Although many U.S. employers are more likely to choose applicants with a bachelor’s degree, workers with an associate’s degree are still viable in the job market, experts say.
“It depends on what field you’re in. Some places want an associate’s degree,” says Ro W. Lee, associate director for career and professional development at Claremont Graduate University in California.
“You have to think about why a company would want someone with an associate’s degree versus someone with a bachelor’s degree,” Lee says. “They want someone who’s going to start, but they also realize the positions they’re trying to fill don’t have high ceilings. You might be able to promote yourself to a few positions, but that’s about it, unless you have additional training.The salaries are a little lower and you have fewer opportunities.
The median annual salary in 2020 for workers with an associate degree was $44,100. That’s $15,500 less than employees with a bachelor’s degree, but $4,200 more than workers with a college degree but no degree, and $7,500 more than workers with only a a high school diploma, according to a May 2022 report. report by the Federal National Center for Education Statistics on the state of education in the United States
However, 28% of workers with associate’s degrees earn more than half of workers with bachelor’s degrees, as reported in a 2021 study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and Workforce.
Although earnings depend on many factors, many jobs that only require an associate’s degree – or non-degree post-secondary training – often pay relatively well, such as computer user support specialists, automotive service technicians and mechanics and licensed practical and vocational nurses, according to a analysis in 2020 by the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Benefits of an Associate Degree
Associate degrees are most often earned at community colleges and can usually be completed in two years, compared to often more than four years for a bachelor’s degree. The program’s faster completion time allows associate degree holders to begin their careers sooner.
“What we’re seeing nationally is big corporations turning to community colleges to advance their own workforces,” says Martha M. Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.
“I’m talking about big tech companies like Google, Dell, Intel, Amazon Web Services looking to community colleges to fill their diverse workforce needs,” she says.
“Programs start at the certificate or diploma level and some colleges have broken them down into associate degrees and beyond. In this era of remote working for employees, that’s really an advantage in everything the country.”
Construction, real estate, manufacturing, nursing, hospitality and retail industries ‘highly value’ people with associate’s degrees, says Ken McQueen, who recruits talent for oil, gas and other industries for Richard Wayne & Roberts in Houston.
“Companies in these industries also recognize that many potential candidates may have started the path to a bachelor’s degree and may not have chosen to complete that degree,” he says. “Previously, these candidates would not have been considered. But with the current market conditions and high demand for workers, employers are reconsidering and hiring this person who may have suspended their four-year study plan and who had to go to work.
Several studies and data from the federal government show that in general, the more a worker is educated, the higher his income. Chris Geary, senior policy analyst at the Center on Education & Labor at New America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C., notes that the wage gap between high school and college graduates has since grown. the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We also find that unemployment rates are lower for people with associate degrees than for people who never attended college,” he says. “In real terms, people benefit from earning an associate’s degree, and that’s rewarded in the job market by employers.”
However, these rewards often vary regardless of the type of degree a worker earns, Geary notes. “The economic benefits of earning a college degree differ significantly by race, gender, and program of study. Despite the average economic benefits of a college education, we see significant racial and gender inequalities in the employment and earnings of college graduates.
Workforce-focused associate degrees tend to be the most cost-effective, especially those in feeding with milk, engineering, technologies and computer programming, says Geary. “I think there are opportunities for associate degrees in these and related fields, as well as new fields that haven’t come up yet. I think there is a way for associate degrees to play an important role in getting people into good jobs.
Lee points out that associate degrees in fields such as nursing, paralegalWeb development and Internet technology allow workers “to be faster in the field. I think it’s built into a lot of the curriculum that you’ll get hands-on experience as you learn.
An associate’s degree can also help employers identify potential employees who have chosen to focus only on one subject, McQueen says.
“Usually, associate degrees are designed to provide employees with the tools of their trade,” he says. “There is less focus and attention given to social studies and other courses that are a requirement for a four-year degree. With this micro-orientation, on-the-job training is usually provided. Students can graduate and enter directly into a work environment using the same equipment used in their new job.”
Disadvantages of an Associate Degree
The perceptions of hiring managers and upper management may be a significant downside to having an associate’s degree as opposed to a four-year degree, McQueen says.
“Having completed a four-year degree themselves, management often wants to see the same in their employees. Often, senior management looks at education or lack of education…to determine if an employee can fit into their company’s culture or group. »
Lee says community colleges “generally have less prestige, fewer degree options, so you have less earning potential, and you definitely have a lower ceiling for leadership positions. It’s like a growing list — the higher a degree you have, the more earning potential you have.”
Workers with bachelor’s degrees are preferred over those with associate’s degrees among the clients McQueen has worked with, he says. Even in fields like technology where an associate’s degree may be a minimum requirement, “your chances are better with a bachelor’s degree or higher,” he says.
This may be because companies generally want to cut costs, Lee says. “So instead of training someone and paying for their education, it will probably be cheaper to hire someone with a BA”
Tips When Seeking an Associate’s Degree
Whether to pursue an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree depends on a student’s career goals, Lee says. “When students consider associate degree programs, the degree major matters.”
It’s important to gain relevant work experience alongside an associate’s degree, adds Lee. “For example, if you want to be a paralegal or a nurse, you should internal or obtain a part-time position in these industries, in order to be more competitive.
It’s also important to “believe in yourself” and join a unionized workforce, says Geary.
“Unions improve workers’ economic outcomes. I would like anyone with an associate’s degree to find a workplace that values their skills and life experiences. Seek jobs that offer worker protections and pay This is related to knowing and believing in your value as a person and as an employee.
Employers generally prefer employees with an associate’s degree over those with only a high school diploma, Geary says.
“I think it will absolutely increase over time,” he adds. “Employers are really looking for people with a post-secondary degree. We see evidence of this in almost every profession. Looking to the future, it is likely that there will be more fields where an associate degree or other post-secondary degree below a bachelor’s degree will be quite profitable for workers. And at the same time, I think most jobs, unfairly or not, will still pay a premium for workers with a bachelor’s degree.
Whether someone chooses a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree, the most important thing is to complete it, McQueen says.
“A diploma opens the door. You will still have to work and prove that you are successful. A degree often tells a potential employer that you can complete something. You are not a quitter. It means a lot to a potential employer. Open that door and take her wherever she takes you.