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Calculating College Debt: A bachelor's degree vs. an associate's degree

3:07 AM, May 23, 2013   |    comments
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Thousands of grade school students descend upon UT Wednesday for the science competition Destination Imagination.

But, for many of those students, it will not be long until they actually have to take classes at a college themselves. However, recent data shows not all of them will be going to a traditional four year institution.

According to The College Board, the distribution of students going to public and private four-year institutions has slowly declined over the decades.

  • 1990: 51 percent
  • 2009: 44 percent

This comes as the distribution of students going to two-year institutions has remained relatively unchanged.

  • 1990: 25 percent
  • 2009: 26 percent

Pellissippi State Placement Director Carolyn Carson said more people are looking at two-year institutions because of money. She said they provide a quality setting where students can learn at an affordable cost.

"Your community colleges are much cheaper, less expensive than your four-year schools, especially your private schools," she said.

On May 7, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce released a study that showed the "Top 100 Hot Jobs in Tennessee" by degree. When you compare those numbers against federal data showing the average cost of college by degree, a financial difference appears.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, it cost $17,442 to go to a two-year institution from 2010 to 2011. When you compare that cost to the "hot" associate degree job of Respiratory Therapist, which makes an average $46,000 starting pay, a graduate is left with close to $29,000 after paying off education expenses.

More Information: Federal Data on College and University Tuition

For a student going to a four-year institution, it cost $82,897 from 2007 to 2011. When you compare that cost to the "hot" bachelor degree job of a software developer, which makes an average $74,000, a graduate is left with close to $8,000 in debt.

The numbers do not take into account residency or financial aid.

Carson also pointed out students are regularly placed into new positions after they complete a two-year degree at Pellissippi.

"Our placement rate for 2011, which is the last I have, was 94 percent of our associate applied science degree majors either got jobs in their major or went on for further education," she said.

Knoxville Chamber President Mike Edwards said it is also important students consider what major they are interested in before go to college. He said when you take into account loans and market demand, certain jobs might be more attractive.

"You don't want to get a very good degree in a major that's not needed in the marketplace," he said.

In the Spring 2013 semester, the most popular degrees were: 1) psychology, 2) biological sciences, 3) logistics. Edwards said a lot of psych majors across the country are having a hard time finding work related to their field because their skills are not currently in demand.

Both Edwards and Carson agreed that technical skills were in high demand amongst employers.

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