Healthcare is a field that tends to draw in people who care about other people enough to want to make a career out of it. There are definitely comfortable salaries and benefits to look forward to as you think about getting into the field, but there’s a good chance you’re also thinking about job satisfaction, the difference you can make in the lives of patients, the respect that comes with the job and the benefit you bring to the community around you.
It’s a kind of compensation that no calculator can add up, and it’s those very things that are going to get you through the workweek feeling good about what you do. But at the same time, you know full well that those warm fuzzy feelings aren’t going to pay off your student loans. Real money has to change hands, and you had better think about how that’s going to happen so that you don’t end up in a job you love with a paycheck that can’t pay the bills.
That’s what ROI is all about: Return on Investment. If you were going into accounting or economics you would spend a lot more time learning about how to calculate ROI, factoring in the opportunity costs, the annualized rates of return, the concept of Net Present Value…
But fortunately, you don’t really need to do all that to get the basic idea. All you really need to understand is this:
Total Lifetime Compensation
– Total Cost of Education
Total Return on Investment
In practical terms, it means your total income over the course of your career minus your cost of education had better be positive… the more positive, the better. And it should be a figure well above what you would make without that education: if you end up making the same amount with a college degree that you would have with a high school diploma, then the money you put into college isn’t paying off, at least not in terms of dollars and cents.
Of course, guesstimating all the twists and turns of a long-term career in medical assisting isn’t always that easy. For one thing, many people start off as medical assistants and then move into more lucrative positions later on, in administration, more advanced technical and clinical support roles, or even nursing. And in a field where you can get your foot in the door with a two-year degree or a less expensive certificate program, even decisions you make early on can make a noticeable difference in a couple years when you’re being considered for promotion.
With so many variables, we can’t pin down the exact ROI for any one person, but this guide will give you a sense of how your investment in a degree or certificate in medical assisting will pay off over the course of your career.
- Finding ROI Starts with Figuring Out the Cost of Your Medical Assistant Education
- How Receiving Tuition Assistance Impacts Your Return on Investment in Medical Assisting
- Salary Ranges For Medical Assistants Offer the Final Answer On ROI
- Calculating ROI for Your Job in Medical Assisting Might Just Be the First Step
Finding ROI Starts with Figuring Out the Cost of Your Medical Assistant Education
A job as a medical assistant almost always requires some level of formal education at a post-secondary institution like a community college or a for-profit training institute. But you do have a choice between getting a full two-year associate degree or attending a shorter, more focused program that awards a diploma or certificate in the field.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average annual cost of tuition, fees, room and board at a two-year degree-granting institution in the United States is $10,704.
That puts the total cost of the average associate degree in medical assisting at $21,408.
As you will see below, certificate and diploma programs can be about half of that price… but with other factors you’ll need to consider for your long-term ROI.
What You Will Invest in a Medical Assistant Certificate Program
NCES doesn’t track the costs separately for certificate or diploma programs, but they are often offered by the same institutions with the same fees and costs of living as associate programs. The major difference on the costs front is that they last about half as long, so you are paying the same rate, but for only half the time. Equally importantly, that extra year that you are not in school can be spent out on the job, with money coming in instead of the other way around.
Here you’ll find tuition rates for a cross-section of schools in different states around the country that award certificates or diplomas in medical assisting, together with their average annual cost as reported by the Department of Education’s College Scorecard site. That cost includes tuition, living costs, books and supplies, but also takes out the average grants and scholarships for federal financial aid that are awarded to students at those institutions:
- Hacienda La Puente Adult Education – La Puente (public) – $3,316
- California Nurses Education Institute – Palm Springs (private) – $16,897
- Lorenzo Walker Technical College – Naples (public) – $6,287
- Cambridge College of Healthcare & Technology (private) – $18,562
- Central Georgia Technical College – Albany (public) – $2,427
- Altierus Career College – Norcross (private) – $16,023
- Sauk Valley Community College – Dixon (public) – $7,717
- Rasmussen College – Rockford (private) – $16,713
- Northwest Kansas Technical College – Goodland (public) – $9,906
- Wichita Technical Institute – Wichita (private) – $16,746
- New York
- Mohawk Valley Community College – Utica (public) – $7,429
- New York Medical Career Training Center – Flushing (private) – $15,925
- Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology – Pleasant Gap (public) – $9,660
- Penn Commercial Business/Technical School – Washington (private) – $14,338
- Lamar State College – Orange (public) – $4,696
- Rio Grande Valley College – Pharr (private) – $20,716
- Walla Walla Community College – Walla Walla (public) – $6,176
- Perry Technical Institute – Yakima (private) – $17,688
What You Will Invest if You Go with an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting
College Scorecard also lists schools in each of those states that offer full-fledged two-year associate program in medical assisting, together with their costs. You’ll find that they tend to be in the same price ranges, but remember: you’ll pay the rates listed for two years rather than just one on this path, so you can effectively double the figures you see here.
- Mount San Antonio College – Walnut (public) – $2,570
- Santa Barbara Business College – Santa Maria (private) – $16,333
- North Florida College – Madison (public) – $2,834
- Florida National University – Hialeah (private) – $21,736
- Albany State University – Albany (public) – $13,066
- Gwinnett College – Sandy Springs (private) – $17,568
- Lincoln Land Community College – Springfield (public) – $5,994
- Fox College – Bedford Park (private) – $14,649
- Colby Community College – Colby (public) – $9,546
- Rasmussen College – Topeka (private) – $18,895
- New York
- Columbia-Green Community College – Hudson (public) – $5,706
- Paul’s School of Nursing – Staten Island (private) – $25,295
- Pennsylvania State University – DuBois (public) – $19,266
- Johnson College – Scranton (private) – $18,417
- Texas State Technical College – Waco (public) – $6,839
- Remington College – Dallas (private) – $18,762
- Green River College – Auburn (public) – $8,647
While a certificate can seem like the clear winner in the ROI battle at this point, don’t be hasty… as you’ll see when we start talking about salaries, there can still be some good reasons why a full two-year associate degree will help you come out ahead in the long run, depending on your career track.
