Associate degrees offer a fantastic way to get a college degree quickly and affordably. In fact, earning an associate degree in the typical two years or less means a student can enter the workforce faster. Another advantage of associate degrees is that they can serve as stepping stones to a bachelor’s degree by allowing students to take a wealth of general education courses that create a firm foundation for further instruction. Because they can often be obtained online, and are markedly cheaper than pursuing a bachelor’s degree, it’s easy to see why associate degrees are growing in popularity. This guide will look at the associate degree level, provide an overview of what students can expect and give them an idea of what it will take to get to the finish line.
Even though an associate degree typically leads to entry-level work, that doesn’t mean it will result in entry-level pay. In fact, many high paying jobs now require an associate degree to get started. The below table provides insight into some common majors students can pursue through an associate degree program and what they can expect to earn upon graduation. By looking at these impressive wages, it’s easy to see why certain associate degrees are extremely popular—after all, it might only take two years of higher education to earn a wage that’s comparable to or higher than many positions requiring a bachelor’s degree.
|Subjects||2014 Median Pay|
Looking for the best associate degree options? The following ranking lists the best online associate degrees available to prospective college students. We carefully prepared the rankings by looking at several characteristics of each school, including tuition cost and availability of online associate degree programs. Interested students can sort through this information to better understand why one school is ranked higher than another.
To find the best colleges of 2016-17 for earning an online associate degree, our researchers and higher education experts collected and analyzed data from every accredited postsecondary institution in the United States. The goal? To see which colleges offered the most notable balances of academic rigor, program availability, student support and affordability for online learning. The specific criteria and scoring metrics for the ranking are as follows:
*PBV: is a proprietary metric that compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or a similar) qualitative score. It also compares the qualitative score of the program to the score of other programs with the same (or similar) cost. In short, the PBV calculation denotes the overall value – or “bang for your buck” – of an online degree.
|Rank||University||Location||Score||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||Goodwin College||East Hartford, CT||99.76||$19,400||20||91%||10:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|2||Great Basin College||Elko, NV||98.90||$2,700||14||40%||17:1||14%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|3||Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale||Fort Lauderdale, FL||98.71||$16,936||12||77%||12:1||60%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|4||University of Alaska Fairbanks||Fairbanks, AK||98.28||$6,466||10||43%||14:1||33%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|5||Davenport University||Grand Rapids, MI||97.33||$15,072||9||89%||14:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|6||Bismarck State College||Bismarck, ND||97.21||$3,520||12||25%||14:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|7||Hawaii Pacific University||Honolulu, HI||96.96||$21,130||10||78%||13:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|8||Vincennes University||Vincennes, IN||96.82||$5,174||18||18%||17:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|9||Bethel University||McKenzie, TN||96.62||$10,750||8||51%||12:1||29%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|10||Baker College||Flint, MI||96.45||$8,280||13||85%||25:1||14%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|11||Liberty University||Lynchburg, VA||96.18||$21,000||11||78%||18:1||46%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|12||College of Southern Nevada||Las Vegas, NV||96.15||$2,700||17||20%||24:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|13||St Petersburg College||Clearwater, FL||96.15||$3,347||14||23%||22:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|14||Tiffin University||Tiffin, OH||95.81||$21,535||9||92%||18:1||33%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|15||Southwestern Assemblies of God University||Waxahachie, TX||95.47||$19,450||10||73%||16:1||38%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|16||University of Northwestern Ohio||Lima, OH||94.86||$9,868||13||33%||26:1||30%||No||Yes||Yes|
