Is a Bachelor’s Degree More Valuable than an Associate’s Degree?

If you are graduating high school and want to go to college, or if you are considering returning to school, you might wonder if a bachelor’s degree is more valuable than an associate’s degree. There is some thought that an associate’s degree is the new baccalaureate program because of the rise in the number of people who are electing to earn it. Bachelor’s degrees cost more and often compel a student to take courses outside their area of interest. So which is worth more?

More Parents are Sending Children to Two-Year Colleges

In 2010, twenty-three percent of people earning post-secondary degrees enrolled in associate’s degree programs. By 2014 that number had jumped to thirty-four percent. During those same two years, the number of students enrolled in baccalaureate programs fell from fifty-two percent to forty-one percent. Cost is one motivating factor. The average cost of attending a two-year school for one year was $11,012 as opposed to $21,072 for one year at a four-year school. Students who earned their associate’s degree at a junior or community college and then transferred to a university saved $20,000 over the cost of attending the university all four years.

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Baccalaureate Degree Graduates Earn More

If you are using earnings as a deciding factor between an associate’s degree and a bachelor’s degree, you should know that people with bachelor’s degrees earn an average twenty-six percent more at entry-level than people with associate’s degrees. After ten years of experience, that gap widens to nearly fifty percent. Bachelor’s degrees do cost more, but it takes less time to retire that debt. Students who graduate from a four-year program have an average $30,000 in student debt. In contrast, sixty percent of associate’s degree graduates have no student debt. Still, those who do graduate with debt may find it harder to pay off. Students with a bachelor’s degree pay approximately $4,100 a year in loans, but make $9,800 more than those with an associate’s degree.

Associate’s Degrees May be Stepping Stones to Four-Year Programs

In order to earn an associate’s degree you have to learn how to study and how to evaluate information, among other skills. These things can help you succeed beyond the two-year degree. The truth is, however, that fewer than fourteen percent of students in junior college transferred to a four-year school. Of those, less than half graduated with a bachelor’s degree in six years. Many schools offer programs known as “2 plus 2” which allow students to earn an associate’s degree, work, and then return for their bachelor’s degree. The problem with bridging from an associate’s degree to a bachelor’s degree is that many courses don’t transfer.

The Real Value of Associate Degrees Lies in Career Choices

If you are planning to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, you should enroll in an Associate of Arts or an Associate of Science program. Associate’s degrees in these fields will get you positions that demand “some college” in the job description. Their worth may be in saving money and in earning credits toward your baccalaureate degree. The average associate’s program contains 60 credit hours and, assuming they all transfer, you could enter a four-year school as a junior. If you want preparation for a career without adjunct courses, you should enroll in an Associate of Applied Science program. These degree paths carry few extraneous liberal arts or other “breadth” courses, concentrating on specific training for one career. While most associate’s degree holders will not earn as much as someone with a bachelor’s degree, those skilled technicians with an Associate of Applied Science can sometimes earn similar salaries.

Which degree is worth more? In most cases, the answer would be that the bachelor’s degree holds more value. Many employers require at least a bachelor’s for entry-level positions. If the career you want doesn’t require a four-year degree, though, the expense and delay of an extra two years in school may not pay off for you. Whether a bachelor’s degree is worth more than an associate degree’s really depends upon what you intend to do with it.