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The Cheapest Degrees with the Highest Return

The cost of education continues to increase year after year, forcing many high school students and graduates to wonder if going to college is worth it in the end. Despite the fact that a college degree is expensive, studies show that a college degree can pay off in the end. The cheapest route to go is to obtain a 2-year associate’s degree majoring in one of the few high-paying careers that can be obtained with this abbreviated degree. If a four-year degree is more beneficial for the career you plan to pursue, attending a public college in the state you reside is the best choice as the average cost is around $9,000 for tuition and school fees, not including room and board. The type of career you plan on going after is what will determine which type of school you should attend. These five careers have the highest return on investment with a 2-year degree according to the most recent studies.

Dental Hygienist

The dental hygienist is one of the most lucrative healthcare careers to obtain right out of college. With a 2-year degree, new dental hygienists can expect to make a starting salary around $40,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. From that starting salary, the average expected salary for the dental hygienist is around $68,000.

Management Information Systems

If technology is your desired career course, Management Information Systems is a great degree to obtain as it can open several doors for you even with just a 2-year degree. A few of the jobs available with the MIS degree are: database coordinator and IT systems administrator. The best news about these jobs are they are readily available throughout a variety of industries, especially healthcare, and there is always the ability to go back to get a 4-year degree part-time while you work and get more experience. The average starting salary is between $40,000 and $45,000.


There are a variety of jobs in the electric engineering field that do not require a bachelor’s degree. These jobs include relay testers, test and electrical technicians. The on-the-job training and experience is oftentimes more valuable than a 4-year degree, allowing graduates with this associate’s degree to make as much as $60,000 right out of college. With the right training on-the-job, the graduate can easily earn close to a six-figure income in a few short years.

Medical Imaging

It does not always take a 4-year degree to get a job in the medical field. In fact, employees in the medical imaging department that obtained a 2-year degree are making anywhere from $65,000 to $70,000 and have spent far less on their college education. The careers that are the most lucrative in medical imaging include sonographers, radiation therapists, and nuclear medicine technologists. The salary of the graduates with just a 2-year degree in these positions is significantly higher than their counterparts with a 4-year degree in other fields.


Registered nurses are in high demand in a variety of places including hospitals, doctors’ offices, and senior living centers. The nursing field is expected to continue to grow exponentially well past 2020, giving new graduates a great outlook on their career path. The median salary for nurses today is around $65,000 with salaries increasing depending on the location of the job, amount of experience, and jobs performed.

It is entirely possible to obtain a great career with only a 2-year college degree, which can be obtained at a much lower cost than a 4-year degree. Oftentimes students save as much as $10,000 even with obtaining a degree from a state college in their own state of residence. The return on many associates degree is even higher than could be obtained with 4-year degree careers, such as early childhood education, which has the low starting salary of just $38,000 after attending a 4-year college, making the return on investment rather negligent for the first several years of the job.

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