|17||Northwood University-Michigan||Midland, MI||94.78||$23,132||7||95%||16:1||54%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|18||Indiana Wesleyan University||Marion, IN||94.63||$24,102||9||50%||16:1||70%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|19||Colorado Christian University||Lakewood, CO||94.56||$20,935||6||97%||14:1||40%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|20||Peninsula College||Port Angeles, WA||94.44||$4,191||8||23%||15:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|21||Presentation College||Aberdeen, SD||93.94||$17,875||7||99%||10:1||44%||Yes||No||Yes|
|22||Colorado Mountain College||Glenwood, CO||93.84||$3,930||6||36%||13:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|23||Western Kentucky University||Bowling Green, KY||93.46||$9,140||7||37%||18:1||50%||No||Yes||Yes|
|24||SUNY Empire State College||Saratoga Springs, NY||93.44||$6,665||11||75%||15:1||17%||Yes||No||Yes|
|25||University of Alaska Southeast||Juneau, AK||93.35||$6,669||6||48%||15:1||10%||No||Yes||Yes|
|26||Miami Dade College||Miami, FL||93.22||$3,486||8||24%||23:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|27||South Texas College||McAllen, TX||93.02||$3,590||13||1%||27:1||N/A||No||Yes||Yes|
|28||Oklahoma State University-Oklahoma City||Oklahoma City, OK||93.00||$2,859||9||10%||19:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|29||Peirce College||Philadelphia, PA||92.93||$13,800||6||83%||12:1||56%||Yes||No||Yes|
|30||Columbia College||Columbia, MO||92.84||$6,582||7||24%||34:1||42%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|31||University of Maine at Augusta||Augusta, ME||92.77||$7,448||7||26%||17:1||13%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|32||National University||La Jolla, CA||92.71||$12,384||18||1%||20:1||23%||Yes||No||Yes|
|33||Drury University||Springfield, MO||92.61||$23,885||7||76%||19:1||48%||No||Yes||Yes|
|34||Hodges University||Naples, FL||92.43||$13,220||8||37%||15:1||18%||No||Yes||Yes|
|35||Daytona State College||Daytona Beach, FL||92.15||$3,306||7||24%||18:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|36||Lewis-Clark State College||Lewiston, ID||92.07||$8,624||5||62%||16:1||26%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|37||Broward College||Fort Lauderdale, FL||91.21||$2,542||7||23%||27:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|38||Ohio Christian University||Circleville, OH||90.86||$17,720||5||53%||10:1||36%||Yes||No||Yes|
|39||Northwestern Michigan College||Traverse City, MI||90.46||$5,555||6||24%||18:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|40||Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide||Daytona Beach, FL||90.28||$8,040||5||14%||12:1||48%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|41||Seminole State College of Florida||Sanford, FL||90.17||$3,131||7||18%||29:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|42||Granite State College||Concord, NH||90.05||$7,065||5||N/A||12:1||50%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|43||Florida State College at Jacksonville||Jacksonville, FL||89.97||$2,609||5||15%||22:1||N/A||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|44||Humphreys College-Stockton and Modesto Campuses||Stockton, CA||89.72||$12,456||5||19%||18:1||51%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|45||Darton State College||Albany, GA||89.37||$3,502||7||9%||22:1||N/A||Yes||No||Yes|
|46||Clarion University of Pennsylvania||Clarion, PA||88.72||$9,788||5||11%||19:1||48%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|47||Thomas Edison State University||Trenton, NJ||88.23||$5,871||9||N/A||15:1||N/A||Yes||No||Yes|
|48||Indiana Institute of Technology||Fort Wayne, IN||86.31||$24,860||5||63%||36:1||31%||Yes||No||Yes|
|Rank||University||Location||Score||Annual Tuition||# of Online Programs||Financial Aid %||Student-Teacher Ratio||Grad Rate||Credit for Experience||Placement Services||Counseling Services||University Information|
|1||East Mississippi Community College||Scooba, MS||99.81||$2,600||62||78%||12:1||27%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|2||Western Wyoming Community College||Rock Springs, WY||98.51||$2,400||22||39%||16:1||53%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|3||Holmes Community College||Goodman, MS||97.54||$2,288||41||37%||18:1||25%||No||Yes||Yes|
