Associate versus bachelor’s degree: a review

Jacob O’Kane, Fox Journal reporter · The Fox Journal file photo

If you’re looking to pursue further education after graduating high school, you have options.  You can go to a two-year school and work towards an associate degree or attend a four-year school, surpass the associate degree and work straight towards a bachelor’s degree. Or you can do both. There are plenty of positives and negatives for both ideas.

Before I get into the pros and cons, I’ll explain the requirements of the associate degree. Typically, there are a minimum of 60 credits that need to be completed to receive a degree. At UW-Fox Valley, you’re offered the opportunity to complete the Associate of Arts and Sciences degree. It also serves as a baseline for most majors in the UW System. The degree is broken down into six categories: fine arts and humanities, mathematical and natural sciences, social sciences, application and performance, ethnic studies and interdisciplinary studies. The normal courseload, if you’re seeking this degree, is 15 credits per semester for four semesters.

One of the biggest pros of attending a two-year college is the lower cost. On average, the tuition for a two-year college is $3,520 per year. That number is considerably smaller than the average of a four-year university’s tuition that sits at $9,650, not including housing. Many students coming out of high school can’t afford the bill of a larger four-year school and have to take out student loans. A lot of the time, an associate degree’s tuition can be paid off either up front or over a short period of time. Student loans can pile up over the four to five years of college, but a two-year university can give a head start of getting your loans paid off.

Another pro of staying local or off campus is avoiding the cost of housing and a meal plan.  When attending a four-year university, they will usually require you to live on campus if you’re a freshman. Normally if you’re in the already expensive campus housing, they will also require you to purchase a meal plan. With your tuition compounded with your housing and meal plans, the average cost of a school year goes up to $20,090.

Another pro of going to a community college is the opportunity to get all the help you need in your classes. Normally, your class sizes at a two-year is considerably smaller than those offered at a four-year university. With the smaller class sizes, you are able to get to know your professor and build relationships. This can help when you need help in a class, and accessibility is one of the many qualities a professor at a community college has. When you have the baseline of your gen. eds. completed with a lot of actual learned material, it will help immensely in the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

A common con of just getting your associate is job placement. The problem with the associate degree is that it isn’t necessarily focused on one area. With such a broad spectrum of classes, it is difficult for companies to assess how skilled or knowledgeable someone is in a certain field. While some universities like UW-Fox offer specialized emphasis programs, employers may still not see the specialization as in-depth experience in that field. Whereas, they look at someone with a bachelor’s in their type of work, and they know that this person has received the proper training and will have a better shot at being successful.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, with a GED or your high school diploma, you can expect to make around $652 weekly. If you get your associate degree, that weekly pay jumps to $785. Then, the average for someone who has completed a bachelor program is $53,000 per year. There is an obvious wage gap for the three, but it truly shows the importance companies put on a degree in specific fields as opposed to the more general associate degree.

At the end of the day, there is no wrong way to go about your education. No matter what degree you receive or don’t receive, there will always be work available. What it comes down to is how long you want to be in school and how badly you want to get higher paydays in your career.