Beyond the bachelor's degree: Associate degrees see higher growth rate in the future

Published: Sunday, April 1 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Tabitha Rain, right, with an associate degree in nursing, talks with Gracie Woodward.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

HERRIMAN — At 18, Danielle Allison had big dreams.

She wanted to go to Pepperdine and get her law degree, become an attorney and make a difference. But before she committed to that route, which would have included at least seven years of schooling and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, her dad suggested she take a few law classes at her local community college to see if that was really the road she wanted to take.

After taking a few classes, Allison decided to get her associate's degree in paralegal studies and try out the workforce for a while. That was 17 years ago. She never went back to school. She found she could do exactly want she wanted and live her dreams without a bachelor's or graduate degree and without debt.

"I don't think people realize that associate degrees can get you far," said the 37-year-old, who now owns her own paralegal business.

Amidst the push for more and more students to get an education, there has not been much of a push for students to get an associate degree, which has long been considered more of a stepping stone degree. Even Allison was surprised by how much she learned with a two-year degree. But as college prices have continued to rise and the number of years to get a degree has also gone up, more students may do well to consider getting an associate's degree, says Miranda Marquit, a financial researcher and freelance writer for AllBusiness.com, one of the largest online resources for small businesses.

In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently found that the projected growth from 2010 to 2020 for jobs requiring associate degree holders is higher than the projected growth for jobs requiring bachelor degree holders. And 28 percent of people with an associate's degree actually make more money than the median bachelor's degree holder, according to a 2011 study from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Workforce ready

Allison, for instance, makes up to $100,000 some years, she said, explaining that students with associate degrees need to be assertive about what they know. Especially in places like Utah where many people are highly educated, she said some employers don't know how prepared two-year degree holders are for the workforce.

"It taught me everything I needed to know," Allison said of her associate's degree. "It enabled me to get right into the workforce. I don't think it has ever held me back."

Even if students are planning to get a bachelor's, she suggests they try out a two-year degree in their field of choice to see if it's really something they want to get into.

That's what Danny Kofke did, a special education teacher from Atlanta. He got his

two-year degree at a local community college before going on to get his bachelor's, which made it easier for him to find a part time job while completing his four-year degree and also made him feel at ease that if he wasn't able to finish his B.A., he had something to fall back on.

Currently less than two-thirds of full-time students who start their bachelor's degree end up finishing within eight years, twice the amount of time it is supposed to take. And the longer it takes to get a degree, the more likely students are to drop out, says Tom Sugar with Complete College America, an organization that hopes to encourage states to improve college graduation rates.

Also, getting a two-year degree is more profitable than starting a bachelor's degree and then dropping out. Students with an associate's degree end up making $180,000 more over a lifetime than those with some college and no degree, according to a recent study by thee Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

A Marketable skill

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