|4||Kansas City Kansas Community College||Kansas City, KS||97.05||$2,640||15||22%||13:1||20%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|5||Tulsa Community College||Tulsa, OK||96.58||$2,820||15||39%||17:1||14%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|6||Northwest Mississippi Community College||Senatobia, MS||96.30||$2,550||17||26%||23:1||18%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|7||State Fair Community College||Sedalia, MO||95.68||$3,288||17||14%||17:1||21%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|8||Allen County Community College||Iola, KS||95.42||$2,784||53||68%||20:1||23%||No||No||Yes|
|9||Pamlico Community College||Grantsboro, NC||95.41||$2,347||13||11%||9:1||67%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|10||Central Texas College||Killeen, TX||95.33||$2,790||20||13%||18:1||14%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|11||Odessa College||Odessa, TX||95.32||$3,900||15||32%||17:1||20%||No||Yes||Yes|
|12||St Philip's College||San Antonio, TX||95.19||$5,550||63||15%||15:1||4%||No||Yes||Yes|
|13||Northeast Community College||Norfolk, NE||94.70||$3,030||13||38%||17:1||43%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|14||Rio Salado College||Tempe, AZ||94.63||$2,046||16||4%||20:1||17%||No||Yes||Yes|
|15||Tyler Junior College||Tyler, TX||94.54||$3,762||17||17%||21:1||15%||No||Yes||Yes|
|16||Pitt Community College||Winterville, NC||94.45||$1,979||12||11%||17:1||13%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|17||Three Rivers Community College||Poplar Bluff, MO||94.24||$4,968||18||17%||24:1||17%||No||Yes||Yes|
|18||Stanly Community College||Albemarle, NC||94.18||$2,523||12||15%||15:1||25%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|19||Palo Alto College||San Antonio, TX||94.04||$5,550||35||20%||20:1||13%||No||Yes||Yes|
|20||Amarillo College||Amarillo, TX||93.71||$2,898||16||17%||22:1||15%||No||Yes||Yes|
|21||Fayetteville Technical Community College||Fayetteville, NC||93.61||$2,394||17||1%||20:1||7%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|22||Metropolitan Community College||Omaha, NE||93.58||$2,610||10||20%||14:1||12%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|23||Diablo Valley College||Pleasant Hill, CA||93.54||$1,298||17||N/A||27:1||39%||No||Yes||Yes|
|24||College of Southern Idaho||Twin Falls, ID||93.49||$3,760||12||46%||21:1||18%||No||Yes||Yes|
|25||Bluegrass Community and Technical College||Lexington, KY||93.48||$3,704||14||2%||16:1||18%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|26||Gateway Community and Technical College||Florence, KY||93.40||$3,704||13||9%||12:1||34%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|27||Guilford Technical Community College||Jamestown, NC||93.32||$2,201||13||5%||20:1||10%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|28||San Antonio College||San Antonio, TX||93.27||$5,550||55||9%||19:1||7%||No||Yes||Yes|
|29||Madisonville Community College||Madisonville, KY||93.24||$3,624||11||22%||14:1||30%||No||Yes||Yes|
|30||Mitchell Community College||Statesville, NC||93.09||$2,404||14||9%||21:1||19%||No||Yes||Yes|
|31||Truckee Meadows Community College||Reno, NV||93.08||$2,700||11||22%||19:1||21%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|32||Crowder College||Neosho, MO||93.05||$3,048||10||18%||15:1||22%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|33||North Central Missouri College||Trenton, MO||92.88||$3,870||20||21%||19:1||30%||Yes||No||Yes|
|34||Maysville Community and Technical College||Maysville, KY||92.82||$3,624||10||9%||11:1||30%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|35||Northwest Vista College||San Antonio, TX||92.55||$5,550||28||9%||22:1||11%||No||Yes||Yes|
|36||Laramie County Community College||Cheyenne, WY||92.48||$2,832||10||31%||15:1||14%||No||No||Yes|
|37||Central Georgia Technical College||Warner Robins, GA||92.16||$2,568||14||N/A||15:1||31%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|38||Columbus State Community College||Columbus, OH||92.05||$3,808||11||20%||19:1||8%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|39||West Kentucky Community and Technical College||Paducah, KY||92.01||$3,624||11||1%||14:1||38%||No||Yes||Yes|
|40||Forsyth Technical Community College||Winston Salem, NC||91.94||$2,056||11||N/A||13:1||14%||No||Yes||Yes|
|41||Somerset Community College||Somerset, KY||91.89||$3,624||11||8%||18:1||25%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|42||Mohave Community College||Kingman, AZ||91.76||$2,610||12||9%||14:1||18%||No||No||Yes|
