April 2, 2013 -- Does Homer Simpson hold a four-year college degree? And is that what qualifies him to run Springfield's nuclear reactor? "The Simpsons" doesn't say. But in the real world you don't need a B.A. to run a nuclear reactor, work as an air traffic controller or registered nurse, manage a construction site or hold down dozens of other good-paying jobs.
According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nuke operators make a median annual wage of just over $75,600. Air traffic controllers do even better--$108,000. For both jobs, applicants need more than just a high school diploma. But "more" does not include a B.A. or B.S. degree.
"High Wages After High School—Without a Bachelor's Degree," published in the BLS' Occupational Outlook Quarterly, describes dozens of high-paying jobs, some white-collar some blue-, none of which demand a bachelor's degree.
The list includes registered nurse ($64,700), construction manager ($83,800), radiation therapist ($74,900), and commercial airplane pilot ($67,500).
"It's not to say that everybody in these jobs has only a high school diploma," Elka Torpey, a BLS economist and author of the article, explains to ABC News. Some people in these jobs might have a B.A.; others might not. "What we're looking at," says Torpey, "is what's typically required for entry."
Some jobs listed in the article require an associate's degree. This category includes air traffic controllers, construction managers, radiation therapists and nuclear medical technologists.
Somebody aspiring to be an air traffic controller, the BLS explains, needs a degree in air traffic control (or a related subject) from a program approved by the FAA. By FAA requirement, controllers "must generally be age 30 or younger, pass a pre-employment test, and get medical and security clearances." After they are hired, they must take 12 more weeks of training at the FAA Academy, "followed by additional on-the-job training," according to the BLS.
Air traffic controllers earn the highest wages of any non-college workers listed in the BLS report.
The following jobs require a high school diploma—and, in some cases, other credentials, training, or on-the-job experience: nuclear power plant operators, chemical plant operators, elevator installers and loan officers.
About nuke operators, the BLS article says: "These workers control nuclear reactors, check for problems, and monitor systems to ensure that nuclear power plants operate safely. They make adjustments as needed, following standard procedures. And they may handle nuclear fuel elements."
"Jobs for nuclear power reactor operators involve risks," continues the report. Because of this, operators must be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. To get licensed, they typically need three years or more of experience working in a nuclear plant, followed by at least one year of training, "after which they must pass a written exam and operating test."
Roger Moncarz, BLS branch chief for the Division of Occupational Employment Projections, tells ABC News that BLS tries its best to get the word out about such jobs. Every year, for example, he makes a presentation to the American School Counselors Association in which such jobs are described. "It's not our job, though," adds Moncarz, "to put stars by them, and say, these are the ones you should be focusing on, because they combine high earning potential with low educational requirements."