High-Tech Jobs That Don't Need a College Degree

When people think of high-tech jobs, they typically think of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and Ivy League Ph.D.s. But according to a new definition of STEM jobs — those requiring skills in science, technology, engineering or math — half of all high-tech positions are held by employees without a bachelor’s degree.

A recent report by the Brookings Institution redefines STEM jobs to include those with a substantial base of technical knowledge, but not necessarily requiring a bachelor’s degree. With this new perspective, high-tech jobs are not limited to advanced degrees and represent a larger part of the American middle class.

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The average STEM job available to workers without a bachelor’s degree paid $53,000, 10% higher than other jobs requiring similar educational attainment. Among the eight most popular STEM jobs that do not require a college degree, six paid more than the national annual average wage of $45,230. There were nearly 500,000 people working as computer systems analysts in 2011, a position that does not require a bachelor’s degree and paid $82,320, on average.

Though a four-year college degree is not a prerequisite, many of these jobs still have rigorous requirements. Most plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters go through a four or five year apprenticeship program, which includes studying math, physics and chemistry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Registered nurses, by far the fastest growing STEM job that does not require a bachelor’s degree, need to take courses in anatomy, chemistry and microbiology.

Jonathan Rothwell, associate fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of the report told 24/7 Wall St., “the course requirements for some of these jobs [include] things like electronics, physics, engineering, technology. There’s usually some math requirement too.” These workers, Rothwell added, also “have longer periods of on-the-job training” than many jobs that require a college degree.

Many sub-bachelor STEM jobs have grown fairly quickly. According to Rothwell, there has been strong growth in health care and computer systems occupations, while production occupations have been shrinking. According to BLS projections, from 2010 to 2020, the numbers of registered nurses and computer systems analysts will rise 26% and 22%, respectively. Meanwhile, the number of workers employed as machinists — or in similar occupations — is expected to rise just 7%.

Based on figures published by the Brookings Institution’s report, “The Hidden STEM Economy,” 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the most popular high-tech jobs in the United States that do not require a college degree. Additional data on individual occupations came from the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. Average annual wage and employment count per occupation came from the Bureau’s May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates (OES). In identifying STEM jobs, Brookings consulted O*NET surveys to measure the level of science, technology, engineering and math knowledge required for each occupation. O*NET is a database for occupational information sponsored by the Employment and Training Administration.

These are the high-tech jobs that do not require a college degree.