Best Online Associate Degree Program

An accredited online associate degree can be right for anyone — including high school graduates, career changers, adult learners, stay-at-home moms and dads and even those seeking college education because of their love of learning. Associate degree programs can provide students a way to quickly prepare for a career, generally in as little as two years at a vocational school or community college.

According to the Lumina Foundation, which has a mission of promoting higher education among adults, specifically through completion of associate degree programs, the 21st century workplace is one where more skilled, talented and qualified employees are needed.


By 2020, 30 percent of job openings are likely to require to an associate degree or some college education beyond high school, reports a Georgetown University study on job growth and education requirements.

Interestingly, a 2017 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that, since 2012, people with an associate degree or some type of college education made up the largest segment of the workforce.

Types of Online Associate Degree Programs

In general, there are two types of associate degrees. These are occupational degree programs, which educate students in a specific field, and transfer degree programs, which can be used for to later complete a four-year program. How do you know which one is right for you? Take a closer look at the descriptions below.

  • Occupational degree programs often are available in fields such as allied health, automation, computer science and technology, the paralegal field and graphic design. Online associate degree programs can help students to prepare for a career in a specific area, such as veterinary technology or phlebotomy. Generally, the education a student obtains in an online associate degree program is the maximum training needed for the field, and any advancement comes from completion of a higher degree in a related field.
  • Transfer degree programs allow you to complete the first two years of a degree program at a community college and then to transfer those credits to another place, such as a university. Some community colleges even offer 2+2 degree programs, which are established transfer degrees programs with other schools. Transfer degree programs may be available in areas such as accounting, business, criminal justice, general studies, history and sociology.

Is an Online Associate Degree Worth It?

It's true that technology is driving the need for more educated workers — but, on the flip side, automation is replacing jobs held by less-skilled employees. Job security is one benefit that can come from an associate degree education, but higher pay could be a result, too.

Higher pay: The BLS reports that median weekly earnings for individuals with an associate degree is $836, but median pay is only $774 for those with some college education and no degree and $712 for those with just a high school diploma. This difference in earnings can certainly add up over a lifetime, but the Lumina Foundation reports there are other benefits as well to a college education. These can include:
  • More likelihood of greater happiness
  • Less incidence of poverty
  • Greater likelihood of a retirement plan through an employer
  • Longer life expectancy
  • Smaller chance of unemployment
Weekly Earnings
High School Diploma : $732
Associate Degree : $836

20 Best Online Associate Degree Programs 2019-20

Find the best online colleges for associate degrees based on factors that are important to you, as an online student. These include average tuition, average financial aid students receive, number of programs offered online, and many more. Be sure to take a look at our methodology at the bottom of the page.

