What’s the Associates of Arts Degree Worth in the Job Market? | Burning Glass Technologies

The associates of arts degree is an inexpensive way for a student to get their first two years of college. But what is an associates of arts degree good for in the job market? How can graduates make the most of this credential?

In new research with the American Enterprise Institute, Burning Glass Technologies examined the labor market value of A.A. degrees, and how to make them more valuable as a credential on their own.

About 670,000 associate’s degrees are awarded every year in the United States, and roughly 40% of them are awarded in fields like general studies, liberal arts, and humanities—degrees specifically designed to allow students to transfer and gain a bachelor’s degree. Students who take this path can save a lot of money (an average of $13,000, based on the report’s analysis of College Board statistics).

But while many students set out on this path, not all of them complete it. These graduates have fewer options and lower salaries compared to bachelor’s degree graduates, or those with associate’s degree in a technical program, such as health services.

  • The paper found that only 14% of those who entered an associates’ degree in a liberal arts program had completed a bachelor’s degree six years later.
  • Only about 32,000 job postings specifically asked for an A.A. degree in 2016.
  • Graduates with an A.A. degree make less than those with an associate’s of science in a technical program–anywhere from $6,600 less per year in Minnesota to almost $17,000 less on average in Texas.

Skills that Make the Associates of Arts Degree More Valuable

Adding marketable skills to an A.A. degree can make this credential significantly more valuable to students who get this degree and don’t pursue a bachelor’s. Our analysis identifies skills that A.A. graduates can add that can expand the opportunities available to them and carry a salary premium of $4,000 per year or more. Valuable skills include:

  • Coding and knowledge of occupation-specific software (such as Salesforce);
  • Management and business oriented skills, such as project management, business development, or budgeting;
  • Sales

There are a number of practical ways both students and community colleges can add more value to the A.A. degree. Students can seek out courses on these specific, marketable skills during their community college studies, or add certificates to their credentials after graduation. Many community colleges are already exploring strategies cited in the report, including:

  • Using guided pathways to increase the likelihood of successfully transferring from the A.A. to a bachelor’s program;
  • Identifying the marketable skills that are most in demand in local labor markets—and communicating that information to students;
  • Embedding these marketable skills in the curricula of A.A. programs; and
  • Establishing strong ties with local employers.

You can find the complete report here. 

Also, you might be interested in a companion report on the bachelor’s of arts degree.