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Recent graduates with a technical or vocational associate degree average higher earnings than four-year graduates in three states analyzed by CollegeMeasures. In Virginia, the average technical associate degree graduate earned $49,000 a year between 2006 and 2010.

Community college degrees “are worth a lot more than I expected and that I think other people expected,” said Mark Schneider, president of CollegeMeasures and a vice president at the American Institutes for Research.

The job news gets even better for two-year graduates, reports Forbes.

This on the heels of stats from the Department of Labor from the fall that showed job growth for those with associate’s degrees was outpacing that of more advanced degree holders. The good news doesn’t stop there; the majority of the fastest growing occupations in the US, from dental hygienists to veterinary technologists, require only a community college education.

In 2010 – 2011, the average community college student paid $2713 in tuition and received, on average, $1700 in Pell Grant aid, Forbes notes. Most community college students don’t borrow to complete an associate degree and those who do don’t need to go heavily in debt.

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Joanne Jacobs, formerly of the San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News, is a freelance journalist who blogs at joannejacobs.com.

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