Associate Degree Outcomes

Connor Hill, Researcher
March 23, 2022

A photo of a blackboard tray with several pieces of chalk. The tray is showing a lot of use.
Photo by Markus Spiske on Pexels

With the UDRC approaching the finish line on research regarding the workforce outcomes for individuals who receive associate degrees, we wanted to outline why we conducted this research and share some of the analyses in the study.

Students must understand the workforce outcomes they can expect to receive by attending college. In addition, students should have access to information that allows them to make the best decision regarding post-secondary enrollment, and one of the most important questions is what income they can expect to receive after graduating. The literature regarding bachelor’s degrees and the outcomes the graduates can expect is extensive. However, research concerning associate degrees is much smaller.

Associate degrees are traditionally thought to be degrees individuals earn to continue their education further, usually a four-year degree. These degrees are called transfer degrees. Most commonly, transfer Associate degrees are Associate of Science or Associate of Arts. The other kind of associate degree, though, are Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees; these degrees prepare students to begin entry-level positions after graduating in fields such as accounting, welding, and nursing. While some of the credits can be transferred to other post-secondary institutions, some colleges consider AAS to be a terminal degree.

Given these differences in the intended purpose of the degrees, it follows to assume that AAS recipients would receive higher wages given that their degree has trained them for a particular field. Unfortunately, the amount of research that makes the distinction between AAS and transfer associate degrees is limited. Research that includes associate degree recipients either does not separate the different types of associate degrees in their analysis or associate degrees are included in variables such as “some college,” which likely impacts the results.

We obtained data from the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) to compare AAS and transfer associate degree recipients. These data provided us with the degree type students received, the program they graduated from, the demographics of the students, and their age at graduation. The data from USHE were then linked to the Department of Workforce Service’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Wage Data. The UI wage data give us the quarterly earnings pre-and post-graduation for all of the students and the industry they worked in.

Combining the datasets allowed us to compare the degrees in several ways. First, we wanted to see how wages changed between the first and fifth years after graduating. We would expect AAS recipients to have higher wages and that their pay grows at a faster rate initially after graduating due to their specialization. Second, we compared the wages of the top programs that the degree earners graduated from (transfer Associate versus AAS and program field). Finally, we separated degree earners by the industry they worked in one and five years after graduating.

With college education becoming more crucial for individuals in the workforce, individuals need access to information regarding what outcomes they can receive from post-secondary education. This research contributes to the literature regarding AAS and transfer associate degrees and the results they can expect. Please stay tuned for the full report soon!