Associate degree

An associate degree (or associate's degree) is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges and universities upon completion of a course of study intended to usually last two years or more. It is considered to be a higher level of education than a high school diploma or GED. The first associate degrees were awarded in the UK (where they are no longer awarded) in 1873 before spreading to the US in 1898. They have since been introduced in a small number of other countries.


In 2004, Australia added "associate degree" to the Australian Qualifications Framework.[1] This title was given to courses more academically focused than advanced diploma courses, and typically designed to articulate to bachelor's degree courses.[2]


Associate degrees in arts and science are offered as provincial qualifications in British Columbia. They are similar to the US associate degree, consisting of a two-year course and allowing articulation onto the third year of bachelor's degree courses.[3][4]

Other provinces of Canada do not offer associate degrees as such, but do offer sub-bachelor's higher education qualifications, e.g. the one-year certificate, two-year diploma, and three-year advanced diploma in Ontario.[5] In Quebec, the Diplôme d'études collégiales (diploma of college studies), taught at post-secondary collèges d'enseignement général et professionnel (colleges of general and professional education; cégeps) can be a two-year pre-university qualification that is a pre-requisite for entry onto (three year) bachelor's degree courses, or a three-year technical programme preparing students for employment.[6]


Qualifications on the short cycle of the Bologna Process/level 6 on the European Qualifications Framework sit between secondary education and bachelor's degree level and are thus approximately equivalent to an associate degree. Such qualifications include the Foundation degree (FdA, FdSc, FdEng), Certificate of Higher Education (CertHE) and Diploma of Higher Education (DipHE) in the United Kingdom,[7] the Higher Certificate in the Republic of Ireland,[8] and the French Diplôme Universitaire de Technologie (DUT) and Brevet de Technicien Supérieur (BTS).[9]


In the Netherlands, there were four pilots between 2005 and 2011 to assess the added value of the associate degree.[10] In 2007 the associate degree was added to the Dutch system of higher education within the Higher Professional Education (HBO) stream taught at universities of applied sciences (hogeschool). Associate degree courses form part of HBO bachelor's degree courses, and advising requirements are the same for the two-year associate degree and the related four-year bachelor's degree. Those gaining the associate degree may proceed to an HBO bachelor's degree in only two years, but it does not articulate to bachelor's degrees in the research oriented (WO) stream.[11]

United Kingdom

The title of Associate in Physical Science (Associate in Science from 1879) was used by the University of Durham College of Physical Sciences (now Newcastle University) from the 1870s.[12] It required (in 1884) passes in three of mathematics, physics, chemistry and geology, and allowed students to go on to take the examination for the Bachelor of Science.[13] As a university-level qualification lying below the bachelor's degree, this is considered to be the world's first associate degree in the modern sense, having been first awarded in 1873, 25 years prior to the introduction of associate degrees into the US by the University of Chicago.[14] Durham also introduced an Associate in Theology in 1901. Both of these have since been discontinued, although the date of their withdrawal is unknown.[15] There were thirteen different types of associate degrees offered in British universities in 1927.[16]

The title of Associate in Arts, introduced by the University of Oxford in 1857 and sometimes referred to as the degree of Associate in Arts, predates the Durham degree. However, it was an examination for "those who are not members of the university" and who were under the age of 18; as such it was at the level of a high school qualification rather than a modern associate degree. Examinations were held in English, languages, mathematics, science, drawing and music, with the title being conferred on those who students who passed any two (as long as the two were not drawing and music).[17]

British equivalents to associate degrees vary depending on the national system which issued them. Based on assessment by the UK NARIC, American and Canadian associate degrees are considered equivalent to one year higher education courses such as the Higher National Certificate at level 4 of the British Framework for Higher Education Qualifications. Australian associate degrees, however, are considered equivalent to two year higher education courses such as the Higher National Diploma at level 5 on the framework.[18]


A two year education on BA-level is called Høgskolekandidat, translated "university college graduate".[19] Only a few professions require 120 ECTS, e.g. piano tuner, driving instructor.

Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, associate degrees were first introduced into the territory in 2000 with the aim of increasing the number of students with post-secondary qualifications.[20] As originally introduced, the qualification took two or three years, but this was reformed in 2012 to a two-year course. The associate degree is designed as a general academic education qualification, compared to the more vocational Diploma/Advanced/Higher Diploma, and allows articulation onto the third year of a four-year (US-style) bachelor's degree or the second year of a three-year (British-style) bachelor's degree.[21] A survey in 2016 showed that most students believe associate degrees will help them to get onto bachelor's degree courses, but not (by themselves) in gaining a career; however only 30% of associate degree graduates gained places for further study, leading to accusations that the degree is "a waste of time and money" and calls for the government to address this by making more bachelor's degree places available.[22] This has been criticized, with others saying that education had benefits beyond income, which is only a short-term measure.[23]

United States

In the United States, associate degrees are usually earned in two years or more and can be attained at community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools, and some colleges, as well as at some universities. A student who completes a two-year program can earn an Associate of Arts/Associate in Arts (AA)[24] or an Associate of Science/Associate in Science (AS) degree.[24] AA degrees are usually earned in the Liberal Arts and Sciences such as humanities and social science fields; AS degrees are awarded to those studying in applied scientific and technical fields and professional fields of study. Generally, one year of study is focused on College level General Education and the second year is focused on the area of discipline.