|43||Westmoreland County Community College||Youngwood, PA||91.75||$6,990||16||4%||18:1||12%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|44||Minnesota State Community and Technical College||Fergus Falls, MN||91.56||$5,338||16||5%||21:1||32%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|45||Owensboro Community and Technical College||Owensboro, KY||91.17||$3,624||10||4%||13:1||30%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|46||Foothill College||Los Altos Hills, CA||91.10||$1,551||11||6%||27:1||62%||No||Yes||Yes|
|47||Cuyahoga Community College||Cleveland, OH||91.08||$3,953||15||2%||21:1||4%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|48||Georgia Piedmont Technical College||Clarkston, GA||91.04||$2,834||13||N/A||17:1||20%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|49||Bucks County Community College||Newtown, PA||91.00||$7,394||13||10%||15:1||12%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|50||Wake Technical Community College||Raleigh, NC||90.89||$2,640||11||2%||18:1||16%||Yes||Yes||Yes|
There are numerous online associate degrees for prospective college students to choose from, although certain topics seem to be more popular than others. Luckily, many of these popular subjects are available online. That may be one reason the number of associate degree seeking students taking online courses rose from 18.2 percent in the 2003–2004 school year to 33.9 percent in the 2011–2012 school year. With the popularity of associate degrees catching on across the nation, that percentage is likely even higher today. For more information about these popular subjects, check out the below chart.
An online associate degree usually takes two years, or the same amount of time as a traditional, on-campus associate degree. However, as with a traditional associate degree program, online curriculums can be modified so students can complete them at their own pace. That means for one student, the associate degree takes three years; but for another student, it might take as little as 18 months. The following timeline provides a good approximation of the time required for the typical associate degree program available through distance learning.
Getting into an associate degree program requires completion of high school or obtaining a GED. For most students, getting a high school diploma will be the first step in earning an associate degree. But to save money in college, many students can plan ahead and take Advanced Placement courses while still in high school. This can provide the student with college credit. By getting a passing score on the Advanced Placement exam, students can usually bypass a general education course, such as statistics, psychology, United States History or Calculus.
The particularly motivated high school student can easily enter college with a full semester’s worth of college courses already out of the way. This means an associate degree can take 18 months instead of 2 years; and that’s before a student might choose to take accelerated courses, which could drop the time to even less.
The first year consists of two types of classes: general education and major courses. The general education courses include subjects such as English, writing, mathematics and basic sciences. All students take these courses, regardless of their degree level, as they form the basis on which a student can build further knowledge. However, since an associate degree only consists of about 60 credit hours, students will also take a few major related courses during their first year.
One exception to this rule is when students are obtaining an associate degree with the intention of immediately transferring to a four-year bachelor’s degree program. In that case, the first year will most likely consist solely of general education classes, as a student is preparing for moving into more higher education, and not moving directly into the workforce.
If students are planning on transferring to a bachelor’s program, the second year in an associate degree program will consist of more general education courses, although there might be the opportunity for an elective or two. This allows them to “try out” a few options for majors and learn more about subjects of their choice.
For these future transfer students, this second year will consist of preparing for the transfer process. This includes making sure all their credits will transfer and completing the admissions application for their new school. This also means students may need to take an entrance exam, such as the ACT or SAT, obtain letters of recommendation and write a thoughtful personal statement.
