Education is often a determining factor in the career a person chooses and the income she will earn. Post-secondary education -- beyond the level of high school -- can be expensive, so cost may be the rationale for choosing an associate degree over more advanced education. Most associate degrees require two to four years of full-time study after high school. Associate degree programs are offered by community and private colleges, technical/vocational schools and some universities.
Although some occupations require no more than a high school diploma or GED certificate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that as of May 2010, you could expect to earn more than $50,000 annually in 20 jobs that typically require an associate degree. The BLS also notes that those jobs that require post-secondary education are expected to have higher growth rates than those for which a high school diploma is considered adequate preparation. High school occupations should grow by about 12 percent, while those that require an associate degree should grow by 18 percent.
Health care is one field in which demand is expected to continue to grow due to the aging population. The BLS notes that despite the stagnant economy, the health care industry added more than 32,000 jobs in February of 2013. A number of jobs in this industry require an associate degree for an entry level job. These occupations include registered nurses, radiation therapists, nuclear medicine technologists, dental hygienists, diagnostic medical sonographers, radiologic technologists and technicians, respiratory therapists and occupational therapy assistants. Average annual salaries in this group ranged from $56,260 for respiratory therapists to $69,960 for nuclear medicine technologists.
Engineering is another field in which an associate degree is the basic educational preparation. The BLS reports this group includes aerospace engineering and operations technicians, engineering technicians -- drafters were excepted -- electrical and electronics engineering technicians and mechanical engineering technicians. Although the growth rate among architecture and engineering occupations is not expected to be as high as that in health care, this group is still expected to add about 252,800 jobs between 2010 and 2020, for a projected growth rate of 10 percent. Average annual salaries ranged from $48,480 for civil engineering technicians to $62,260 for aerospace engineering and operations technicians.
There are some other unrelated occupations for which an associate’s degree is considered the minimum preparation, according to the BLS. Funeral service managers, directors, morticians and undertakers, who were required to have both an associate degree and to undergo an apprenticeship, earned $61,460. Another occupation in which an associate degree plus long-term on-job training was the norm was that of precision instrument and equipment repairers, who earned $51,970. Air traffic controllers had an average annual salary of $114,460 in 2011); this occupation also required an associate degree plus long-term on-the-job training. General and operations managers, who usually had one to five years of experience plus an associate degree, earned $114,490 in 2011.