Value of an Associates vs. Bachelors Degree

Compare the true value of earning your Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree, and learn about which one will be worth your time and investment.
While many young students often believe that a four year bachelor’s degree will provide a greater array of job opportunities and increased salary benefits, recent findings reveal that, in some cases, an associate’s degree provides workers with similar perks to that of their four year graduate co-workers. In many careers, an associate’s degree will provide students with enough preparation and experience to compete in the job market amongst other applicants with degrees of higher education.

When deciding between pursuing a bachelor’s or an associate’s degree, students should reflect on their desired career pathway, and then review the data and information to determine which degree will act as the optimal vehicle for their professional destination.
 
Evaluating Time and Cost
 
In a time of increased tuition costs and tight economic constraints, many students are seeking out ways to cut the costs of higher education. For many students, the choice to pursue an associate’s degree may lead to greater a greater financial return, as associate’s degree programs may commonly be completed in just two years. On the contrary, bachelor’s degrees typically require four years of study; therefore, an associate’s degree can sometimes cost $80,000 less than a bachelor’s program. As an associate’s degree can be completed in a shorter period of time, leading to a decreased tuition and coursework cost, associate’s degrees can provide many students with realistic educational pathways to accommodate unique financial, scheduling, and other various personal constraints. 
 
Adding to the perk of a shorter and less expensive educational opportunity, individuals who choose to earn their associate’s degree also have the option of transferring some of their credits to a university, if additional coursework is desired or required. In fact, many community colleges that provide students with associate’s degree programs work with cooperating universities to allow students to easily transfer their coursework into an extended four year program and degree. 
 
As the College Board explains, “You receive an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or Associate of Science (A.S.) degree after completing two years of study similar to the first two years of a four-year college. Community colleges or four-year universities offer associate degrees. After earning an A.A. or an A.S., you may transfer to a four-year college to complete the requirements for a bachelor's degree.” When considering the case of academic transfer, students are able to pursue an associate’s degree while still maintaining the option to pursue a bachelor’s degree in the future. 
 
Comparing Salaries
 
As research and data supports, individuals with higher degrees earn, on average, more than individuals with a high school diploma. As CNN reports, “Not surprisingly, investing in post-high school education can also have a strong impact on salary. While high school graduates with no college education collect an average weekly salary of $583, according to Current Population Survey data, that figure jumps nearly 15 percent to $670 for associate degree holders.”  
 
When breaking down the salary data even further, however, many studies reveal that earning bachelor’s degree typically pays, on average, a greater salary than that of a worker with an associate’s degree. While this tends to be the case, CNN further asserts that “A four-year education is not always the ticket to a swollen bank account,” as the cost of a four year institution often outweighs the intended salary benefits. Specifically, CNN reports that, according to the College Board, an average two year educational instate costs approximately $2,191 each year. On the other hand, an average four year university costs more than twice as much, with an average tuition expense of $5,500. Adding to this, the private four year university tuition costs soar, on average, to over $21,200 each year, leading to drastic impacts on the potential salary benefits that may be earned from a degree upon graduation. 
 
Adding to the costs of the different degrees, CNN also asserts that many of the current top paying jobs in the United States solely require an associate’s degree. In fact, in a list of their top paying jobs, the following careers either pay associate degree holders more money or equivalent salaries to bachelor’s degree holders:
  • Computer Specialist – Average income of $59,480
  • Nuclear Technician – Average income of $59,200
  • Dental Hygienist – Average income of $58,350
  • Radiation Therapist – Average income of $57,700
  • Fashion designer – Average income of $55,840
  • Aerospace engineering and operations technician – Average income of $52,500
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer – Average income of $52,490
  • Registered nurse – Average income of $52,330
  • Engineering technician – Average income of $49,440
Evaluating Options
 
Ultimately, when making the choice to pursue an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree, the primary concerns to consider are the costs of each school / degree, the requirements for the desired career pathway, and additionally the amount of time one can invest in his or her coursework and studies. 
 
Many associate’s degree programs are open-enrollment, allowing students with high school diplomas or equivalents to sign up for classes without applying; in contrast, universities often require a more intense application process. If an applicant’s grades or transcripts are not up to par with a university’s standards, the pathway to pursue an associate’s degree can allow students to either prepare for a well-paying career, or prepare for transfer to a university at a later date.  
 
References:
 
College Board, “Your College Degree Options,” available at http://www.collegeboard.com/student/csearch/where-to-start/38.html
 
CNN, “10 Best-Paying Jobs for Associates Degrees, available at http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/Careers/05/04/cb.associates/
 
 
“Associate Degree Programs Online,” available at http://www.earnmydegree.com/online-education/associate/

Obtaining Your Bachelors Degree at a Community College
Obtaining Your Bachelors Degree at a Community College
How to Obtain an Associate's Degree in Just One Year
How to Obtain an Associate's Degree in Just One Year
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Community colleges have been expanding course and degree offerings. This section provides information on your options, from GED to a bachelor’s degree. Learn how you can benefit from a professional certification, find out which community colleges are offering bachelor’s degrees, and identify the top degree-producing colleges.