Accelerated Degree Programs
The employment world isn’t what it was 20 or even 10 years ago. As rapidly changing technologies, economic policies, and day-to-day realities shape the way that the working world works, workers have had to change their tactics in order to give themselves every advantage and the knowledge to either get ahead, or strike out on their own. Whether it’s a secure job with a pension and benefits, an extra boost to the skill set, or getting ready for a more independent future, a degree – associates, bachelors, masters – needs to be an important part of your planning. This is true for everyone, whether you’re just starting out, completing a degree you couldn’t finish, or seeking to further your knowledge in a special area of your field. The good news is you may not even need to see a classroom, or reassemble your life around a school schedule, with accelerated degree programs online.
An associate’s degree is also called a two-year degree online, and is an undergraduate degree typically awarded by community, vocational, and technical colleges, as well as by some four-year baccalaureate-granting colleges and universities. Campus courses, online courses, hybrid campus/online, or accelerated degree programs online are the most common routes to these degrees, with over 942,000 awarded each year, according to the USDE.
The associate’s degrees available are:
- A.A. (Associate of Arts) – usually awarded for studies in the humanities such as literature and philosophy, or in social sciences such as economics and psychology.
- A.S. (Associate of Sciences) – awarded for studies in mathematical and technical sciences such as engineering, biology, and chemistry.
- A.A.S. (Associate of Applied Science) – a degree with a special emphasis on becoming “work ready” upon completion of coursework. These degrees are generally for vocational career paths such as computer and information technology or nursing. These degrees may not be transferable for credit toward a bachelor’s degree at a later time, and are generally considered a goal to themselves.
The associate of arts and sciences degrees do share some common coursework, often equivalent to the same coursework that would be undertaken in the freshman and sophomore years at a four-year campus. Expect English and English Composition, Humanities courses such as art, literature, languages, and philosophy, and sciences such as mathematics, biology, and physics. Some schools with also have a separate social sciences requirement that mandates courses like economics and psychology. It should be noted that some, but not all, courses of study can be applied toward a four-year degree, so consulting with your academic counselor is advised.
A bachelor’s degree – also called a baccalaureate – is one of the most typically referenced and awarded degrees. According to the United States Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics, roughly 1.6 million baccalaureates were awarded last year. That’s an increase of about 400,000 from the previous study performed 10 years ago. In fact, 33 percent of all people ages 25 through 29 had earned a bachelor’s degree. In short, one person in three is entering the workforce with a degree – that’s a little less than the percentage of people who completed high school in 1940. As with associate’s degrees, there are different categories for different fields of study.
- B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) – for the arts and humanities, the same as an associate’s but with an additional two years of study.
- B.S. (Bachelor of Sciences) – for mathematics and technical sciences, the same as an associate’s but with an additional two years of study.
When you’ve heard of these degrees, you’ve probably also heard of people speaking of majors and minors. These terms refer to the areas of studies emphasized in the student’s coursework, with an eye to their future career. Majors and minors offered vary but most are available through a variety of ways, including accelerated degree programs online, available to undergraduates and other students furthering their education.
Additionally, there are some specialized bachelor’s degrees such as the B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts), which is a degree awarded to artists, actors and other performers, but also for digital media arts and web design. The B.B.A. (Bachelor of Business Administration) is often seen as the undergraduate version of the prestigious M.B.A. (Master of Business Administration), with a core curriculum that includes business law and ethics, financial management, economics, accounting and information systems.
A master’s degree is a postgraduate degree that demonstrates mastery of a particular subject or discipline and is one of the fastest growing degrees, sometimes referred to as the new baccalaureate. The Digest of Education Statistics reports that in the last academic year, 730,635 master’s degrees were granted in the United States, with nearly 3 million postgraduate students enrolled each year. The growing demand for the master’s degree has contributed to the rise of accelerated degree programs online to handle the sheer number of degree seekers, but also to handle returning students already in the workforce, without the time or other resources to keep up with the traditional campus model of postgraduate education.
The master’s degree is apportioned at the most basic level into the Master of Arts and Master of Sciences, just the same as the associate’s and bachelor’s degrees, but as the fields of study are more specialized, there are some highly specialized degrees in this category, too.
- M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts)
- M.B.A. (Master of Business Administration)
- M. Ed. (Master of Education)
- M.H.A. (Master of Health Administration)
- M.L.S. (Master of Library Science)
In fact, there are almost as many categories of master’s degrees as there are of bachelor’s or associate’s degrees, as the demands for a higher level of knowledge in private and public sector jobs escalate. In business, finance, law, health, education, communications, or any other discipline you can think of, master’s degrees are becoming a basic requirement for advancement.
Degrees Equal Earning Power
Recent data from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that a degree is not only earning power, but job security. In numbers compiled from 2012 statistics, the median income for all levels of education from not having a high school diploma to having a Ph.D. was averaged to $815 per week. The holders of associate’s degrees averaged to $735 per week, with the bachelor’s degree holders bringing in an average of $1,066 per week – a significant jump. When stacked up against the bachelor’s degree, the master’s degree brought in $334 dollars a week more. Of course, all of these are averages. Individual specialties, majors and industry demand shape the paycheck outside of these cooked-down numbers, but across all listed occupations there is an entrenched and growing demand for degrees at all levels.
In fact, Pew Research notes in a study conducted specifically to determine the worth of a master’s degree to the Millennial generation, that earning power is significantly higher, and that as much as 27 percent of college graduates of that generation have gone on to complete an advanced degree.
Speed Meets Need: Accelerated Degree Programs
When you can’t spend between two and eight years completing your degree, taking accelerated degree programs online can clear an express lane from the laptop to the sheepskin. Many colleges and universities have responded to the demand for associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees by making courseware and lectures available online – subject to admissions requirements that vary from school to school. Small community colleges as well as state colleges and universities and prestigious private colleges have helped to meet and fuel the demand for degreed workers. Taking accelerated degree programs online can shorten the time required for some degrees by up to a year or more.
For the returning student already in the workforce, working at your own pace, in your own comfort zone as you balance your work and life requirements can reduce stress from commutes, adjusting work and family schedules, arranging child care, and commuting to and from campus. You’ll have the support of other online students in your classes, too, for collaborations on group projects. For current undergraduates, it’s possible to shorten the time to both the bachelor’s and master’s degree by up to a year through finding out what upper division courses from junior and senior years could count toward the master’s degree of your choice, as well as shortening your path to a baccalaureate with transferable credits earned from accelerated degree programs online.
Ready, Set, Matriculate!
As distance learning in the digital age becomes the norm, the stigma once associated with obtaining a degree in a nontraditional way is lessening. Once derided as the realm of “diploma mills”, even the most exclusive universities and colleges have placed some or all of their courses online. However, not all degree programs are created equal, so you need to protect yourself and the investment in your education by paying attention to accreditation. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintains a database of all accredited institutions and accrediting authorities, as well as a database of known degree and accreditation mills.
Accreditation is important, as it denotes a school as providing quality programs and education. In the case of financing your education with loans and grants, lending and granting authorities will generally only make funds available to students enrolling in recognized institutions. Checking for proper accreditation can save you some trouble when you are choosing your school and after graduation when presenting your degree as a qualification. Investing all that time, effort and money is worth a few minutes to make sure everything is on the up and up.