Our guide to online associate degrees aims to help you select the school and degree program that's right for you. We rank the best and most affordable online colleges offering associate degree programs and cover various benefits of earning associate degree.
Feb 13, 2019 | By Candice Mancini
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Students who are worried about spending too long a time in college but still want to complete a degree program may want to consider an associate degree program. These programs are the shortest full-length degree programs offered at the undergraduate level and are available in diverse areas, such as criminal justice, allied health, information technology and more.
As compared to other degree levels, associate degree programs:
Typically take about two years to complete
Are widely available through vocational schools, community colleges, trade schools and online colleges
Require general education courses, like in math and English, as well as specific courses related to a field
Usually offer subject matters in many different fields, not just one or two
Despite these similarities, not all associate degree programs are necessarily the same, even taking into account the differences between different schools and majors. In particular, there are several different formats in which these programs can be completed:
Degree completion options: Other associate degree programs are more general in focus, like sociology or criminal justice, but may offer the ability to transfer to a four-year bachelor's degree program later on. These are often known as "completion" degrees, or sometimes as "2+2" degrees.
Quick completion: An associate degree program can be often completed in as little as two years, and sometimes less. In fact, some high schools even allow students to start earning college credit in their senior year via AP classes, offering the opportunity to start an associate degree program with multiple required courses already considered completed.
Benefits of Earning an Online Associate Degree
Earning an associate degree can benefit students in more ways than one, from opportunities for increased pay to better job security. And there are even more benefits for those who pursue such a program online, especially in our world of busy schedules and long commutes. Some of the benefits to completing online associate degree programs include:
Higher weekly pay: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) reports that adults who have earned an associate degree have a higher median weekly pay that those with only a high school education or those without a high school diploma.
Better job security: Adults who have earned an associate degree also have a lower unemployment rate that those with only a high-school education or some college training (BLS.gov). In fact, the Lumina Foundation (LuminaFoundation.org) reports that four out of five jobs lost during the Great Recession were low-skill jobs that required a high school education or less.
Flexibility and affordability: Online associate degree programs can help students to save time and money that others spend on commuting or housing. Some online programs even have rolling admissions, meaning students can find different start dates throughout the year.
Promotion/ Work opportunities: The BLS estimates that two-thirds of job openings by 2020 may require postsecondary training. Even in 2018, many employers preferred to hire candidates who demonstrate the needed education for the position and/ or the initiative to go back to school to build their skills. An associate degree program can be an excellent way for working adults to advance their education.
Best Online Colleges for Associate Degree Programs 2018-19
Using our unique methodology that looked at factors like number of programs offered, how many students were enrolled in distance education, in-state tuition costs and how many students were awarded financial aid, we present a list of the top ten online colleges for associate degrees.
This central Mississippi school offers an Associate of Arts (A.A.) degree that can be completed in just over 60 credit hours, as well as close to two dozen Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) programs for career-minded students. Holmes Community College maintains three campuses and two learning centers in the region and works to serve the nearly 5,800 students on its attendance rolls by providing innovative educational and cultural opportunities.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: HCC provides its students with the largest selection of associate degrees of any school we reviewed for this study, offering a selection of more than 70 two-year programs. It also offers tuition payment plans, career placement services and available credit for military service.
Northeast Mississippi Community College (Booneville, Mississippi)
Northeast Mississippi Community College is a comprehensive institution that offers a wide range of programs to meet the diverse academic and professional needs of students in its five-county service area. Our data show that it's also one of the nation's top two-year institutions in terms of financial aid awards, indicating that roughly 98 percent of its student body received one form of aid or another in 2018.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: Students looking to earn an associate degree online can find multiple distance education opportunities at NMCC. The Booneville school is a participant in the Mississippi Virtual Community College (MSVCC) and offers an array of individual online courses as well as more than 20 fully online associate degree programs.
Also known as Allen County Community College, this eastern Kansas institution operates two brick-and-mortar campuses -- the main site in Iola and a second location up the road in Burlingame -- where Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of General Studies (A.G.S.) degrees are offered alongside the more common A.A. and A.A.S. plans. Around 40 associate degree tracks are available in total.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: Students hoping to take some associate degree courses online should have plenty in common with their classmates at Allen -- nearly two-thirds of the student body is enrolled in some form of distance education. On top of that, Allen's library and writing center services are both fully available to students in the virtual classroom.
