Associate degree programs are designed to help students move into the workforce, or earn educational credit that can then transfer toward a bachelor's degree. Associate degree programs can be found at trade schools, technical colleges, community colleges, junior colleges and sometimes at colleges or universities that offer bachelor's degrees.
An associate degree usually takes two years of full-time study to complete, but flexible scheduling of online schools might allow some students to earn the degree in 18 months or less. Associate degrees can be earned online for many subjects, although healthcare fields may require some hands-on or clinical training.
There are different types of associate degrees:
- Associate of Applied Science: This route is often taken by those who want to move directly into the workforce, as it can help provide the skills and knowledge necessary to seek employment.
- Associate of Science: This degree includes general education courses as well as courses associated with the major, with the goal of providing an educational foundation.
- Associate of Arts: The A.A. is usually awarded in a liberal arts major, with requirements for both general education and major courses.
Associate Degrees and Career Earnings
Those who earn a degree may enjoy higher pay and lower unemployment rates than those who hold only a high school diploma. The Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests a link between education and employment, listing these median weekly earnings and unemployment rates for U.S. adults of 25 or older in 2012:
- High school diploma: $652 per week and 8.3 percent unemployment
- Some college, no degree: $727 per week and 7.7 percent unemployment
- Associate degree: $785 per week and 6.2 percent unemployment
Employment in the healthcare industry is expected to rise by 27.8 percent from 2010 to 2020 nationally, according to BLS projections. Numerous associate degree programs can offer students the opportunity to move into the healthcare field. The BLS notes that positions such as diagnostic medical sonographer, dental hygienist and physical therapy assistant typically require associate degrees or a similar level of training. Those who want to enter a healthcare profession that requires a bachelor's degree can generally use the associate degree as a stepping stone to the higher credential, although it's important to confer with school admissions counselors regarding the transfer process.
- Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm
- Healthcare Occupations, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/
- Industry-occupation matrix data, by occupation, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012, http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_108.htm