From 1999 to 2009, the number of students completing associate degrees increased by more than 40 percent.  Once perceived as second-tier, “night school” degrees, the 2-year credential is now experiencing a revival, thanks to dynamic, career-track programs and tailored offerings that serve growing numbers of adult and first-generation college students. As our nation looks to extend postsecondary studies to all citizens, the advantages of associates degrees can’t be ignored:
Associates Degrees are Flexible.
In a 2003 edition of Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Olivia Crosby noted, “the hallmark of associate degrees is flexibility, both in what to study and how to study it.”  Going forward, more associate degrees will include online classes or fully online programs. Indeed, 66 percent of associate degree-granting institutions report that online education is a key part of their long-term strategies (as compared with 33 percent of bachelor’s degree-granting schools). 
Associates Degrees are Career-focused.
Associate degree programs prepare students for actual jobs, which is one of the major advantages of associates degrees. Researchers at Marquette University recently found that students who match their degree to an occupation earn 30 percent more than those whose majors are of little relevance to their job (e.g. philosophy majors working at the Post Office).  Granted, not all associate degrees are vocational. Some are designed to segue into bachelor degree programs, addressing general education requirements along the way. But for students who want to know exactly what they’re working toward, career-track associate degrees are smart routes and one of the major advantages of associates degrees.
AA Degrees Are Within Reach
Associate degree grads earn higher median salaries than college dropouts or those who’ve only completed “some college.”  This is a crucial consideration, as more and more students heed the advice to pursue higher education and assume it should be at the bachelor level. Nontraditional students (who are more likely to work while in college and less likely to have completed college prep coursework in high school) struggle to finish 4-year programs; only 9 percent of “non-recent” high school graduates earn a bachelor degree within 6 years of starting. In other words, an associate degree is almost always a better investment than a failed attempt at a bachelor degree, which adss that to the list of advantages of associates degrees.
Advantages of Associates Degrees: An Associate Degree is May Be Cost Effective
On average, associate degree graduates finish school with nearly half the debt accumulated by bachelor degree students.  Not only do associate degree students pay for 2 less years of school, they also return to the workforce that much quicker, which means they start earning money sooner, climbing the career ladder sooner, and paying back interest-accruing loans 2 years sooner.
More Advantages of Associates Degrees
Most importantly, associate degrees are the gateway to dozens of careers. All of the following professionals may choose an associates degree to succeed in their chosen fields:
- Registered nurses- According to a policy brief released by the American Association of Community Colleges, associate degrees in nursing (ADN) programs are integral preparation routes for America’s nursing workforce. Two-year nursing degrees prepare the majority of our country’s new nurses, including 55 percent of minority RNs. As the nursing shortage continues, and as BSN programs struggle to staff their departments, students pursuing associate degrees can bypass the waiting lists and qualify for RN status after paying less than half the tuition of a BSN program. 
- Veterinary technicians- Vet techs and technologists work in veterinary offices, animal hospitals, and laboratories, and their role in the business of animal healthcare is increasing, just as nurses and medical assistants are undertaking more clinical work with human patients. The American Veterinary Medical Association accredits 172 vet tech programs, including 9 with online education offerings, and the vast majority of them are associate degree programs. 
- Environmental engineering technicians- Growing populations and an increased reliance on chemical substances have seriously impacted the world’s soil, waterways, and landfills. Environmental engineers test conditions and propose waste management solutions for corporations, conservation organizations, and government agencies. Environmental engineering technicians assist in these efforts, often securing entry-level jobs with an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in environmental engineering technology. Other types of online associate degree are also available in environmental science.
- Systems administrators- Senior systems administrators often hold bachelor’s degrees, but many entry-level professionals are hired with an associate degree in information technology and relevant experience, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the source, opportunities for systems administrators are “projected to increase by 30% from 2008 to 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.” Ambitious students are advised to join LOPSA (the League of Professional Systems Administrators), where they can search job posts, network with industry professionals, and even request personal mentoring on school assignments or work-related projects. 
- Occupational therapy assistants- Occupational therapy (OT) helps patients to improve their basic life skills after an injury or in response to a disabling condition. OT may involve a series of physical exercises, strengthening routines, and mental exercises designed to bolster coordination and problem solving. Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) facilitate recovery by charting patient progress and supervising exercise plans. Government projections indicate that jobs for OTAs will grow much faster than average in the coming years.  In order to be licensed, OTAs must complete an ACOTE-accredited associate degree, many of which are partially available via distance education.
- Paralegals- Paralegals aren’t just law office administrators. Increasingly, they’re assuming niche roles and practicing specialties – including e-discovery, intellectual property, and collections/foreclosure – that directly impact policy work and litigation. Today’s law firms prefer to hire paralegals with technical skills and legal software familiarity. While earning your associate degree in paralegal studies, you may learn the underpinnings of legal practice, plus interesting electives in areas like trial graphics or how to collect evidence from defendants’ emails and hard drives.