San Joaquin Delta College is one of the larger institutions among the top schools for online associate degrees, educating approximately 23,000 students each year and awarding over 2,800 degrees in 2017-18. More than 70 areas of study are available at this central California school, which maintains four satellite locations in addition to its flagship campus in Stockton.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: Affordability topped the list of advantages for students at SJDC. Average in-state tuition for students here came to just over $1,100 in 2018, making it one of the 20 most affordable associate degree institutions that we looked at for this survey. Costs here are affordable enough that only around 76 percent of students receive some form of financial aid.
Fayetteville Technical Community College (Fayetteville, North Carolina)
The degree catalog at Fayetteville Technical Community College contains more than 250 total programs of study in subject areas like business, engineering, health care, math and science, public service and computer information technology. Many of the study plans available here lead to certificates or career diplomas, but around 15 associate degree plans are available for students seeking a more comprehensive education.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: Online attendance is high at this North Carolina school, where more than 68 percent of students were enrolled in at least one distance education course. The variety of associate degrees available online was also a bright spot -- FTCC has roughly as many associate degree programs available online as it does in the traditional classroom.
With an enrolled population of more than 15,000, Central Texas College offers its students a vibrant environment where they're likely to find at least a few like-minded classmates to study with. The degree catalog here is as vast as you might expect from such a large institution, offering more than 260 degree and certificate programs online and at CTC's two campus locations and five service area sites throughout central Texas.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: If you're hoping to earn an A.S. or A.A.S. degree online, chances are pretty good that CTC has a degree plan for you. Around 30 two-year programs are available fully online, as well as 35 career-focused certificate plans that can enhance your professional skillset.
Coastline Community College (Fountain Valley, California)
Few other two-year institutions in the country report more online enrollment among their active students than Coastline Community College, where more than 86 percent of those attending classes in 2018 took at least some of their courseload via digital learning. Tuition is also very affordable here for California residents -- the average yearly cost for in-state students came to around $1,100 in the 2017-2018 academic year.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: CCC offers nearly 40 associate degree programs online, including some specialized plans that may not be easy to find at other online schools. Distance education students here can study supply chain management, real estate, economics, American studies and health and fitness, all in associate-level programs.
Kansas residents looking to save money on their college enrollment can look to this Great Bend school for an affordable education. Average 2018 tuition expenses here totalled around $800 less than the statewide average for two-year schools. BCC operates two civilian campuses and two on-base military locations in central and eastern Kansas, of which each has its own set of amenities and available degrees.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: BCC participates with five other Kansas community colleges in a cooperative distance education effort called EDUKAN, providing its students with more than 200 online courses to choose from. Online students can also continue past their associate degree into a bachelor's or master's program, thanks to a partnership with Kansas State University.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (Perkinston, Mississippi)
Although its roots in education go back more than 100 years, the wide availability of online courses at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College shows that this old-guard institution has its eyes turned toward the future. Aspiring online students can choose among more than 350 distance education courses taught by MGCCC instructors, and a partnership with the Mississippi Virtual College Consortium ensures that nearly 3,000 total online course offerings are available.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: Students hoping to transfer to a university after finishing their associate degree have a clear path forward at MGCCC. The Perkinston school is a part of an articulation agreement between the state's community colleges and Mississippi universities that's designed to help students understand how their courses will transfer.
Just over 5,000 students attend Itawamba Community College each year, with the largest percentage of them focusing on traditional courses at the main Fulton, Mississippi, campus. Despite that relatively high number of students, ICC manages to keep their learning environment close-knit enough to encourage open communication between students and professors -- the student-faculty ratio here was 18:1 in 2018.
Why it's good for online associate degrees: Its participation in the Mississippi Virtual Community College initiative allows ICC to offer a total of more than 1,500 online courses to its students. Several different course lengths are available, from a standard 15-week term to accelerated courses that take just four or eight weeks to complete.
Most Affordable Online Colleges for Associate Degree Programs
Looking for affordability? Here are the five two-year online colleges with the lowest tuition costs in America.
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