An associate degree is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, and bachelor's degree-granting colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study usually lasting two years. In the United States, and some areas of Canada, an associate degree is often equivalent to the first two years of a four-year college or university degree. It is the lowest in the hierarchy of post-secondary academic degrees offered in these countries. Although an associate degree is not usually as lucrative as a bachelor's degree, the resulting careers can still afford a respectable income, particularly in the healthcare field, with greater job security and much less student debt.
The associate degree is awarded to students who complete two years of schooling (or who can complete those requirements in a shorter amount of time). The requirements usually include courses such as English composition, Algebra, social interaction, humanities, etc. Some people refer to associate degrees as "two-year" degrees because it is possible to obtain the degree in approximately that length of time. For students who place into developmental (sometimes called pre-college or remedial) courses, the time will be extended since these credits will not apply toward the associate degree.
A lesser diploma, called a certificate, is awarded for specific studies that may be completed in one year or less; for example, certification in a particular field of information technology may only run for four to six months.
At 2-year colleges in the United States, more students attend part-time than full-time. To accommodate part-time students, many of whom work, most US community colleges offer required courses during evening and weekend hours and, increasingly, online (the Sloan Consortium reports that 51% of all degrees earned online are associate degrees.)
Names of associate degrees
Data on associate degrees are frequently disaggregated by curriculum: vocational or nonvocational. The Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) counts nonvocational degrees under the category "Arts and Sciences or General Programs," and vocational degrees fall under six headings:
- business and commerce technologies
- data processing technologies
- health services/paramedical technologies
- mechanical/engineering technologies
- natural science technologies
- public service-related technologies
Europe & Australia
In the United Kingdom, the two-year General Academic Studies Degree (French: diplôme d'études universitaires générales, DEUG) in France, the Higher Education and Training Awards Council's Higher Certificate in the Republic of Ireland. In 2000, Hong Kong introduced associate degrees, as an equivalence to higher diplomas. These programs are mainly provided through affiliated colleges at universities. In 2004, Australia added "associate degree" to the Australian Qualifications Framework. This title was given to more academically focused advanced diploma courses. However, very few courses yet use the new title. In the Netherlands, there were four pilots between 2005 and 2011 to assess the added value of the associate degree. In 2011 the associate degree has been added to the Dutch system of higher education as a means to close the gap with the vocational education system.
In the province of Ontario, a college is an educational institution which awards a 2-year diploma or a 3-year advanced diploma in technical or career programs. Universities offer 4 year bachelors degrees, and at times partner with career colleges to offer joint diploma-degree programs. For example, the University of Toronto and Centennial College offer a joint Diploma-Degree program in Paramedicine. Students are eligile to enter these programs once they have completed an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) program at a high school, focusing their studies on college preparation. Students who wish to attend university must study a different stream of academics while obtaining their OSSD. 
In the province of Quebec, an associate degree is equivalent to a college diploma, which is delivered by a college-level institution. Students can take two different paths to obtain a college diploma. One way consists of completing a pre-university program, which normally has a duration of two years and prepares the applicant for university-level studies. The other way consists of completing a technical or career program in a college. Normally, courses of this nature have a duration of three years and enable the student to enter the work force directly after obtaining their diploma.
In Hong Kong, the Associate degree, first introduced into the territory by Tong Chee Wah, the first Chief Executive of Hong Kong, is generally regarded as an inferior substitute to bachelor courses. The quality of teaching and graduates have been under doubts since it was introduced. Many bachelor-issuing or non-bachelor-issuing institutes jumped into this part of education in accordance with the calls of government. Some colleges, although qualified for issuing bachelor degrees, are accused of over-admission and over-issuing certification for profits. Candidates who have done too badly for a bachelor admission in the HKCEE and HKALE get their Associate Degree with a hope to advance to UCG-funded bachelor degrees which, if via JUPAS, only 13 percent of all secondary school graduates could get. As the number of bachelor graduates continues to increase, more and more of Associate Degree holders find it difficult to get employed and receive the salaries and academic promotion that they were promised by the government and advertisements. Although the recognition of the graduates gradually improves in recent years, it was generally regarded as one of the worse flaws of Hong Kong education and as paramount as the educational reforms and the mother tongue education.
In the United States, associate degrees are usually earned in two years or less, and can be attained at community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools, and some colleges. If you complete a two-year program, you can earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.). A.A. degrees are usually earned in humanities and social science fields. A.S. degrees are awarded to those studying in scientific and technical fields. If you complete a two-year technical or vocational program, you can earn an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.). You may also have the option to use the credits from your associate’s degree toward a bachelor’s degree.
Associates in Arts and Associates in Science degrees are offered at a number of universities around the United States including Pennsylvania State University, Florida Institute of Technology, Liberty University and New England College.
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- Associate degree: Two years to a career or a jump start to a bachelor’s degree - More information on Associate Degrees provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.