Image: Nurse
Dinesh Ramde  /  AP
Working as a registered nurse offers lots of opportunities for growth, and job stability during recessions. Here, registered nurse Pat Boodoo reviews patient data at Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare in the Milwaukee suburb of Brookfield.
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updated 9/9/2011 9:59:12 AM ET 2011-09-09T13:59:12

If you're looking to return to school, but the idea of a four-year degree just doesn't fit with your time or budgetary constraints, there are many high-paying jobs that only require a two-year degree. These two-year programs are often referred to as associates degrees. If making the big bucks is something you put a high value on, you might want to invest your time into one of these high-paying career options that only require two-years education.

Registered nurses
Though there is quite a bit of variance when it comes to nursing programs and the length of time it takes to complete them, many of the two-year nursing programs lead to high-paying jobs. One of the best things about nursing is that this career choice offers lots of opportunities for growth. This profession is also quite stable through recession. Individuals in this career can expect to earn an average salary of about $55,000 per year.

Engineering technicians
Those with good math and science skills may choose a career as an engineering technician, though within this field there is a wide range of types of engineering to specialize in. Industrial engineering technicians can earn in the range of $47,000 annually, while environmental engineering technicians can earn about $41,000 per year. Electrical engineering technicians can expect to earn an annual salary of about $47,000 per year, while aerospace engineering technicians can expect to earn even more, approximately $52,000 per year.

Dental hygienists
This career option may only require a two-year degree, but it also generally requires workers to obtain a license or certification on top of the educational requirement. Despite the added hurdle to cross in obtaining a position as a dental hygienist, it's definitely worth it when the pay checks start to come in. The average yearly income for a dental hygienist comes in at over $57,000 per year, with some hygienists earning well over $60,000 annually. Also of note, the demand for this position is expected to increase over the coming years.

Computer-support specialists
In our modern high-tech world, those with the know-how when it comes to computers can expect to earn a good wage. Two-year computer support specialist programs can cover everything from IT positions or network security to computer support and help desk-type positions. These jobs tend to offer yearly incomes anywhere in the range of $46,000 to $60,000. They generally come with the added perks of flexible schedules or the ability to work remotely.

Paralegal
Good lawyers depend on good paralegals to provide administrative support. Though paralegals won't earn as much during their careers as a lawyer will, they still earn a great wage considering this career only requires a fraction of the education. Individuals working in this field can expect to rake in an average annual salary of about $46,000.

Diagnostic medical imaging and X-ray technicians
Employment in this segment of the medical field is expected to increase in the coming years, which is great news for those that have an interest in working this field without investing the huge amount of time and money required to become a doctor. Diagnostic medical imaging staff and x-ray technicians may work in either clinics, hospitals or labs that use imaging technology to assist in diagnosing medical issues. These medical staff can expect to earn in the range of $52,000 per year after completing a two-year program. These positions are also great for those that wish to work in a flexible work environment.

Web designer
If you've got a creative mind mixed with strong technical skill, graphic or web design is a great career option for you. Companies always require talented designers to modify or create websites, and this career option also offers great potential for workers to start their own businesses. According to PayScale, website designers can expect to earn an average salary in the range of $49,000 annually, though the sky is the limit if you go into business for yourself or work freelance.

Physical-therapy assistant
The medical field is always a fairly stable career option, and physical therapy is no different. Jobs in this field are definitely on the rise, especially as the population continues to age and has an increased need for physical therapy. Individuals in this field can expect to earn over $46,000 per year on average.

The bottom line
It's definitely true that no education is ever wasted, so whether you opt for the four-year degree or if you decide that two years is all you're willing to invest, those that go to college often have greater earning potential than those that don't. However, some two-year programs can definitely lead to high paying jobs; at times perhaps even higher paying than some four-year programs. Some employers in particularly high-demand industries may even offer incentives to those that complete educational programs that enable them to work in the field. These incentives can come in the form of tuition rebates or tax breaks.

Do your homework before you head back to school and know what the prospects are in the industries you're considering.

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