Increased Value of an Associate’s Degree

Increased Value of an Associate's Degree

A recent article by USA Today has brought to light the increased value of an associate’s degree and how employment for mid-level jobs is making a come-back in today’s recovering economy. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for those 25 and older with an associate’s degree or some college education has increased by 847,000 jobs in the last six months (April 2012-Sept. 2012), while new jobs for those with bachelor’s degrees or higher has increased by only 441,000. Does this represent a trend that an associate’s degree will be more valuable than a bachelor’s degree to job seekers in the future?

Bachelor’s Degree > Associate’s Degree

Historically, higher education has statistically led to more favorable employment prospects, and even in light of the recent employment success of associate’s degree holders, the gap between the two and four-year degree is still large. While unemployment for those with an associate’s degree or some college educations has made notable progress in the last six-months, dropping from 7.6% in April to 6.5% in September, that for the bachelor’s degree and higher remained fairly steady, but much lower at 4.1%.

Furthermore, in a BLS report of the usual weekly earnings for the second and third quarter of 2012, it was revealed that bachelor’s degree holders made a median weekly salary that is 32.5% higher than individuals with an associate’s degree/ some college education. Based off of these statistics, a bachelor’s degree still carries significantly more weight in America’s employment market than the associate’s degree does.

What Explains for the Increase in Mid-Level Jobs?

Employment in the US seems to be following the typical pattern of recessions. During the initial onslaught of the down-turned economy, lower-skill jobs were eliminated, while jobs for bachelor’s degree holders or higher only took a comparatively slight hit.

Laid-off workers decided to go back to school at a career or community college in order to either switch careers or make themselves more marketable. As USA Today stated, “That has helped boost enrollment by 14.6% since 2007, vs. 1.3% the previous five years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.”

When companies were ready to rehire, they first took on higher-skilled workers. However, a trickle-down effect has begun to occur, where the managers are beginning to hire back mid-skilled workers. Therefore, the increased employment rate of associate’s degree holders in the last six months is likely a sign of economic recovery, rather than a trend that the employment rate for associate’s degree holders is set to overtake that of bachelor’s and advanced degree holders in the future.

Some College is Better Than None

However, for those who are unable to make the financial or time commitment to a four-year degree, community and career colleges present a sound alternative option. In the last six months, high school graduates earned 39.7% less weekly than those with some college or an associate’s degree and had an unemployment rate of 8.7%, which was 2.2% higher than associate’s degree holders. These facts prove that some higher education is certainly better than none.

An associate’s degree has an undeniably practical value. Two-year schools tend to be career-focused, offer degrees that can be completed in a relatively short amount of time compared to a four-year degree at traditional universities, typically allow for flexible course scheduling and accelerated completion tracks, and result in a quicker turnaround rate on the initial tuition investment when it comes to entering the job market. So, while an associate’s degree will not likely be replacing the bachelor’s degree down the line, it still certainly has merits in its own right.

To find out more about two-year degrees, explore our article on the online associate’s degree.