The University Record, June 24, 1998

Good-paying jobs available for workers without bachelor's degrees

By Bernie DeGroat
News and Information Services

While a college education increases a worker's chances of earning more money, less than half of well-paying careers require a four-year degree, according to a U-M study update on jobs and wages.

In a follow-up to last year's report on "Good-Paying Occupations: A Study of Occupational Wages in the Great Lakes States," researchers found that 60 percent of full-time workers who make $30,000 or more do not have a bachelor's degree.

Further, among 88 job fields in the study with median annual full-time earnings of at least $30,000, 41 occupations require a four-year degree, while 47 do not. Moreover, these patterns of good-paying work hold true as much for younger employees (under age 35) as for all workers.

"Most people believe that the only reliable path to good-paying work is by obtaining a four-year college degree or more," says Donald R. Grimes, a senior research associate at the Institute of Labor and Industrial Relations. "This belief, however, contradicts reports from employers in almost every industry that they cannot fill good-paying jobs that don't require a bachelor's degree."

People strongly believe, adds co-researcher Louis J. Glazer of Michigan Future Inc., that well-paying career options are shrinking for younger workers and are largely limited to medicine, law and engineering.

"The belief is that other good-paying jobs were available to boomers and their parents, but not their children and grandchildren," he says. "But there are a wide variety of well-paying opportunities available to younger workers."

In particular, the researchers say, there are 1.5 million young workers (ages 25-34) in the Great Lakes states (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin) earning $30,000 or more, and slightly over half of them do not have a bachelor's degree.

Overall, the top-paying occupations that do not require a four-year college degree include: millwrights ($60,000); household appliance and other electrical equipment repairers ($52,000); tool and die makers ($50,000); stationary engineers ($48,000); advertising and other business sales people ($45,000); rail and water transportation workers ($45,000); firefighters ($45,000); supervisors of mechanics ($44,500); boilermakers ($44,000); and science technicians ($43,000).

The researchers say that while these kinds of jobs require no bachelor's degree, nearly all demand some form of special training.

"The common characteristic of the 47 good-paying occupations that do not require a four-year degree is the need for training beyond high school," Grimes says. "These occupations require advanced skills learned on the job, in apprenticeship programs and at community colleges or technical schools.

"Employment earnings are even higher for those with an occupational associate's degree than for those with an academic associate's degree or some college, but no degree. The value of the occupational associate's degree is most pronounced for younger workers," Grimes says.

Finally, the report lists the fastest-growing good-paying occupations that do not require a four-year degree. Such jobs include firefighters, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers and tile setters, production coordinators (logistics), auto sales people, truck drivers, machinists, and science, engineering and lab technicians.

The study was sponsored by Michigan Future Inc., a non-profit citizens' organization focused on providing the citizens of Michigan with quality information about the rapidly changing economy.

To view charts: Median Earnings by Education Attainment (; Good-paying Occupations That Do Not Require a Four-Year Degree (