in science degrees from Florida community colleges earned an average of $47,708 -- a difference of $11,000 more per year.

The numbers prove ``something like an associate's degree certainly should not be dismissed as a meaningless level of education,'' suggested Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research at the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Long term, completing a more-advanced degree still tends to pay salary dividends. Continuing past an associate's degree to receive a bachelor's or master's typically improves a person's chances for future promotions -- and, therefore, future salary bumps.

``Where the real difference tends to lie is where the ceiling of the salary is,'' Koc said.

But when it comes to starting salaries, practicality matters.

Associate in science degree-holders tend to be older than traditional undergraduates at state universities, so some of the community college salary advantage may be purely due to that age difference.

Older students usually have more years in the workplace, and that lengthier résumé can command higher pay.

But graduating with workforce-ready skills also appears to be one of the key components for associate-holders' strong earnings. While state universities work to broaden students' horizons with courses in philosophy or world history, associate in science programs at community colleges are dominated by job-specific training courses for occupations such as legal assisting, early childhood education, and a variety of healthcare specialties.


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