Accredited Online Associate Degrees
An associate degree is a versatile credential that's typically completed in two years. Students earn associate degrees at junior colleges, community colleges, technical or trade schools, and, on rare occasions, four-year universities. The schools may be public or private, for profit or not-for-profit, on campus and online. Degree programs include a core undergraduate liberal arts education as well as specialized courses in a direct path to careers, such as nursing or criminal justice.
Best Online Associate Programs
An online associate degree program allows students to pursue their education in a way that best fits their schedule. Upon successful program completion, students may be eligible to begin an entry-level career or continue their education at a four-year institution. To help students kick-start their education, we have analyzed schools across the country based on factors such as average class size, financial aid opportunities and access to student services. Explore the best schools that offer online associate degree programs below.
Associate Degrees: The Basics
Students often choose an associate degree to either (1) reach a specific occupational goal or (2) earn introductory or general education credits more affordably before transferring to a university. Students who find it difficult to attend classes may prefer to enroll in online associate degree and career-training programs.
The table below serves as an introduction to associate degree coursework, combining general education classes with more advanced studies in a specific career field.
|Basic Computer Literacy||This course is to introduce first-year students to the use of digital resources to conduct online research, prepare written work for class, and protect their data.|
|Elementary Spanish||Through the use of class discussions and foreign language laboratory hours, students learn Spanish language vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation and culture.|
|Introduction to Anthropology||An introduction to human development in diverse biological or environmental conditions. Satisfies one social science requirement.|
|Early Childhood Education II||Continuing from ECE I, this course includes a historical view of early childhood education, cultural diversity, classroom ethics, special needs, and teaching curriculum.|
|Advanced Managerial Accountig||This class focuses on the interpretation of cost information and data used in planning or controlling business organizations. Instruction of accurate report formatting.|
Does an Associate Degree Pay?
Salaries earned by associate degree holders vary considerably by their chosen career field, their experience, their employer, and the region in which they live and work. The value of the associate degree in financial terms can also be pegged to job growth and employer demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported a 2013 median weekly wage of $777 for workers with associate degrees. In contrast, employees who have not completed a post-secondary degree made only $651 per week in 2013. The BLS has identified 80 occupations with median annual salaries over $50,000. At the top end of the earning scale are many health care related jobs requiring two-year degrees, followed closely by occupations in electrical and mechanical engineering.
When an Associate Degree Makes Sense
An associate degree program is an attractive option for students who are not ready to commit to a four-year education, or for those who are still looking over their choices for a major field of study. Some students cannot compete academically for a bachelor's degree program and find the associate degree a solid opportunity to raise their grades and acclimate themselves to the rigors of a college education. In many states, major four-year schools form partnerships with junior and community colleges to ensure that general education credit hours of their associate degree will transfer smoothly for students moving on to a bachelor's degree. Finally, an associate degree program provides the direct training and credential for students to enter professions immediately upon graduation.
TWO YEARS TO A CAREER
Two-year associate degree programs offer a unique opportunity to take the fast track toward a first career or to train for a new profession. Rest assured, community and junior college courses are designed for college-level students and are not dumbed down for easy graduation. Students graduating high school or returning to college following experience in the workplace will find courses in associate degree programs structured to increase in difficulty from general overviews to more detailed studies in specific areas. Vocational or occupational-focused programs are often taught by professionals in the field. For example, nursing courses are led by experienced nurses in the varied specialties of in health care. In some cases, students in one field will add an associate degree that broadens their credentials.
Professional fields that hire entry-level graduates from associate degree programs include:
Health Care Office and Technical Support
Medical assistants, Medical Billing and Insurance Technicians, Dental Assistants, Physical Therapy Assistants and Aides.
Health Care Practitioners and Technicians
Diagnostic Medical Sonographers, Dental Hygienists, Radiation Therapists and Registered Nurses.
First Response and Legal Professionals
Paralegals, Police Officers, Firefighters, EMTs, Court Reporters, Forensics Technicians, Homeland Security Officers and Correctional Officers.
Technology and Technical
Computer Support Specialists, Civil Engineering Technicians, Electronics Technicians and Construction Trades Technicians.
TRANSFER TO A FOUR-YEAR COLLEGE OR UNIVERSITY
According to a Community College Research Center (CCRC) 2013 study, 45 percent of all undergraduate students were attending community colleges. In addition, the study found that 64 percent of community college students transferred to four-year colleges before completing their associate degrees.
