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Could an Associate’s Degree be More Valuable than a Bachelor’s Degree?

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College FundIn recent years, there has been discussion over whether a college education is worth it. Indeed, in some cases, it turns out that going for a graduate degree might not be worth the cost.

Recently, though, even the value of the bachelor’s degree is being called into question. In fact, a recent study from the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University indicates that an associate’s degree might be more valuable than a bachelor’s degree — at least at the outset.

Associate’s Degrees Outperforming Bachelor’s Degrees

One of the reasons that Associate’s degrees are doing so well right now is due to the fact that many Associate’s degrees come with some sort of technical or hands-on training. A community college education can mean that the Associate’s graduate is equipped with skills that are immediately useful in a new job.

According to the Georgetown study, almost 30% of those with Associate’s degrees make more than those with Bachelor’s degrees. While that’s not a majority by any stretch, it’s still a significant amount community college grads making more than four-year grads.

Another thing to take into account is the amount of debt incurred. If you can get a good job with your Associate’s degree (think radiologist or some medical assistants), it’s much easier to pay off your community college debt. According to the survey, completing a two-year degree costs a little more than $6,000. Compare that with more than $20,000 at a four-year school. If you can make $50,000 a year out of community college, doing skilled work at an in-demand profession, you can pay off that $6,000 pretty quick. On the other hand, paying off more than $20,000 at an entry-level Bachelor’s job earning $20 an hour (a little more than $41,000 a year, assuming a 40-hour workweek), is a little more difficult.

Closing the Gap

Of course, there are some higher-paying jobs that can be had with a Bachelor’s degrees. Many engineering jobs and other jobs that involve higher math skills can pay well at the outset. There’s still the issue of high levels of student loan debt, especially if a graduate degree or a private school is involved.

Another consideration is that the Georgetown study found that, over time, the Bachelor’s degree earners often overtake their Associate’s-wielding counterparts. In the long run, it might still pay to have a four-year degree — or even an advanced degree (depending on your major or specialty). However, it can take longer to overcome that pay gap when you factor in the cost of a four-year degree, which includes principal and interest on student loans, as well as the cost of four years’ worth of room and board, fees, and other costs.

Bottom Line

You don’t need to go the “traditional” route to earn a good living. There many Associate’s degree programs that can outfit you with the skills and experience needed to get started in a career almost immediately. The ability to earn a little more, a little earlier, can help you when the right decisions are made. Start contributing to a retirement account, pay off the small amount of student debt from the community college, and then consider getting another degree later — when you are assured a pay bump for the higher degree.

(Photo: Tax Credits)

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13 Responses to “Could an Associate’s Degree be More Valuable than a Bachelor’s Degree?”

  1. I think it all comes down to having skills that someone will pay for. I could have a Ph.D in a field nobody cared about and be hard pressed to find a job or be a high school drop-out with a knack for underwater welding and get paid over 100K. It’s all relative, and I feel our current education system is missing the mark. We need to prepare our next generation to think for themselves, and learn specific skills rather than a broad understanding of everything (which really means they know nothing…).

  2. freeby50 says:

    It all depends on degree choice and career choices.

    Getting a bachelors in underwwater basket weaving is a waste of money compared to an AA in car repair. Of course an AA in underwater basket weaving is less useful than a BA in it.. You have to pick the right major and yes some useless bachelor degrees are worth less than some useful associates degrees.

    There are definitely some good career paths you can take with an Associates degree. And a lot of them are more useful to get a job than many of the bachelors majors.

  3. I have several friends who have Associate’s degrees and do really well. When I have asked them if they would do it differently they said no. They make good money and they didn’t have to spend all that time in school.

  4. It really depends on what your degree is in. Many associate’s degrees are worth more than many bachelor’s degrees, though some bachelor’s degrees are worth more than any associate’s degree.

  5. admiral58 says:

    It certainly could be if it provides you the job you want with less debt.

  6. I guess everyone’s circumstances are unique and there is no one size fits all. I know a few people with little education who do incredibly well; however, I know a lot more with little education who wished they had more.

  7. Shafi says:

    Before my son started going to college, I told him to get Associate Degree in the town community college. Get that certificate in hand and then if he wants to go for another 2 years to get his Bachelor’s, he can do that.

    Another thing I told him to meet with the college authorities to have a schedule so he takes courses one semester and the next one he works. I told him who says you have to finish your associate in 2 years or bachelor’s in 4 years. That way he will be graduating a 4-year college in 6 and a half years with good experience along the way under his belt so to speak.

    The net result is that so far he is student-debt free.

    • Noe says:

      I think that’s the best advice I’ve heard all year. Especially since a lot of people don’t even get their BA or BS in four years anyway. And work one semester go to school one semester is a great way to go debt free. Although, in some colleges some courses are only offered in spring or fall but I guess that’s when you change your semester of work. Brilliant idea!

  8. Shirley says:

    It certainly could be to many people. Each of us has our own mindset, goals, and physical, mental and financial capabilities, so we must each choose the path that will match those the best.

  9. Bob says:

    You can be a Radiologist with just an Associates degree? Is that true?

  10. Barbara says:

    Getting an AAS in nursing was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family. A registered nurse is (usually) paid for experience not the degree unless masters or doctorate degrees. As an RN, I’ve worked for years learning and earning and slowly pecked away at more classes. I will complete my four-year degree in December, 2013. A BSN won’t get me anymore money at my present job, but will help keep me competitive if I’m looking for a new position.

  11. Jennifer says:

    I think earning an AA can be beneficial for many people. I know several people who started off their career in the health field by earning their AA and later on taking some additional classes to earch a BA. Like you mentioned a lot of the AA degrees can be hands on learning and that can be more valuable in some instances than a BA. I think for those who don’t really know for sure what they want to do it can be more benefical to take some classes towards an AA in either the health or technical fields.

  12. ShawnD says:

    My husband has his associates and I have my bachelors. He has a much harder time when looking for work. Almost everyone wants a bachelors now a days. Evwvn though my bachelors has nothing to do twith the field I have been working in for the last 10 years, its better than no degree. AAs are pretty much looked at as nothing, unfortunately.


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