Best Associates Degrees for the Job Market

In 2007, a study by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that the median earnings of young adults with an associate degree were $35,000 annually, compared with $29,000 for those with a high school diploma or its equivalent and $23,000 for those with no high school equivalency. It’s no secret that deciding to further your education with an associate degree, whether it’s to begin working right away or to act as a springboard for an eventual bachelor degree or beyond, has a drastic impact on your earning potential. But it’s also wise to examine just what jobs you can get with an online associate degree, and which degree offers the best return on your tuition investment.

Pricing can vary among different colleges and universities, but it’s not uncommon among the top accredited online institutions for tuition for an associate degree to run approximately $20,000-$30,000. For instance, Kaplan University’s online associate degree in information technology is $353 per course hour with a requirement of 90 course hours (about 30 classes) for graduation, which equals $31,770. However, as with all online degrees, there’s no room and board or additional transportation costs to factor in.

For 2006, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked the following occupations (by median income) as being the most lucrative for people with associate degrees.

At the top of the list was computer specialist, which entails providing technical support, assistance, and advice to clients. Those employees with associate degrees earned $68,570 annually. That was followed by radiation therapist, a job that involves operating machines used in cancer treatments and that can bring in $66,170 a year to people with associate degrees. Next on the list is nuclear technician, an occupation that covers everything from performing maintenance and security inspections on nuclear reactors to monitoring radiation in the environment. With a relevant associate degree from an accredited online program, nuclear techs can earn $65,500 a year. In fourth place was dental hygienist, an occupation that pays degree-holding employees $62,800 a year. Right behind that is fashion designer, and with an accredited design degree, you could make an annual $62,610.

The sixth best-paying job for someone with an associate degree is nuclear medicine technologist, which deals with administering special chemicals to hospital patients to observe their effects and better diagnose and treat diseases. The role can pay $62,300 a year. After that on the list is registered nurse, which can bring you $57,280 annually if you’ve got an associate degree. Close behind that is the job of diagnostic medical sonographer, a role that involves using sound wave equipment to diagnose patients and create special images used to determine treatment. It’s a job that can earn you $57,160 if you’ve got an accredited associate degree.

After that it’s engineering technician (though not drafter), which applies engineering and science training to fields like construction and manufacturing. Employees with an associates degree can earn $54,250 a year. Rounding out the top ten is the job of aerospace engineer, a job that requires designing and testing aircraft, spacecraft, and missiles. With an associate degree, you can earn $53,300 a year or more.

There are of course more occupations that pay well to those employees with associate degrees, but these are the top of the list, and more than enough to prove than an initial tuition investment around $30,000 will pay off with a well-earning job.