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Ididio Explores
Top-paying career training programs
The most lucrative certificate and associate’s degrees are far from the most popular -- see which programs top our list!

Some of the most popular career-focused certificates and associate’s degrees, such as cosmetology or medical assisting services, have low starting salaries, while other less-known careers, such as those with some technology, offer terrific starting salaries with only a 1-2 year degree!

Select any row in the table below to find all associated programs. When you follow the link to explore any Ididio program page, you’ll find information about the jobs that may follow this training, as well as tools to find the best-best performing schools offering each degree.

Explore certificate and associate degree programs
2019 College Scorecard
2018 IPEDS
Companion stories

This story is made possible because of the newly released College Scorecard data from the Department of Education that details starting salaries and loan amounts for all programs with sufficient numbers of graduates to ensure privacy. A caveat is that the only students for which there is earnings data are those that took out loans, so low-cost programs are simply not well-represented within this data. It’s unfortunate that the federal government offers little data to help us get a good understanding of a concrete relationship between career training and jobs.
The Department of Education’s Gainful Employment standards are difficult to locate directly on the Federal Student Aid site because they are no longer calculated. They define discretionary income to be earnings minus 150% of the poverty guideline, which we determined to be $12,060 in 2017 (the second earnings year reported by College Scorecard) based on the Department of Health and Human Services’s threshold estimate for the country as a whole. The guidelines suggest the loan payment should be less than 8% of annual earnings, and less than 20% of discretionary income. When payment amounts are greater than 12% of annual earnings or 30% of discretionary income, those are outright failing, with debt-to-earnings ratios in between these thresholds flagged as concerning. Using the data from College Scorecard, we are able to “recreate” the gainful employment labels for each program-school combination. As The Institute for College Access and Success notes, our calculations cannot reproduce the Gainful Employment standards are they were intended because the original calculations looked at the debt for all students including non-borrowers, while College Scorecard figures only calculate the debt load for borrowers. Therefore, the debt load will be higher in these calculations, causing more colleges to fail the standard. The original calculation was for federal debt only, and the new calculation includes private loan debt. Finally, gainful employment used earnings that were a little further out than 1-2 years. It would be ideal to have further guidance from the Department of Education of what new guidelines might most appropriately be applied to this data.
To create the acceptable debt column, we answered “yes” if one of the two gainful employment metrics were met above, and “maybe” if at least one measure was not failing. In the cases in which the data did not include a median monthly debt payment, we answered “maybe” if the amount borrowed was less than the starting salary, which is a common rule-of-thumb that’s really appropriate only for the larger starting salaries. Otherwise, we answered “no.”
The completion totals as well as award level and gender breakdowns are from IPEDS completions data, which was released in July 2020 for the 2018-2019 academic year.
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