Community college degrees, long considered also-ran prizes in the race for academic achievement, “are worth a lot more than I expected and that I think other people expected,” Schneider said.

But there is a catch: You have to earn your degree in a technical or occupational program to earn anywhere near $40,000. That’s the approximate average earned by students who went to school and worked in the state of Virginia and graduated with two-year degrees in these fields between 2006 and 2010. Graduates of two-year nursing programs earned am average of $45,342.