Community colleges across America have long been plagued with a stigma regarding the quality of their academic programs. Unfortunately, many people still believe that community college represents a last-ditch effort to scramble together some sort of career path. Others doubt a community college’s ability to prepare students for gainful employment adequately. These false misconceptions have discouraged many prospective students from earning valuable credentials from these affordable, accredited institutions of higher learning. To dispel the myth that community colleges are for low-paying jobs (or no jobs at all), we present to you the top 10 associates degrees to get a job. The credentials we highlight here are some of the highest paying associate degrees one can earn and some of the most in-demand degrees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Among the very best associate degrees currently available is the two-year degree in radiation therapy. Why? Because this credential is associated with not only a lucrative salary but faster-than-average job growth projections as well.
You may be wondering, though: “What exactly do radiation therapists do?” Put simply, these types of healthcare professionals treat patients who have cancer (and other diseases) using radiation therapy. Radiation therapists must be skilled in operating special medical equipment and machines to deliver radiation as part of an overall radiation treatment plan. In addition, these trained therapists must be knowledgeable about safety protocols when working with radiation to protect themselves and their patients from potentially dangerous exposure.
Because they work in a hazardous environment and have a highly specialized skillset, radiation therapists are well-compensated for their work in the healthcare industry. In fact, radiation therapy credentials are the highest paying associate degrees you can earn. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), radiation therapists make nearly $87,000 per year on average, and top earners in the field make over $130,000 annually.
If you’re looking for 2-year degree jobs in demand, radiation therapy checks this box, as well. In 2019, the BLS projected a 7% increase in new radiation therapy jobs for the coming decade. That’s faster than average compared to all employment growth across various industries.
To become a registered radiation therapist, you’ll need to complete an associate’s degree program approved by the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT). The organization currently recognizes 109 colleges and universities offering this two-year credential.
Another of the best associates degrees to get a job, a degree in nuclear medicine will also secure graduates a lucrative position in the fast-growing healthcare field. According to the BLS, jobs for trained nuclear medicine technologists are currently growing faster than average due to an aging baby boomer population. These trained healthcare professionals prepare and administer radioactive drugs for patients who require treatments for cancer, heart disease, or other medical conditions.
Like radiation therapists, nuclear medicine technologists must have specialized knowledge and training to protect themselves and others from potentially harmful radiation exposure during medical treatments and procedures. The salary for nuclear medicine technologists rivals that of radiation therapists, too. The BLS reports their average annual wages to be just under $80,000, with top earners making over six figures per year.
The best associate degrees to get a job in nuclear medicine technology are accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT).
Healthcare isn’t the only industry with some of the highest paying associate degrees. The field of information technology is also home to many lucrative 2-year degree jobs in demand right now. One of these jobs is that of a web developer/digital designer. These IT professionals are responsible for building the many websites that populate the Internet. Their roles may include creating the images and graphics for the website, ensuring it performs optimally, and monitoring traffic to the site. Website developers and designers typically work with other professionals such as graphic designers and content providers, for example.
The rapid growth of the web development industry has been attributed to the popularity of eCommerce in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this sector are projected to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029. Web developers and digital designers are paid quite well, especially considering they may only need a two-year degree to become employed. The BLS reports the median annual wage for these tech professionals to be just over $77,000 per year. Those at the top of the industry reportedly make nearly double that.
The entry-level requirements in the web development and design industry can vary widely. To become a web developer/digital designer, you may need an associate’s degree or bachelor’s credential in web design, computer science, or graphic arts, for example. In some cases, a high school diploma along with experience in the field may be sufficient, though.
Another of the best associates degrees to get a job that’s both secure and high-paying is the community college degree in dental hygiene. Unlike most other types of associate’s degrees, the technical degree in dental hygiene usually takes three years to complete instead of two. Still, the payoff is arguably worth it; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these dental health professionals make over $77,000 per year on average, and it’s possible to earn a six-figure salary with this credential.
Dental hygienists provide oral cleanings and treatments to patients in a clinical environment such as a dentists’ office. In addition to providing oral care, these professionals are also responsible for consulting with patients about the health of their teeth and gums and advising them on preventative treatments.
The latest job projections from the BLS indicate that positions for dental hygienists are growing faster than the average occupation. Students interested in this field should be advised that the best associate degrees in dental hygiene are accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA).
Diagnostic Medical Sonography
If you’ve read this far, then you know that the healthcare field is full of some of the top 2-year degree jobs in demand right now. Another one of these positions is the occupation of a diagnostic medical sonographer. These healthcare specialists are responsible for conducting ultrasounds and sonograms to help detect diseases and other medical conditions. Like other healthcare technicians, diagnostic sonographers must be trained to operate special medical equipment such as an ultrasound transducer. Diagnostic imaging is used in various sub-fields of medicine, so there are many different types of diagnostic medical sonographers, including pediatric sonographers, breast sonographers, vascular technologists, cardiac sonographers, and more.
