By Heather Brown

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With college debt topping $1 billion, some are wondering whether four years of college is worth the money. For years, we’ve known four-year college grads make hundreds of thousands of dollars more over their lives than those who don’t continue with school.

But there is new research that shows, in this new technological economy, that those who don’t end up graduating from a university can find good paying jobs.

At 30 years old, Zach Brenna decided construction wasn’t for him.

“You hit the peak of what you make, and your back starts hurting,” he said.

So now he wants to go for a two-year electronic engineering technology degree at the Dunwoody College of Technology. He knows he’ll make more money with that technology training than he would have continuing construction.

According to the Hamilton Project, a four-year college graduate is 20 percentage points more likely to have a job than someone with a high school degree.

On average, that graduate will make more than $12,000 per year.

But Dr. Steve Hine, the research director at Minnesota’s Department of Employment and Economic Development, says it’s “absolutely” possible to get a good-paying job without a four-year degree.

“For individuals with the right training, right proficiencies, if that be in math, engineering, science or something of that sort, there are employers out there anxious to reward those proficiencies,” he said.

According to a study from the Brookings Institute, half of all science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs are available to people without a bachelor’s degree. As fields like medicine, manufacturing and building have become more technical, so have the available jobs.

“The car mechanic that 30 years ago could swap out a carburetor now has to be proficient at operating highly complex computerized machinery,” Hine said.

Those STEM jobs without a four-year degree also pay about $53,000 a year – 10 percent more than non-STEM jobs with the same education. For Brenna, he’s hoping his two-year degree will lead to a career.

“While I’m at it, get a house in the suburbs, and have three little kids running around,” he said.


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