Ten Colleges That Offer Flexible Online Associate’s Degree Programs
Check out these ten colleges and universities offering online associate’s degree programs that may interest you. Or, fill out our form to get matched.
Founded in 1889, Saint Leo University is the oldest Catholic institution of higher education in the state of Florida. They’ve offered online programs since the 1990s, and currently serve over 15,000 students around the world.
Saint Leo’s offers 100%-online associate’s degree programs that are grounded in the liberal arts, similar to the first two years of a bachelor’s program. And, with six eight-week terms per year, students may be able to get started at Saint Leo’s right away.
Potential programs: A.A. Business Administration, A.A. Liberal Arts, A.A. in Cybersecurity, and others
The largest private, nonprofit university in the U.S. and the largest Christian university in the world, Liberty University has a lot to brag about. They are comprised of 17 different colleges and schools, and they offer online programs in over 250 areas of study.
Liberty University Online strives to offer high-quality, industry-relevant associate’s degree programs in a variety of fields. And, students may be able to transition into an online bachelor’s program, if desired.
Potential programs: Associate of Arts in Accounting, Associate of Arts in Psychology, Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education, and many more
Keiser was founded in 1977 with the mission of helping adult students prepare for career paths. Today, the university serves about 20,000 students. Keiser has campuses in 18 Florida metropolitan areas and communities, in addition to locations around the globe.
The Fort Lauderdale campus is home to Keiser’s online division, which gives students access to on-campus resources even as they enjoy the flexibility of online learning. Associate’s programs in a variety of academic and professional areas are offered.
Potential programs: AA in Paralegal Studies, AA in General Studies, AS in Medical Administrative Billing & Coding, and more
Indiana Wesleyan University is a private Christian college that focuses on liberal arts and professional education. They were founded in 1920, and added an adult education program in 1985. Today, IWU serves over 10,000 adult learners both on campus and online.
IWU offers online programs with capped class sizes, emphasizing a learning experience that is both intimate and dynamic. They are currently home to three online associate’s degree programs.
Potential programs: Online associate’s degree programs in Accounting, Business, and Computer Information Technology
Southern New Hampshire is a private, nonprofit university offering over 200 degree programs. Though SNHU is home to about 3,000 students on its Manchester, NH campus, it serves an additional 80,000 learners through its innovative online programming.
Designed for adult learners, SNHU’s 60-credit online associate’s degree programs feature flexible learning, with the support of academic and career advisors. Students may also be able to transition into an online bachelor’s program.
Potential programs: AS in Marketing, AA Digital Photography, AS Fashion Merchandising, and more
Laurus College is committed to helping students pursue excellence and strive for new career goals. (Fun fact: Laurus comes from the Latin word for “success.”) Students may choose from four campus locations in California, in addition to online programs.
Laurus is home to a variety of occupational associate’s degree programs that offer small class sizes, real-time attention from instructors, and exciting, career-focused curricula.
Potential programs: Associates degree programs in Medical Billing & Coding, Web Design, Professional Business Systems, and others
Medaille College is a private four-year college that serves Western New York and beyond. A community-oriented institution, they focus on practitioner-based learning environments and helping students learn by doing. Medaille offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in flexible formats.
In addition to offering associate’s degree programs at the Buffalo and Rochester campuses, Medaille currently offers three associate’s programs in an online format.
Potential programs: Associate in Science in Business, Associate in Science in General Studies, Associate in Applied Science in Veterinary Technology
Bryan University was founded in 1982 with the goal of educating future travel industry professionals. Today, they offer career-focused programs in many occupational areas. Their emphasis is on accessible education for students with family responsibilities, a military career, or other needs.
In addition to traditional programs at one of several campus locations in Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri, Bryan University offers online associate’s degree programs in diverse fields.
Potential programs: Associate’s degrees in Business Administration & Management, Criminal Justice, Exercise Specialist, and more
The University of Massachusetts is a public university system with a focus on research, academics, and public service. For students seeking alternatives to studying at one of UMass’s five campuses, UMass Online offers high-quality, flexible programs that harness the university’s resources and commitment to excellence.
UMass offers fully online and blended programs at various degree levels. They currently offer two online associate’s degree programs.
Potential programs: Associate of Science in Information Technology, Associate of Science in Sustainable Food and Farming
Grantham University was founded in 1951, with a campus in Southern California. In the 1990s, they made the switch to offering degree programs 100% online. Students can choose from over 50 degree and certificate programs in four different colleges.
In addition to bachelor’s, master’s, and certificate programs, Grantham offers online associate’s degree programs in career-oriented disciplines.
Potential programs: Business Administration (Associate of Arts), Computer Science (Associate of Science), Engineering Management Technology (Associate of Arts), and others
Find Online Associate’s Degree Programs
Now that you’re clear on some of the advantages of earning an associate’s degree, explore our sponsored listings for online associate’s programs that may help you launch your new career goals. Or, fill out our form to be matched.
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