How Valuable Is an Associate's Degree - Student Research Foundation

How Valuable Is an Associate’s Degree?

Associate’s degrees could represent one of the most significant educational bargains today. Some students are saving money by earning these degrees at community colleges, then transferring to state schools and private universities. The result is a big reduction in educational costs. Still other students are earning associate’s degrees, then going on to matriculate in colleges after they have worked for a few years and saved enough money to pay for tuition and other costs. And then there are students who simply earn associate’s degrees, start working, and never feel the need to return to college.

What Salaries Do Workers with Associate’s Degrees Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary earned by holders of associate’s degrees in the U.S. in 2013 was $58,240. (In that same year, the average median salary earned by holders of bachelor’s degrees was $68,190.) What kind of jobs were students with associate’s degrees taking in that year? Here is a list of the most popular jobs, again from the BLS:

  • Agricultural technicians
  • Civil engineering technicians
  • Dietetic technicians
  • Electro-mechanical technicians
  • Food service workers
  • Geological and petroleum technicians
  • Nuclear medicine and radiologic technologists
  • Paralegals and legal assistants
  • Respiratory therapists

Where do students with associate’s degrees earn the highest salaries? The top states in 2013 were Massachusetts (median annual salary was $66,460), Vermont ($55,320), South Dakota ($46,560) and West Virginia ($49,080).

What Does It Cost to Earn an Associate’s Degree?

The answer is, it depends. If 90 credits of coursework are completed at a community college that charges $350 per credit hour, that brings to total to $31,500, which of course is about half of what it costs to earn a four-year degree. Yet there are ways to lower that cost by taking online courses, earning credit for life experiences, and other strategies.

So the Bottom Line Is . . .

If you counsel students, it is time to start thinking about associate’s degrees as useful, cost-effective ways to start careers.

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