For students who are seeking an associate degree for an entry level job, the second year will consist largely of classes relating directly to their chosen area of study. A few elective courses may also be possible. If students intend to work in a profession where a license is required, the second year will include applying for licensure and studying for any licensing exams. In the final semester, students will begin their job search process by preparing a resume, meeting with career services, attending career fairs and applying to positions.
Online associate degrees can be cheaper than associate degrees from brick-and-mortar schools. No, tuition might not be cheaper, but certain expenses can be avoided. On the other hand, these savings can be somewhat offset by costs not normally associated with a traditional on-campus degree. The following discussion addresses some of the costs that students enrolled in an online associate degree program can avoid, or must pay, compared to a traditional program.
The biggest area of savings for most online programs is avoiding a long commute or on-campus housing costs. By attending school online, students do not need to pay for on-campus housing, which can be significantly more expensive than off-campus housing. Online students also save on commuting costs, such as car insurance, gas or public transportation fares – all of which can add up quickly.
One exception to this rule is for those enrolled in online programs that aren’t 100 percent online. These programs might require a hands-on practicum or clinical work, which requires a student to either visit the college or a designated facility in their local area. Depending on the distance traveled, this can be a negligible cost, such as a few hours of driving and the fuel costs associated with that. But for some, it can be significant, such as a cross-country plane trip, vehicle rental and hotel stay, resulting in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in travel costs.
Every college has a wealth of fees for students, and online education students might end up having more fees than students on a traditional campus. Online courses can charge fees that are not required from on-campus students. Sometimes these are once-a-semester fees; sometimes they are required for every class. When calculating the cost of an online program, students must pay attention to these fees and factor them in, along with actual credit hour tuition, to gain a complete understanding of what it really costs to get the associate degree from a particular school.
While it’s true that most college students, regardless of whether they receive their education in a physical classroom or through the internet, will have to pay for broadband internet access and have a use of a personal computer, for online students, these costs are essential. After all, there is no on-campus computer lab where they can access the internet or make use of a computer for school work. It’s also important to keep in mind that the internet connection must be very reliable, and the computer might need to be a newer model to handle the downloads, programs and other capacities that the school could require.
Sometimes students really want to attend a certain school, but doing so would result in out-of-state tuition. Out-of-state tuition is the most expensive tuition option, often totally thousands more than other options each semester. However, enrolling in an online program can drastically reduce the cost of tuition. In many associate degree programs, the online tuition cost is significantly less than the out-of-state tuition. In some instances, it’s actually equal to the in-state tuition rate! For some, the cost falls somewhere between the in-state rate and the out-of-state rate. It’s vitally important for students to research which rate applies to them, given the online program rules and the state in which they live.
Students entering an online associate degree program can expect the same financial aid opportunities as anyone attending a traditional one. The only condition is that the online program must be accredited by an organization recognized by the United States Department of Education. The accreditation requirement is extremely important, as students who attend a non-accredited school will be ineligible for any financial aid from the state or federal governments. They will almost certainly be ineligible for most scholarships, grants and fellowships as well. In other words, students who choose a school that is not accredited can expect to pay high rates out of pocket, with no financial aid to help them.
For most students, their financial aid awards will include private scholarships, school-based scholarships, state-based financial and federal-based financial aid. Even though these financial aid dollars come from different sources, they almost all require the student to complete the FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Also, the bulk of many students’ financial aid awards will be loans and grants from the federal government. More information about federal financial aid can be found at Federal Student Aid.
Defining what constitutes the “best” program depends largely on the specific needs and considerations of the individual student. For some, a specific degree is necessary to enter a desired profession. For others, a bachelor’s degree is the ultimate goal and the associate degree is a stepping stone. In that case, the cost of attendance may play a more important role.
Obviously, choosing the best associate program involves consideration of any number of factors. The following rankings examine several factors that are important to students, to help them sort through the various options and find the best associate programs based on what matters most to them.Start your School Search