Value of an Associates vs. Bachelors Degree

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 degree will provide greater 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 ways to cut higher education costs. For many students, pursuing an associate’s degree may lead to greater financial returns, as associate’s degree programs may 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, 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 personal constraints.

Adding to the advantage of a shorter and less expensive educational opportunity, individuals who choose to earn their associate’s degree can also transfer 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 support, 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 $652, according to Current Population Survey data, that figure jumps nearly 15 percent to $785 for associate degree holders.”

This video discusses high-paying jobs which you can get with an associate's degree.

When breaking down the salary data even further, however, many studies reveal that earning a bachelor’s degree typically pays, on average, a greater salary than 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 $3,347 each year. On the other hand, an average four-year university costs more than twice as much, with an average tuition expense of $9,650. Adding to this, the private four-year university tuition costs soar, on average, to over $33,480 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 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 Network Specialist – Average income of $64,000
  • Nuclear Technician – Average income of $82,000
  • Dental Hygienist – Average income of $77,000
  • Radiation Therapist – Average income of $89,000
  • Fashion designer – Average income of $74,000
  • Aerospace engineering and operations technician – Average income of $70,000
  • Diagnostic medical sonographer – Average income of $78,000
  • Registered nurse – Average income of $80,000
  • Engineering technician – Average income of $64,000

Statistics: US Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020)

This video lists the 10 top-paying jobs that don't require a college degree.

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.

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