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Associate Degree: The New High School Diploma? I Don’t Think So…

by John Aldrich
AVP, Military Relations, American Public University System

There is a lot of talk out there, usually by people who pick up their news from the latest network sound-bite, that associate degrees have become the new high school diploma.  When I hear these types of statements, I can’t help but wonder what would motivate someone to make such an uneducated comment?  In my own personal experience in taking classes at a community college and in working with thousands of military students who have attended a two-year program of study, I have found that the above opinion couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s explore some facts…

Fact 1:  Earning Potential:  There is little doubt that the relationship between education and median income for young adults increases as their education level increases. This is especially true in healthcare and technical professions. The chart below shows a significant increase in income attainment by education level. For those who possess a two year degree, this can mean the difference of earning $400,000-500,000 more than a high school graduate over a lifetime of work.









Fact 2: Goal and Action Oriented:  Having an associate degree or an associate of applied science degree lets employers know that you are goal and action oriented. It is proof that you can stay the course in taking classes outside of your normal work day and family obligations. Hiring managers, not only review a person’s work history, but they try to get a feel for what a person has been able to accomplish outside of their typical work experiences.  

Fact 3: Up-to-Date Job Skills:  Earning an associate degree means that you are letting employers know that you have relevant and up-to-date job skills. Many associate degrees today focus on employability.  Programs like electronics, nursing, allied health programs, building construction, etc. are designed by industry experts who know what type of skills are needed for today’s work force. Additionally, these industry experts work for the same companies that hire associate degree earners. 

Fact 4:  Transferability. Many adult learners enroll in a two-year program in order to transfer credit to a four year school. This not only reduces tuition costs, but it provides the adult learner with access to smaller classroom sizes, convenient class schedules, and open access to a university system that may have otherwise not been possible.

So before you follow the herd in bashing a two year degree, do your homework. A two year program of study can be just the boost you need to get started in your career. 


National Center for Education and Statistics Retrieved from

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