Credentials in diagnostic medical sonography are some of the highest paying associate degrees in the healthcare field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that these professionals make over $75,000 per year on average, with the highest-paid professionals in the field earning nearly six figures. According to BLS reports, jobs for diagnostic medical sonographers are growing at a break-neck pace, too; the field will expand by 17% by the end of the decade. Students interested in working in this field should look for one of the 200+ associates degree programs in diagnostic medical sonography accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAAHEP).
Yet another option for students looking for the best associates degrees to get a job in healthcare, credentials in MRI technology tops the list in terms of both pay and demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for these allied health professionals are currently growing faster than average. These are well-paid positions, too; the average salary for an MRI technologist was just under $75,000 a year as of May 2020.
MRI technologists who graduate from a two-year community college or technical school are trained to operate specialized medical equipment known as magnetic resonance imaging scanners. These machines scan the patient’s body with magnetic fields to diagnose various diseases and health conditions.
As the large baby boomer population ages, they will rely more on health professionals proficient in diagnostic procedures such as MRI technology. That’s why diagnostic professionals such as MRI technologists are currently in demand. To be competitive for associate degree jobs in this field, students should look for community colleges and technical schools accredited by the American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT).
One of the few highest paying associate degrees outside of the field of healthcare is the two-year technical degree in computer networking. This community college credential prepares graduates for the in-demand career of a computer network support specialist. Companies and organizations hire computer network support specialists to ensure that their computer networks are working properly. Specific duties may include testing network operability, troubleshooting problems, and performing regular network maintenance.
As organizations’ productivity becomes increasingly reliant on computers and digital connectivity, the demand for trained computer network support specialists will continue to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 6% increase in this occupational field over the next decade. Wages for this profession are desirable, with the average computer network support specialist bringing in almost $65,000 per year. Top earners in the field made more than $110,000 in May 2020.
Regarding current 2-year degree jobs in demand, you won’t find a faster-growing field than occupational therapy. This field is currently growing exponentially and is expected to expand by 35% between 2019 and 2029. This expansion will result in more than 16,000 new jobs for graduates of associate’s degree programs in occupational therapy by the end of the decade.
As a large sector of the U.S. population becomes elderly, the services of occupational therapists and their assistants will become increasingly important. These healthcare professionals provide invaluable medical assistance and treatments to help patients regain or develop necessary life skills and functions. Occupational therapy assistants commonly work with patients directly, helping them perform exercises to improve their range of motion or motor skills.
As some of the best associates degrees to get a job available, two-year credentials in occupational therapy can yield an impressive return on investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that occupational therapy assistants make nearly $63,000 per year on average. With experience, their salaries can exceed $80,000 annually. The best associate degrees to get a job in occupational therapy have received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
Another contender for the best associates degrees to get a job in demand right now is the occupation of a respiratory therapist. BLS job growth predictions indicate that the demand for trained professionals in the field of respiratory therapy will increase by nearly 20% over the next decade. This growth is attributed to an increased incidence of respiratory problems that come along with normal aging and other factors, such as worsening environmental conditions and the need for respiratory therapists in non-traditional clinical environments like nursing homes and physician’s offices.
Respiratory therapist jobs are not just in-demand, though; they’re also some of the highest paying associate degree jobs available. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these allied health technicians make nearly $63,000 a year on average, with the potential to make almost $90,000 annually.
A two-year degree in respiratory therapy is usually enough to secure a job in the field, but a bachelor’s credential may be required for some positions. The best associate degrees to get a job in this particular subfield of allied health are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (COARC).
In line with MRI technology and diagnostic medical sonography, radiography is another of the 2-year degree jobs in demand right now due to the increased need for diagnostic procedures among the growing elderly population. According to BLS projections, jobs for these radiologic technologists will grow by 7% in the decade between 2019 and 2029—faster than the average occupation.
Radiologic technicians, also known as radiographers, use diagnostic imaging procedures such as x-rays to examine patients and scan for medical conditions and problems. They must be knowledgeable in using specialized medical equipment and report to doctors and other medical professionals regarding patient records and test results. Radiologic technicians are well-compensated for their work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these allied health professionals make nearly $62,000 per year on average. Those in the most lucrative positions earn over $92,000 annually.
Students who graduate from community colleges and technical schools accredited by the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT) will have the best job prospects in radiography.
When deciding whether to attend a community college or university for your post-secondary education, you’ll hear many false claims. For instance, some critics of two-year schools may say that they lead to dead-end jobs, or worse, unemployment. There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, though. Community college degrees aren’t for underachievers, despite what you may have heard. In fact, some of the best associates degrees to get a job that is both high-paying and secure come from two-year community colleges and technical schools. Most of these positions are in the field of healthcare and information technology. Still, there are also decent opportunities in other industries, including paralegal studies, environmental science, social science, and engineering. Whatever your field of interest, don’t count community colleges out of the equation before fully exploring their potential to make your career dreams come true!
- Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)
- American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (AART): Educational Programs
- American Registry of Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists (ARMRIT): Schools
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Occupational Outlook Handbook
- Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs: Programs
- Commission on Accreditation for Respiratory Care (COARC): Programs
- Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA): Programs
- Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology (JRCERT)
- Joint Review Committee on Educational Programs in Nuclear Medicine Technology (JRCNMT): Programs