In a competitive job market, it almost always pays to earn a college degree. Not only can a college degree help improve one's job prospects, but it can lead to higher wages, too.
According to a report from College Measures, a partnership between the American Institutes for Research and Matrix Knowledge Group, associate degrees in particular may be a better investment than many realize. After analyzing wage and education data from five states, College Measures found that associate degree-holders often earn more than bachelor's degree-holders in the early years of their career. Furthermore, a recent study from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce showed that 30 percent of Americans with an associate degree are now earning more than their four-year degree-holding peers.
Even better, students who are considering an associate degree can now further their education online. Where traditional education once required students to live near campus and attend class in-person, online associate degrees let students complete a web-based education without having to quit working or relocate.
Why Get an Online Associate Degree?
If you're considering a degree program in order to boost your job prospects, it's important to consider what kind of outcome you can expect. And that's another area where associate degrees show a lot of strength; the truth is, most of the jobs and industries with the most demand require only a two-year, associate degree to get started. For example, on a national level, the demand for diagnostic medical sonographers, occupational therapy assistants, physical therapy assistants, dental hygienists, cardiovascular technologists and technicians, and medical equipment repairers -- all associate degree-level jobs -- is expected to grow as much as two to three times faster than the average demand for all jobs.
Furthermore, there are other benefits that come with earning a degree that may only take two years to complete. Quicker entry into the workforce, for example, can mean more time earning a living and accelerating your career. Another benefit: The costs of college. According to recent College Board data, the cost of earning an associate degree at a public community college was only $3,435 per year for the 2015-16 school year -- far less than half the tuition charged by public, four-year schools.
Karen Pollack, the assistant vice provost for online undergraduate education at Penn State World Campus, also believes online associate degrees are a great first step for individuals hoping to turn their college credits into something tangible.
"Our online adult learners typically come to us with upward of 50 credits already earned toward a college degree, perhaps from a variety of institutions, but without that degree credential," says Pollack. "We offer online associate degrees because they help students reach that first critical milestone, providing them the shortest path to that first degree credential that can help propel them forward."
How Do You Enroll in an Online Associate Degree Program?
According to Pollack, the first step towards enrollment students should take is conducting the right amount of research.
"Students should make sure that the institution is accredited and offers the degree or the credential they are seeking," she says. "They want to be sure that there is a robust array of student support services such as 24/7 technical help, admissions and financial aid counseling, career counseling, academic advising beyond a traditional five-day work schedule, and flexible tutoring services."
After choosing a school, the next step is contacting them and finding out what is required for enrollment. In most cases, students will need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form right away. Most schools also require you to fill out a standard form for enrollment, although the information required for those forms can vary from school to school.
What's the Difference between Online and Campus-Based Degrees?
Although one might think that online and campus-based degree programs would be drastically different, that couldn't be further from the truth. Since many schools offer the same degrees both online and on-campus, the main difference is simply in delivery.
Where traditional college students have to report to a physical location for class, online learners are able to participate in the same courses and lectures by accessing them on the Internet. But instead of sitting in a classroom, online students participate in classes by taking advantage of online message boards, lectures, and tests and quizzes.
Does Location Matter When You Earn an Online Degree?
No matter where you live, you can access your school's online platform as long as you have Internet access. This can be especially beneficial for students who don't live near a college campus, says Pollack. For example, students who want a degree from Penn State can "earn their degree from accredited, respected institution and be taught by the same world-renowned faculty that teach on our physical campus locations," but without living nearby.
There are exceptions, however. Some technical associate degrees do require some hands-on instruction, which could mean spending some time in a laboratory or career setting in order to complete your degree. For the most part, degree programs requiring some campus time are in fields like health care, automotive technology, culinary arts, and other hands-on professions.
What Industries Does Online College Serve?
Generally speaking, online colleges serve the same industries as traditional two-year and four-year schools. Whether you want to earn a degree in health care, technology, business, accounting, or a trade, online associate degrees are available. Certain industries are practically made for online learning, too, including those which rely on computers as a rule.
At Penn State World Campus, online associate degrees are offered in an even wider range of fields. "We have associate degree programs in Letters Arts and Sciences, Information Sciences and Technology, Business, Turfgrass Science, and Human Development and Family Studies," says Pollack.
- Community College Grads Out Earn Bachelor's-degree Holders, CNN Money, http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/26/pf/college/community-college-earnings/
- Fastest Growing Occupations, CareerOneStop, http://acinet.org/oview1.asp?next=oview1&Level=edu4&optstatus=&jobfam=&id=1&nodeid=3&soccode=&stfips=&ShowAll=
- Interview with Karen Pollack, provost of online education at Penn State World Campus, August 11, 2015
- Public Prices, National, College Board, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/published-prices-national#Published Charges, 2015-16
- Study: associate degrees and Technical Certificates Can Yield More than 4-Year Degrees, The Pew Charitable Trusts, http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2013/09/03/study-associates-degrees-and-technical-certificates-can-yield-more-than-4year-degrees