Students who complete a two-year technical or vocational program can earn an Associate of Applied Science/Associate in Applied Science[24] This type of program is designed for persons seeking direct employment upon completion.

Transfer admissions in the United States allows courses taken and credits earned on an AA, AS, or AAS course to sometimes be counted toward a bachelor's degree via articulation agreements or recognition of prior learning, depending on the courses taken, applicable state laws/regulations, and the transfer requirements of the university.[25]


The Student Transfer Achievement Reform Act was signed into legislation on September 29, 2010, which is a legislation that grants any California Community College student who has earned the Associates in Arts degree for Transfer (AA-T) or the Associate in Science degree for Transfer (AS-T) will be granted priority admission to the CSU (California State University) into a similar baccalaureate (BA) degree program with a guarantee of junior standing. [26]

See also

  • University portal



  1. "Introduction of Associate Degree in 2004". Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board. Archived from the original on August 5, 2004. Retrieved 19 January 2016.
  2. "Main features of the Associate Degree". Australian Qualifications Framework Advisory Board. Archived from the original on August 5, 2004. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  3. "Associate Degrees". British Columbia Commission on Admissions and Transfer. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  4. "Associate Degrees". Douglas College. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  5. "Diploma Programs at Ontario Colleges". Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  6. "Postsecondary Education in Quebec". Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials. Retrieved 20 January 2017.
  7. "The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA)" (PDF). Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 December 2011. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  8. "Recognition Ireland Statement on US associate degree". Archived from the original on May 27, 2013. Retrieved 2014-02-12.
  9. "EQUIVALENCE DE DIPLOME (Degree equivalence)". Retrieved 2014-03-29.
  10. Archived March 5, 2012, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. "The Dutch Education System described" (PDF). EP-Nuffic. January 2015. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  12. William Crookes (1877). The Chemical News and Journal of Physical Science. XXXVI. p. 128.
  13. The Durham College of Science Calendar 1884, pp. 13, 24.
  14. Levine 1978, p. 158: "The world's first associate's degree, the associate in science, was awarded by England's University of Durham in 1873. The University of Chicago awarded the first American associate's degree in 1898. It offered associate in arts, associate in literature, and associate in science degrees."
  15. Groves 2011, pp. 160–161, 369.
  16. Palinchak 1973, pp. 64–65.
  17. Acland 1858.
  18. "Summary guide to HNC and HND qualifications" (PDF). Retrieved 22 January 2016.
  19. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 July 2017. Retrieved 13 July 2017.
  20. "Get An Associate Degree in Hong Kong". South China Morning Post. 1 August 2014.
  21. "Q & A on Sub-degree Programmes". Information Portal for Accredited Post-secondary Programmes. Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Retrieved 19 January 2017.
  22. "Associate degree not career booster: Survey". China Daily Asia. 11 July 2016.
  23. Victor Fung Keung (6 September 2016). "Don't see Hong Kong's associate degrees as substandard".
  24. 1 2 3 "Degree Programs". College of DuPage. Retrieved 1 August 2016.
  25. "Student Zone – College – Finding/Applying". College Zone. Archived from the original on July 18, 2013. Retrieved 2013-07-25.
  26. "Cal State University". California State University Transfer Requirements.


Acland, T. D. (1858). Some Account of the Origin and Objects of the New Oxford Examinations for the Title of Associate in Arts, and Certificates for the Year 1858. London: J. Ridgway. Retrieved 18 April 2018. 
Allen, I. Elaine; Seaman, Jeff (2006). Making the Grade: Online Education in the United States, 2006. The Sloan Consortium. 
Bragg, Ann Kieffer (1982). Fall 1979 Transfer Study. Report 3: Second Year Persistence And Achievement. Springfield, Illinois: Illinois Community College Board. ERIC ED230228. 
Groves, Nicholas, ed. (2011). Shaw's Academical Dress of Great Britain and Ireland (3rd ed.). Burgon Society. ISBN 978-0-9561272-3-5. 
Koltai, Leslie (1984). Redefining The Associate Degree. Washington: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges. ISBN 978-0-87117-131-3. ERIC ED242378. 
Levine, Arthur (1978). Handbook on Undergraduate Curriculum. Jossey-Bass Publishers. ISBN 978-0-87589-376-1. 
Palinchak, Robert (1973). The Evolution of the Community College. Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow Press. Retrieved 17 April 2018. 
The Durham College of Science Calendar: Session 1884–1885. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Lambert and Co. 1884. Retrieved 17 April 2018. 
Wittstruck, J. R. (1985). Requirements For Certificates, Diplomas And Associate Degrees: A Survey Of The States. Denver, Colorado: State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. 

Further reading

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