Community and junior colleges offer such a solid cost-cutting option for students seeking to complete core general education requirements that many four-year college students are taking "reverse transfers" to finish their first two years. Depending on the institution, the general core classes are built on the same curriculum used at four-year institutions. Consequently, the CCRC found that 72 percent of students completing their associate degree and transferring to four-year schools completed bachelor's degrees within six years.
Students must take utmost care before, during and after entering an associate degree program to ensure that their credit hours will transfer successfully if they go on to a bachelor's degree program. They should interview academic counselors at their prospective community college and four-year transfer school to determine the classes that satisfy general education and major requirements. Counselors can map out course equivalencies. Colleges that share transfer agreements offer students the most academically (and financially) pain-free systems of credit transfer. Students would do well prior to enrolling to see if the target colleges or academic departments will offer written documentation on how the transfer will take place. The process of articulation completes the process when the registrar at the target school transcribes the associate degree courses into the four-year student transcript.
How Online Associate Degree Programs Work
Online associate degree programs are available almost everywhere in the country and accessible from any location that has a connection to the Internet. In addition to community colleges - the most common choice - students can participate in distance learning at private, for-profit colleges and trade schools. Transfer students considering private schools should be especially meticulous in searching for four-year schools that accept credits from those institutions.
All transactions at online colleges are completed on computers or smart devices, including applications, enrollment, registration, course selection, financial aid applications, tutoring, academic counseling, and posting of grades and transcripts. The courses themselves are customized for delivery online, mirroring on-campus curricula and academic quality but tailored for distance faculty/student interactions. Classes and course materials are presented and stored online for 24/7 access, allowing students to set the time and place for their studies.
Digital courses take advantage of well-tested, reliable technologies for course lectures, student participation, and research. Tools include an interface that works on all browsers and types of computers, providing email systems, chat rooms, instant messaging, conference calls and video programs such as Skype.
Online schools provide active technical support for students who need assistance using the interface, email, or a particular teaching tool. Some private and public colleges provide students with a laptop computer. Students can also log on from home computers, at work (where permitted), in public cafes and libraries.
Online Learning Q & A
How do students get hold of their professors when classes are not in session?
Many online schools require instructors to maintain daily contact with all students via email and discussion threads. Faculty members also establish regular online hours for student contact.
Is it necessary to be online every day when you're in an online degree program?
Most online students dedicate a certain number of hours a day or week for logging into their classes. There may be required student discussions or conferences built into the schedule that all must join online. Students that maintain regular online hours have the best success.
How can online classes compare to the interactions students get in a regular classroom?
They compare favorably. For instance, students who are too insecure to share in a crowded classroom find it easier to participate. Students also work in peer groups or on collaborative assignments, communicating by email, chat, cell phones or conference calls. Many graduates form lifelong friendships and career mentors.
If online degree programs take less time to complete, are they inferior degrees?
Online degree and career programs are as strenuous and academically demanding as those of their campus cousins. A shorter time-to-graduation is typically accomplished by students enrolled in accelerated programs who have the drive and focus to succeed.
Are all online degree programs eligible for financial aid?
Formal accreditation is one way a college satisfies Federal and state requirements for offering financial aid. Public community colleges typically offer qualified students the full range of aid in Federal and private loans, grants and fellowships. Students that cannot otherwise afford to pay for tuition, fees and supplies should communicate with prospective college financial aid representatives as a key component in choosing a school.
Community College Accreditation
Accreditation is a voluntary system by which schools, colleges and universities set, regulate, and address academic policies and educational quality. Campus-based and online colleges offering associate degrees seek accreditation from national and regional agencies that make an independent, non-partial assessment of the school. All accreditation agencies must be approved by the U.S. Department of Education.
Most community colleges seek accreditation from one of seven regional accrediting bodies or commissions. In the Western part of the country, for example, associate-degree granting institutions typically volunteer for accreditation by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges (ACCJC). Departments within two-year degree-granting schools may also seek accreditation for specialized programs. Nursing degree programs at community colleges typically seek programmatic accreditations from state boards of nursing.
Accreditation is the governing factor whether colleges may offer financial aid packages (loans, grants, work study) from the Federal government. Because of their unique course delivery system, online schools may also seek accreditation from agencies such as the National Distance Learning Association to vouch for the quality of their online degree programs.