Online Associate

The number of associate degrees awarded by postsecondary institutions in recent years has increased dramatically. One million were granted in the 2015-16 academic year — an increase of almost 74 percent over the 2000-01 academic year. In 2015-16, most students earned associate degrees in:

 

  • Liberal arts and sciences, humanities, and general studies
  • Health professions and related fields
  • Business

Other popular degrees in the 2015-16 term were in law enforcement, homeland security, and firefighting; and computer and information sciences and support services — all programs aligned with jobs that require an associate degree. What’s driving the increased interest in associate degrees? Many reasons could be in play, including employer demand for a more educated workforce. Another factor could be the increased availability of online associate degree programs. Students can now pursue their education at a campus-based school or online. This flexibility can be especially helpful for students who are working, raising children, or have other responsibilities.

5 Reasons to Pursue an Associate Degree

There are many reasons a student may wish to pursue an associate degree. Here are five common motivators:
  1. An online associate degree can typically be completed in two years — an attractive option for those who want to start their career sooner rather than later.
  2. Because of the shorter timeline — associate degree programs usually require half the classes and credits of bachelor’s programs — they tend to be significantly lower in costs as a result.
  3. The unemployment rate for associate degree holders in 2017 was lower than for those whose education stopped with a high school diploma: 3.4 percent instead of 4.6 percent.
  4. Weekly earnings for those who held associate degrees in 2017 were $836 compared to $712 for those who only held a high school diploma.
  5. After completing associate degree requirements, students can either enter the workforce and start earning money or pursue a bachelor’s degree.

Timeline of an Associate Degree Program

So how long does it take to earn an associate degree? Most programs can be completed in two years or 60 semester credit hours.
First Year
In the first year, students can expect to take general classes as well as courses that introduce their particular field of study. For those who aren’t exactly sure what program they want to pursue, this can be a good time to explore different fields by taking classes in a range of subjects. It’s possible to discover a new interest, and a potentially new career path.
Second Year
During the second year, students typically dive deeper into their major. It’s the time to take classes that provide more specific knowledge and to build the skills needed to begin careers in jobs you can get with an associate degree.Typically, an associate degree translates into the first two years of a bachelor’s degree. Students who have that longer-term goal in mind — earning a bachelor’s degree — may want to check with their school’s academic adviser about which associate degree requirements may transfer into credits for a bachelor’s program.
 

Types of Associate Degrees

There are four major types of associate degrees. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Top Associate Degree Programs

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When considering an associate degree program, it’s important for prospective students to pay attention to rankings. Rankings are meant to highlight schools that might best serve students’ interests and needs. School-related data points can help students compare the tuition and fees, acceptance rates, job placement ratings, and other factors of the various associate degree programs available. Rankings can help students make an educated decision on which program to pursue.
 
Methodology
Methodology
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific degree being ranked. 1. Offer an associate degree program, either on campus, online, or via hybrid format 2. Have awarded at least one associate degree in 2015-16 3. Have reported data for all 19 ranking variables listed below Based on those criteria, we ranked 1,374 colleges and universities in the United States on 19 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

 

  1. Program prominence, based on how many associate degrees were awarded in 2016-17
  2. Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in distance education to total enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Retention rate
  5. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  6. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  7. Number of programs that are offered at the associate degree level on campus
  8. Number of programs that are offered at the associate degree level via distance education
  9. The availability of any tuition plans
    • Payment
    • Guaranteed
    • Prepaid
    • Other
  10. Services
    • Academic/Career
    • Placement for Completers
  11. Credit offerings
    • Dual
    • Life
    • AP
    • Military
  12. Three-year repayment rate for completers
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RankingSchool NameIn State Avg. Undergrad Tuition% Receiving Financial AidRetention RateCareer CounselingPayment Plan
1Holmes Community College$2,60091%67%11
2San Joaquin Delta College$1,28876%75%10
3Central Texas College$3,39066%54%11
4Itawamba Community College$2,90097%68%11
5Hinds Community College$2,88091%65%11
6Fayetteville Technical Community College$2,43282%55%11
7Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College$3,10093%63%11
8Arizona Western College$2,01685%66%11
9Northeast Mississippi Community College$3,15099%68%11
10Ivy Tech Community College$4,21874%51%11