1
California Baptist University
Riverside, CA
Average in-state tuition
$31,668
No. of online programs
36
% of students in distance education
54%
Avg. amount of Aid
$15,354
Admissions Rate
80%
Graduation Rate
55%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
2
National University
La Jolla, CA
Average in-state tuition
$13,320
No. of online programs
128
% of students in distance education
61%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,026
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
36%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
3
Concordia University-Irvine
Irvine, CA
Average in-state tuition
$34,700
No. of online programs
20
% of students in distance education
62%
Avg. amount of Aid
$18,318
Admissions Rate
62%
Graduation Rate
63%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
N/A
4
San Joaquin Delta College
Stockton, CA
Average in-state tuition
$1,288
No. of online programs
32
% of students in distance education
48%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,219
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
5
California State University-East Bay
Hayward, CA
Average in-state tuition
$5,742
No. of online programs
9
% of students in distance education
54%
Avg. amount of Aid
$8,452
Admissions Rate
72%
Graduation Rate
48%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
6
Azusa Pacific University
Azusa, CA
Average in-state tuition
$38,300
No. of online programs
20
% of students in distance education
36%
Avg. amount of Aid
$21,117
Admissions Rate
69%
Graduation Rate
63%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
7
Irvine Valley College
Irvine, CA
Average in-state tuition
$1,104
No. of online programs
N/A
% of students in distance education
40%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,184
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
8
San Diego State University
San Diego, CA
Average in-state tuition
$5,742
No. of online programs
9
% of students in distance education
47%
Avg. amount of Aid
$8,370
Admissions Rate
35%
Graduation Rate
74%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
9
California State University-Chico
Chico, CA
Average in-state tuition
$5,742
No. of online programs
6
% of students in distance education
30%
Avg. amount of Aid
$8,778
Admissions Rate
65%
Graduation Rate
66%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
10
California State University-Fullerton
Fullerton, CA
Average in-state tuition
$5,742
No. of online programs
7
% of students in distance education
35%
Avg. amount of Aid
$8,268
Admissions Rate
43%
Graduation Rate
68%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
11
California State University-Northridge
Northridge, CA
Average in-state tuition
$5,742
No. of online programs
10
% of students in distance education
52%
Avg. amount of Aid
$9,097
Admissions Rate
51%
Graduation Rate
54%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
12
Coastline Community College
Fountain Valley, CA
Average in-state tuition
$1,104
No. of online programs
16
% of students in distance education
88%
Avg. amount of Aid
$1,338
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
13
Trident University International
Cypress, CA
Average in-state tuition
$9,240
No. of online programs
28
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,832
Admissions Rate
69%
Graduation Rate
19%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
N/A
14
Cerro Coso Community College
Ridgecrest, CA
Average in-state tuition
$1,288
No. of online programs
23
% of students in distance education
50%
Avg. amount of Aid
$1,843
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
15
Fresno Pacific University
Fresno, CA
Average in-state tuition
$31,966
No. of online programs
16
% of students in distance education
58%
Avg. amount of Aid
$11,126
Admissions Rate
85%
Graduation Rate
66%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
16
California State University-Dominguez Hills
Carson, CA
Average in-state tuition
$5,742
No. of online programs
9
% of students in distance education
42%
Avg. amount of Aid
$8,683
Admissions Rate
64%
Graduation Rate
45%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
17
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
Average in-state tuition
$55,320
No. of online programs
75
% of students in distance education
18%
Avg. amount of Aid
$37,647
Admissions Rate
13%
Graduation Rate
92%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
18
The Master's University and Seminary
Santa Clarita, CA
Average in-state tuition
$24,950
No. of online programs
5
% of students in distance education
20%
Avg. amount of Aid
$16,322
Admissions Rate
77%
Graduation Rate
60%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
19
Academy of Art University
San Francisco, CA
Average in-state tuition
$22,008
No. of online programs
103
% of students in distance education
66%
Avg. amount of Aid
$9,085
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
40%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
N/A
20
University of La Verne
La Verne, CA
Average in-state tuition
$41,940
No. of online programs
5
% of students in distance education
21%
Avg. amount of Aid
$18,193
Admissions Rate
51%
Graduation Rate
69%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
Source: Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

How Does an Online Associate Program Work?

An online associate degree program can provide the same opportunities as a campus-based associate program. Schools generally use the exact same syllabi and curriculum in both formats. There also are variations in the type of online programs available. These include:

ONLINE      HYBRID PROGRAMS
Fully online associates degree programs can deliver content completely online, using platforms such as Canvas, Blackboard and others. Hybrid programs typically combine both online and campus-based learning, requiring students to be at school for a specific number of courses or to complete some components of their degree program at the site.
ASYNCHRONOUS      SYNCHRONOUS
These two terms are just fancy words for whether or not students participate in real-time learning. Asynchronous simply means students can complete assignments, tasks and projects at their own pace (while still meeting deadlines) while synchronous learning can require students to be online at specific times to participate in live videos, live streaming or live chat.

How long does it take to complete an online associate degree program?

+
Online associate degree programs typically take two years to complete, although some programs can be completed in an accelerated time frame, even as quickly as 18 months. Conversely, working parents or adults with other commitments may be able to take more time to complete an associate degree program. Some online associate degree programs may be available in more flexible formats, such as an eight-week program.

What are the requirements for an associate degree program?

+
Associate degree programs typically require students to submit a transcript from their high school or have proof of a GED, as well as pay an application fee and submit scores from the SAT or another placement test.

Are there grants and financial aid options for associate degree students?

+
Students may be able to pay or partially pay for college, through the use of scholarships or grants, which do not need to be repaid. Additional options to help with the costs of an online associate degree program include using federal loans, federal grants or work-study options.

We’ve crafted this ranking of the most popular associate degrees based on the number of online associate degrees conferred, as well as median salary and employment projections related to the degree. This ranking is based on data provided by the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Popular Programs of Study
Median Salary
Projected Employment
Dental Hygiene/Hygienist$74,820746,400
Medical Radiologic Technology/Science - Radiation Therapist$70,925755,100
Computer Programming/Programmer, General$66,1001,596,000
Computer Science$66,1001,995,000
Radiologic Technology/Science - Radiographer$59,520921,600
Web Page, Digital/Multimedia and Information Resources Design$69,430552,600
Computer Systems Networking and Telecommunications$62,770859,200
Electrical, Electronic and Communications Engineering Technology/Technician.$64,330419,400
Computer and Information Systems Security/Information Assurance.$62,770859,200
Network and System Administration/Administrator.$62,770644,400
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics

Fastest-Growing Occupations that Require an Associate Degree 

The majority of the fastest-growing occupations are within the field of healthcare; while a couple are computer-related. This list, derived from data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, can help students choose an associate degree program, likely to place in a good position for employment after graduating.