How Picking a Public or Private School Program Can Impact ROI
You’ll notice that your educational costs will vary depending on whether or not you are looking at programs at public community colleges or private or for-profit schools.
Some studies, like this Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce ROI ranking of 4,500 American colleges and universities, seem to show that private school attendance can have real benefits to your returns over 40 years or so. Presumably, that’s the elite name factor at work… having Stanford or Harvard on your resume is going to float it to the top of a lot of interview piles over time during the course of a career.
Things are quite a bit different when you start looking at the community college and certificate program level, though. Surprisingly, within the 10 year timespan, those programs often beat out longer and more expensive four-year programs. And although private schools still fill out the very top of the list when looking 40 years out, they do not dominate: many low-cost community college options can be found in the top 20 or so schools.
How Receiving Tuition Assistance Impacts Your Return on Investment in Medical Assisting
You might have noticed that the College Scorecard numbers take out tuition assistance. That’s something you’ll have to think about when you are calculating your ROI as well, because it can make a big difference in your out-of-pocket and long-term costs for education.
On the plus side, if you can get scholarships or grants to help cover your cost of schooling, then that is all gravy for your profit potential. Every dime that someone else pays on your tuition is one that stays in your pocket, and makes that ROI calculation more favorable over the long run.
On the minus side, if you have to take out loans in order to cover your college costs, then not only do you have the costs on your tab, but you also have to pay the interest for those loans back after you graduate. That can lead to years of payments taking a bite out of your paycheck. According to Forbes magazine, the total amount of student debt in the United States in 2020 was $1.5 trillion, with almost half of public school and three-quarters of private school graduates entering the job market with debt hanging over their heads.
The average monthly payment comes to $400, which can be a big chunk out of a medical assistant salary. And although the repayment terms and interest rates on student loans tend to be generous, those salary levels mean your margins on a positive ROI are already narrow. You’ll need to carefully weigh the benefits of getting into any kind of degree or certificate program that will require you to take out loans.
Working in the medical field can give you an edge when it comes to loan forgiveness, however. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program offers a path for individuals who have outstanding direct loans for school, have made at least 120 qualifying payments, and who work for certain qualified federal, state, local, or not-for-profit organizations (which includes many major healthcare providers) to have their outstanding debt forgiven. If you plan to work at an eligible employer, that can allow you to take advantage of the flexibility of loans without having to spend half your career digging out from under a mountain of student debt.
Salary Ranges For Medical Assistants Offer the Final Answer On ROI
On the other side of all those costs come the benefits: your salary and benefits as a medical assistant in the fast-growing field of healthcare.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2019, the median salary for medical assistants in the United States worked out to $34,800 per year, or $16.73 per hour.
And that number, like tuition costs, can vary quite a bit based on where you are located. Here are the BLS median medical assistant salaries as of 2019 for the same national cross section of states we referenced for certificate and associate degree program costs:
- California – $40,120
- Florida – $33,920
- Georgia – $33,300
- Illinois – $36,500
- Kansas – $31,450
- New York – $38,590
- Pennsylvania – $33,490
- Texas – $32,550
- Washington – $43,760
Don’t forget, too, to factor in the often generous healthcare benefits that come with work in the industry. Forbes found that health coverage can be worth anywhere from $5,000 to $30,000 per year depending on your family size and the specific benefits offered. And your employer might also have retirement benefits, tuition reimbursement, or other perks that you should count in the plus column when figuring out your ROI.
And these are just the median values… the longer you work in the industry, the higher your pay will run, benefiting from your experience and increasing demand. The top ten percent of medical assistants nationwide earn more than $48,720 per year.
Although BLS doesn’t track them separately, you might also find that the extra year you put in to earn an associate degree will enable you to earn higher salaries and advance more rapidly in the profession than you could achieve with a certificate or diploma. That extra year of education, and the broader range of courses that come with it, really can build your skills and make you more valuable to employers, even if the technical education you receive is similar between the programs.
Calculating ROI for Your Job in Medical Assisting Might Just Be the First Step
One complicating factor for many medical assistants is that being a medical assistant may not be the end of the road for your healthcare career. The job is often used as a stepping-stone to other positions and higher rates of pay, such as:
- Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses – $47,480
- Medical Records and Health Information Technicians – $42,630
- Registered Nurse – $73,300
- Respiratory Therapist – $61,330
- Diagnostic Medical Sonographer – $68,750
- Medical and Health Services Managers – $100,980
For some of those positions, you’ll be able to work your way up after starting your career as an MA. For others, you’ll find yourself going back to school, for a bachelor’s or maybe even a master’s degree… which will cost more money on top of your associate or certificate program, but also qualify you for much higher paychecks.
So how do you calculate your ROI when you may be switching careers along the way? Well, it’s best to look at it in terms of time windows if that’s your plan. Think about whether your education will pay off over the number of years you expect to be in the job. But also consider the advantages it will give you when it’s time to move on to the next… for example, an associate degree, once paid for, could be used to cover as much as half of the expense of a more prestigious four-year degree if you complete it at a college that has a transfer agreement with the school through which you earned your associate degree.
You’ll have to stop and recalculate your ROI at each stage of your career path, deciding whether or not more education is worth it in the long run or if you are on track to come out ahead by sticking with your current position.
(Salary data for Medical Assistants reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2019.Figures represent national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Information accessed Jan 2021.)