Financial Aid

The cost of tuition, textbooks, and other education-related expenses is a common concern among prospective associate degree students. Fortunately, there are financial resources that may be available to eligible prospective students. Scholarships, grants, and education loans can all help make associate degrees more affordable. Financial aid can be available for degree programs offered through traditional schools as well as schools that offer online associate degree programs.

Why Accreditation Matters

Accreditation refers to the process that higher education institutions undergo to confirm that they adhere to the strictest educational standards. Accredited associate degree programs are known to offer quality education and can help prospective students qualify for federal grants and loans. An online associate degree from an accredited institution can also paint the degree holder in a more competitive light to prospective employers.

Fastest-Growing Careers with an Associate Degree

If you’re looking to pursue an associate degree that’s tied to increased job opportunities nationwide, these are the ones the Bureau of Labor Statistics says should grow the fastest, according to 2016-26 employment projections.
Dental Hygienists
Current Employment : 221,560
Projected Employment : 10.8%
Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers
Current Employment : 72,790
Projected Employment : 19.5%
Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment to create images or to conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Some technologists assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures.
Occupational Therapy Assistants
Current Employment : 44,990
Projected Employment : 33.1%
Occupational therapy assistants and aides help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapy assistants are directly involved in providing therapy to patients; occupational therapy aides typically perform support activities. Both assistants and aides work under the direction of occupational therapists.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Current Employment : 329,870
Projected Employment : 12%
Paralegals and legal assistants do a variety of tasks to support lawyers, including maintaining and organizing files, conducting legal research, and drafting documents.
Physical Therapist Assistants
Current Employment : 96,840
Projected Employment : 27.1%
Physical therapist assistants, sometimes called PTAs, and physical therapist aides work under the direction and supervision of physical therapists. They help patients who are recovering from injuries and illnesses regain movement and manage pain.
Preschool Teachers, Except Special Education
Current Employment : 431,350
Projected Employment : 7.1%
Preschool teachers educate and care for children younger than age 5 who have not yet entered kindergarten. They teach reading, writing, science, and other subjects in a way that young children can understand.
Radiologic Technologists and Technicians
Current Employment : 207,360
Projected Employment : 9%
Radiologic technologists, also known as radiographers, perform diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.
Respiratory Therapists
Current Employment : 132,090
Projected Employment : 20.8%
Respiratory therapists care for patients who have trouble breathing'for example, from a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or emphysema. Their patients range from premature infants with undeveloped lungs to elderly patients who have diseased lungs. They also provide emergency care to patients suffering from heart attacks, drowning, or shock.
Veterinary Technologists and Technicians
Current Employment : 110,650
Projected Employment : 19.3%
Veterinary technologists and technicians perform medical tests under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian to assist in diagnosing the injuries and illnesses of animals.
Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers
Current Employment : 148,340
Projected Employment : 13%
Web developers design and create websites. They are responsible for the look of the site. They are also responsible for the site's technical aspects, such as its performance and capacity, which are measures of a website's speed and how much traffic the site can handle. In addition, web developers may create content for the site.