Fastest-Growing Occupations
Annual Median Wage
Job Growth
Occupational Therapy Assistants$61,88033%
Physical Therapist Assistants$58,52027%
Respiratory Therapists$63,95021%
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers$75,78020%
Web Developers and Digital Interface Designers$82,37013%
Paralegals and Legal Assistants$55,02012%
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists$74,27011%
Dental Hygienists$77,23011%
Radiologic Technologists and Technicians$63,1209%
Computer Network Support Specialists$68,8606%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Highest-Paying Associate Degrees

Using data combined from the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Labor Statistic, this list of the highest-paying associate degrees can guide prospective students to choosing programs that may yield higher incomes compared to other associate degree programs. We have also taken into consideration other factors like number of colleges offering the degree online, projected growth rate of all jobs matched to each major, and more. Take a look at our methodology to see all the factors.

$74,070
$69,505
$65,165
Source:2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2018-28 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2018-19, National Center for Education Statistics

Explore Online Degree Programs

You may still be wondering if an accredited online associate degree program is right for you or what area you should study — vet tech training, or graphic design, or nursing education, for example. The buttons on this page can provide you with more opportunities to explore different fields. Just click on one or several links to learn more about associate degree programs in art, criminal justice, education, healthcare and other areas.

Methodology & Sources
Methodology & Sources

Methodology:

Methodology for Best Colleges Offering Online Associate Degrees

Requirements:

  1. Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  2. Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  3. Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2015-16
  4. Have reported data for all 19 ranking variables listed below

We ranked 879 colleges and universities in the United States on 19 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  1. Associate Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
  2. Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in DE 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. Student-to-faculty ratio
  8. Number of programs offered via distance education at the associate degree level
  9. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  10. The availability of any tuition plans: Payment
  11. The availability of any tuition plans: Guaranteed
  12. The availability of any tuition plans: Prepaid
  13. The availability of any tuition plans: Other
  14. Services: Academic/Career
  15. Services: Placement for Completers
  16. Credit offerings: Dual
  17. Credit offerings: Life
  18. Credit offerings: AP
  19. Credit offerings: Military

Methodology for Most Popular Associate Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 104 online associate degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  • Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  • Be offered online at the associate level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale and the weights specified:

  • Number of conferred associate degrees in all schools nationally, IPEDS, 2016-17
  • Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  • Annual median wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Methodology for Fastest-Growing Occupations with an Associate Degree

For this analysis, we ranked 63 occupations using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics associated with a doctoral degree on the following variables:

  • Annual Median Wage
  • Employment Number
  • Employment Change Percent

Methodology for Highest-Paying Associate Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 86 online associate degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  1. Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  2. Be offered online at the associate level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale and the weights specified:

  • Annual median salary of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  • Annual 25th percentile wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  • No. of schools offering this degree online at the associate level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
  • Average projected growth rate of all jobs matched to each major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  • Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26

Methodology Sources

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Article Sources:

  • Applying for Admission: Certificate or Associate Degree Programs, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Accessed October 2018, https://catalog.uaf.edu/getting-started/admission-certificate-associate/
  • Asynchronous Learning, University of Michigan, Accessed October 2018, http://umich.edu/~elements/asyLearn/learning.htm
  • "It's not just the money," Philip Trostel, Lumina Foundation, Accessed October 2018, https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/its-not-just-the-money.pdf
  • Measuring the Value of Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Accessed October 2018, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
  • Postsecondary learning builds the talent that helps us rise, Lumina Foundation, 2016, https://www.luminafoundation.org/files/publications/stronger_nation/2016/A_Stronger_Nation-2016-National.pdf
  • "Profile of the Labor Force by Educational Attainment," Vernon Brundage, Jr., U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2017, https://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2017/educational-attainment-of-the-labor-force/pdf/educational-attainment-of-the-labor-force.pdf
  • Recovery, Job Growth and Education Requirements through 2020, Executive Summary, Center on Education and the Workforce, Georgetown University, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.ES_.Web_.pdf, accessed February 2019
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