A college education can be important to finding a steady job. According to a 2012 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, workers with a postsecondary education traditionally fair much better than those with only a high school diploma. Individuals with an associate degree or some college experience saw a growth of nearly 1.6 million jobs during the economic recovery period of January 2010 to February 2012, while those with a high school diploma or less suffered an additional 230,000 job losses during this time.
Associate degrees generally take two years to complete and combine general education requirements with specific, career-focused skills. There are three primary types of associate degrees that can be earned: an Associate of Arts (A.A.), an Associate of Sciences (A.S.) and an Associate of Applied Sciences (A.A.S.).
- A.A. degrees are usually earned by students interested in pursuing careers in liberal arts fields such as education, English, history, communications or psychology.
- A.S. degrees typically focus on technical coursework for majors such as mathematics, technology and the natural sciences.
- A.A.S. degrees are mostly geared toward individuals looking to begin work as soon as they finish school. These are often referred to as terminal degrees.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that associate degrees may also be broken down into occupational degrees, which prepare students for a specific career, and transfer degrees, which count towards the completion of a bachelor's degree.
- Occupational degrees: Students who choose occupational associate degrees typically receive targeted training in a specific career field. Many occupational associate degree programs, such as nursing or engineering technician programs, emphasize hands-on skills. Students earning online associate degrees can fulfill these requirements by taking a portion of their classes at a local campus or arranging an internship with a local employer. Schools offering online associate degrees often have internship programs already in place. After completing an occupational associate degree, students may be ready to move directly into the workforce.
- Transfer degrees: These programs offer two-year degrees designed to transfer credits toward a four-year bachelor's degree at a college or university. They generally include staple elements of a liberal arts curriculum such as English, science, math and history. Students can either elect a specific major, or earn an online associate degree in fields such as liberal arts, psychology or general studies before going on to specialize at the bachelor's degree level.
As for majors, there are a wide range of programs available at the associate level. Online degrees may be earned in mathematics, communications, marketing, accounting, graphic design, and other fields. For details on these and other programs, prospective students should contact an admission counselor from the school of their choosing.
Working students need school to fit into their busy schedules, and this is where online degree programs may help. The flexibility of online degrees can help students balance work and school responsibilities, allowing them to attend classes when it's convenient for them and maintain a career while in school. A 2012 report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 40 percent of students at public two-year institutions held jobs in 2010, with 33 percent working 20 hours or more per week.
Another benefit of earning an associate degree is that graduates may be less susceptible to unemployment. According to the BLS, individuals who only had a high school diploma experienced an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent in 2012, while those who had attended some college but held no degree stood around 7.7 percent. Graduates of associate degree programs fared much better that year, with an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent.
Students worried about funding a college education may find savings in an associate degree program. According to the NCES, attending a two-year institution, which most commonly offers associate degrees, cost about $3,250 in tuition and fees in the 2011-2012 academic year. Four-year colleges charged over four times that at roughly $13,600. Depending on the school and program, earning an associate degree before transferring to a four-year college to complete a bachelor's degree may result in significant cost savings for students.
Note: Bls.gov unemployment data is for individuals age 25 and older.
To learn more about available associate degree programs, request information from one of the schools listed below.
"Associate Degree: Two Years to a Career or a Jump Start to a Bachelor's Degree," Occupation Outlook Quarterly, 2003, http://www.bls.gov/opub/ooq/2002/winter/art01.htm
"Employment Projections: Education Pays," Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
"Making Connections: Dimensions of Student Engagement," Center for Community College Student Engagement, 2009, http://www.ccsse.org/center/resources/publications.cfm
"The College Advantage: Weathering the Economic Storm," Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, August 15, 2012, Anthony P. Carnevale, Tamara Jayasundera, Ban Cheah, http://cew.georgetown.edu/collegeadvantage/
"Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018," Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, Anthony P. Carnevale, Nicole Smith, Jeff Strohl, June 15, 2010, http://cew.georgetown.edu/jobs2018/
"College Student Employment," The Condition of Education 2012, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_csw.asp
"Tuition and Fees, Student Loans, and Default Rates," The Continuation of Education 2011, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator_tld.asp