Highest-Paying Careers with an Associate Degree

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these are the occupations that typically require an associate degree — and that pay the highest wages nationwide.
Funeral Home Managers
Mean Annual : $95,220
90th Percentile : $161,870
Funeral service workers organize and manage the details of a funeral.
Nuclear Medicine Technologists
Mean Annual : $80,240
90th Percentile : $105,690
Nuclear medicine technologists operate equipment that creates images of areas of a patient's body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients. The radioactive drugs cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images.
Radiation Therapists
Mean Annual : $91,620
90th Percentile : $128,630
Radiation therapists treat cancer and other diseases in patients by administering radiation treatments.
Avionics Technicians
Mean Annual : $66,970
90th Percentile : $97,150
Aircraft and avionics equipment mechanics and technicians repair and perform scheduled maintenance on aircraft. They also may perform aircraft inspections as required by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Cardiovascular Technologists and Technicians
Mean Annual : $59,600
90th Percentile : $94,370
Diagnostic medical sonographers and cardiovascular technologists and technicians, including vascular technologists, operate special imaging equipment to create images or to conduct tests. The images and test results help physicians assess and diagnose medical conditions. Some technologists assist physicians and surgeons during surgical procedures.
Computer Network Support Specialists
Mean Annual : $68,860
90th Percentile : $106,420
Computer support specialists provide help and advice to people and organizations using computer software or equipment. Some, called computer network support specialists, support information technology (IT) employees within their organization. Others, called computer user support specialists, assist non-IT users who are having computer problems.
Electrical and Electronics Drafters
Mean Annual : $65,720
90th Percentile : $100,650
Drafters use software to convert the designs of engineers and architects into technical drawings. Most workers specialize in architectural, civil, electrical, or mechanical drafting and use technical drawings to help design everything from microchips to skyscrapers.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists
Mean Annual : $74,270
90th Percentile : $101,580
Radiologic technologists, also known as radiographers, perform diagnostic imaging examinations, such as x rays, on patients. MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners to create diagnostic images.
Mechanical Drafters
Mean Annual : $60,500
90th Percentile : $92,010
Drafters use software to convert the designs of engineers and architects into technical drawings. Most workers specialize in architectural, civil, electrical, or mechanical drafting and use technical drawings to help design everything from microchips to skyscrapers.
Mechanical Engineering Technologists and Technicians
Mean Annual : $59,160
90th Percentile : $88,640
Mechanical engineering technicians help mechanical engineers design, develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines. They may make sketches and rough layouts, record and analyze data, make calculations and estimates, and report their findings.
Calibration Technologists and Technicians and Engineering Technologists and Technicians, Except Drafters, All Other
Mean Annual : $65,940
90th Percentile : $99,790

What Comes After an Associate Degree

After an associate degree, students may choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree and further their careers. For instance, a nurse with an associate degree may decide to earn a bachelor’s of science in nursing so they could land a job at a magnet status hospital that only employs nurses with at least four-year degrees. In addition, some management positions in industries like accounting or technology require bachelor’s degrees. Instead of continuing their education to earn a bachelor’s degree, some individuals with associate degrees such as those who are physical therapy assistants or occupational therapy assistants may earn a license. Licensing is a standard recognized by employers and clients and can allow associate degree graduates to pursue rewarding careers.

Browse Associate Programs by Subject

WorldWideLearn.com features colleges and universities that offer online associate degree programs in the following disciplines:
AccountingArt & Design
Building Information ModelingBusiness Administration
EducationComputer Programming
Early Childhood DevelopmentCriminal Justice
Graphic DesignHealth Sciences
Hospitality ManagementParalegal & Legal Studies
Medical Administrative AssistantMedical Assistant
Medical Billing & CodingNursing
Criminal InvestigationTechnology & IT
HealthCare AdministrationVeterinary Technology
Computer NetworkingComputer Information Systems
Allied Health SciencesHealth Information Technology
Psychology
Article Sources
 
Sources

 

  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov
  • Associate’s Degree, Notre Dame College, accessed August 2018, https://www.notredamecollege.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/associate-degrees
  • How Employers View an Associate Degree, U.S. News, https://www.usnews.com/education/articles/2014/08/04/how-employers-view-an-associate-degree, accessed August 2018
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  • O*Net OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/, accessed August 2018
  • Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/, accessed August 2018
  • Undergraduate Degree Fields, National Center for Education Statistics, https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_cta.asp, accessed August 2018
  • Unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, Current Population Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/emp/chart-unemployment-earnings-education, accessed October 2018
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