Report: In Texas, First-Year Income of Certificate Holders Can Exceed Earnings of Those with Associate’s or Bachelor’s

Washington, D.C. – A report comparing the first-year earnings of graduates with two-year and four-year degrees – as well as those with master’s and certificates – from public colleges and universities in Texas finds that the median first-year earnings of certificate holders often exceeds those of graduates from associate’s programs. In some cases, those with certificates earn above $70,000 – or $30,000 more than the statewide median for bachelor’s degree holders.

The report, Higher Education Pays: The Initial Earnings of Graduates of Texas Public Colleges and Universities Who Are Working in Texas, was prepared by College Measures, a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and the Matrix Knowledge Group. The study was funded by the Lumina Foundation. College Measures President, Mark Schneider, presented the results to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board in Austin, Texas on April 25.

“Three aspects of this report merit special attention,” said Schneider, president of College Measures and a Vice President at AIR. “First is the high labor market value of a technical associate’s degree. Second, the data show that certificates can be a pathway to high paying jobs. And third, graduates who earned a bachelor’s from most Texas campuses have roughly the same first-year earnings on average – regardless of the prestige of the school.”

Certificate holders can earn as much or more than those with an associate’s degree in some fields. Among those who studied criminal justice/police science – a popular area of study – the median income for a certificate holder is $48,192, compared with $24,298 for those with an academic associate’s degree and $36,823 for those with a technical associate’s degree.

Technical-oriented associate’s degree programs appear to help students acquire skills sought after in the labor market. On average, students with technical associate’s degrees earn a median salary of more than $50,000. The median earnings of bachelor’s degree holders statewide are $39,725.

In addition, those with a master’s degree earn more – often much more – than individuals with a bachelor’s degree. For example, bachelor’s degree holders in business administration earn a median salary of $40,178, compared with $84,470 for those with a master’s degree. While the median first-year wages of bachelor’s degree recipients in Texas are $39,725, earnings vary widely, depending upon field of study. First-year earnings in popular fields of study range from about $25,000 (biology) to about $47,000 (accounting).

Earnings also vary by institution. The first-year wages of graduates from community colleges can be widely different. Academic associate’s degrees range from about $10,000 (Ranger College) to more than $30,000 for graduates from the Trinity Campus of Tarrant County Junior College and from Central Texas Community College. For graduates with technical degrees, the range is even greater, from about $20,000 for graduates of Clarendon College to more than $65,000 for graduates from seven community colleges: College of the Mainland Community College District, San Jacinto College South Campus, Tarrant County Junior College South Campus, Galveston College, El Centro College, Trinity Valley Community College and Weatherford College.

Other findings in the report include:

  • Despite the interest in increasing the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, biology graduates at both the bachelor’s and master’s levels earn below the statewide medians for each degree type. Those with bachelor’s earn $26,430 compared with the statewide median of $39,725 for all graduates. A master’s in biology earns $ 39,980 compared with the statewide median of $63,537 for all master’s graduates. In contrast, bachelor’s graduates in mathematics out-earn biology graduates by more than $20,000 statewide and all bachelor’s graduates by more than $9,000.
  • Health care ranks high among the high-paying certificate programs that earn graduates a median income of about $70,000. So does construction professions, whether construction engineering technology/technician (Brazosport College), electrician (Lee College) or pipefitting (Lee College). Numerous certificate programs producing technicians in engineering, industrial technology, and instrumentation (e.g., from Brazosport College, San Jacinto College Central Campus, and Frank Phillips College) also make the list of high-paying programs.
  • In contrast, recipients from two dozen certificate programs earned less than $13,000 in their first year on the job. The largest concentration of low-paying certificate programs is in cosmetology (10 programs). Four are for nursing/patient care assistants.

The report and additional information comparing Texas colleges and universities, and their degree programs, is available free of charge on the College Measures website.

About College Measures
College Measures is focused on using data to drive improvement in higher education outcomes in the United States. Backed by the American Institutes for Research and Matrix Knowledge Group, College Measures' mission is to ensure that important underlying data that is underexposed and underutilized by students, parents, policymakers, and even by institutions themselves, is made readily available to all stakeholders.

About AIR
Established in 1946, with headquarters in Washington, D.C., the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization that conducts behavioral and social science research and delivers technical assistance both domestically and internationally in the areas of health, education and workforce productivity. For more information, visit