Associate in Economics Degrees & Programs Guide

Associate Degree in Economics Career Options & Salary

Economics is a social science that evaluates phenomenon relative to how humans relate to external values, especially finances. They measure how items are valued including services, hard assets, energy resources, and even labor. Economists even help cities conduct their urban planning initiatives by providing an economic impact study for a new road or development. Thus, the field of economics is quite broad and these days it includes data analytics, high-level mathematical modeling, and social issues such as race and gender. Economists are found working in the business media, banks, industry, and academia.

If you are interested in pursuing a degree in economics, keep reading this page. This fascinating field will surely offer a lifetime of personal and financial rewards.

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Requirements of an Associate Degree?

An associate degree is a two-year college degree that is most often earned in a community college. Some four-year colleges also confer an associate degree provided that the requirements are satisfied. Students pursue these degrees as a fast-track to starting a career or as a way to knock out the first two years of a bachelor's degree at a lower cost. Since tuition rates at community colleges are often lower than at their four-year counterparts, students can achieve a degree with lower cost.

Generally speaking, an associate degree is comprised of 60 credit hours. Most of those hours are spent completing a typical core curriculum. Those are the math, writing, and other core courses that are most often required for a full four-year undergraduate degree. Associate degree holders thus have the same fundamental liberal arts education as any undergrad. If those students later choose to pursue a bachelor degree, they can focus on their major courses.

Keep in mind that there is no guarantee that all 60 hours of an associate degree will transfer to a four-year institution. However, the chances are greater for students who intend to transfer from a public community college into an affiliated public college or university.

Where Do You Earn an Economics Associate Degree?


If you want an associate degree, the first place to look is your local community college. This is the traditional outlet for these two-year degrees. If you are in a larger metropolitan area you may be able to choose between several schools, or a single community college that is spread over multiple campuses. Most often, if you are primarily on one campus but need courses from a different location you won't even need to transfer credits.

On the other hand, many larger four-year colleges and universities offer associate degrees. Each school and department handles these degrees in its own way. That is, some only offer associate degrees in specific fields and not in others. For instance, a business college may offer an associate degree in marketing but not in finance. Others have general standards that allow students to complete a two-year degree in nearly any field.

Online Vs. Traditional Education in Economics

The differences between an online and an on-campus degree in economics aren't as many as you might think. In fact, there are many colleges and universities that offer their economics degree students the option of choosing online, on-campus, or some blend for their associate degree. Since the COVID pandemic hit in 2020, this blended method may be the norm for many economics students.

Economics is one subject that lends itself well to online education. All you need to study it is a textbook and access to a library or other information repository. You may also need a spreadsheet program like Microsoft Excel or LibreOffice Calc, which is a free, open-source spreadsheet application. Essentially, an online economics student needn't miss out on anything at all.

In fact, if you are taking an online economics course with students from all over the nation and world, your distance might work in your favor. If you're studying macro or microeconomics, students from far-flung locales can gather information from their region for comparison with that of others. This can result in interesting group projects and a broader view of how various economic policies manifest on the local level.

Upon graduation, an online student needn't worry about whether their degree will be respected more or less than that of a traditional student. The most important thing will be that you've graduated and whether your associate degree program was accredited. In fact, the self-motivation that is necessary for an online degree may help you in an interview.

What Are the Prerequisites or Admission Requirements?


Most community colleges have a low bar for admission. The admission requirements for an associate degree program are typically a high school diploma or a GED. If you wish, you might submit SAT or ACT scores, but those are often unnecessary. Though some community college programs may have extra admissions requirements, this is uncommon. Keep in mind that if you choose a four-year college or university for your two-year economics degree that you may need to apply just as though you were pursuing a bachelor’s degree.

To enter a bachelor's degree program, students often need to submit detailed official transcripts from all of the school's they've attended, SAT or ACT scores, an admissions essay, and letters of recommendation. In fact, if you complete an associate degree in economics from a community college and wish to complete a full bachelor’s degree in economics, you will need to go through that process. For this reason, make sure you work hard to achieve the best grades to ensure admission to the best four-year program possible.

Why Earn an Econ Degree?


An associate degree in economics can be a terrific choice for students who may need an easier time with initial admissions and who are seeking an educational value. Since some states are offering community college education for free or for a drastically reduced cost, this is a terrific option for residents of those states. You can also get started in the working world a bit faster with a two-year degree.

If you earn an associate degree in economics, you can surely find an entry level position with a business, bank, or even a non-profit that will provide insights and experience. This position can help you decide exactly what you'd like to do next. That is, you may find new educational opportunities or discover a specific focus for your bachelor's degree.

When you eventually apply to a bachelor’s degree program, you can capitalize on your previous degree and work experience. Admissions counselors love to find students who have practical experience they can bring to the classroom. Furthermore, if you remain at work, you might receive tuition reimbursement or a raise and promotion to match your increased knowledge.

Why a Degree in Economics?


A degree in economics is a terrific choice for a student who is interested in working in business. To achieve the degree, you need to become astute at quantitative analysis, critical thinking, and communication. For papers and projects you'll need to be able to assess economics data and arrive at valid conclusions. Very often you'll need to prepare detailed written reports and deliver your findings in a class presentation.

For your career path, you will find that many institutions hire people specifically as economists. These include banks, marketing departments, and even human resources departments. An economics degree will help open doors to careers as market analysts, financial analysts, and in sales. Some use associate degrees to start careers as bookkeepers, which is a terrific option at this level.

You can also enhance your educational credentials with certifications. These are often offered through professional associations and only require that you complete their courses and pass an examination. That is not to say that it's easy to attain these credentials, but with a background in economics you should be able to tackle the work.

What’s Involved in This Degree?


To earn an associate degree in economics, you will need to take a series of required and elected courses. Since an associate degree program also includes the full core curriculum, you will have limited course options. Nevertheless, you can cover vital ground. For instance, you will probably need to take macro and microeconomics. Depending on your school's program, you might also delve into global/international relations, economics of race/class/gender, and the political economy.

Depending on your school's program you might delve into special topics such as how the internet and technology impact the economy, or the economics of taxation. Some pursue a social justice angle in their economics courses and take courses that examine the economics of third world countries or very poor parts of this nation. Your education should include a course in statistics, which you might be able to take as an elective.

Common Courses

  • Introduction to Economics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Microeconomics
  • Principles of Economics – Applications in Current Events
  • Labor Markets
  • International Relations
  • Political Economy
  • Data Analytics
  • Energy, Environment and Economy
  • Financial Systems
  • Statistical Methods in Social Science
  • Monetary Policy
  • Market Design

What to Consider When Choosing an Economics Program


Accreditation


Accreditation is one of the most important considerations to weigh when deciding on an associate degree program. Since most community colleges carry at least regional credentials, you shouldn't be too concerned.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation has approved the following regional accrediting agencies (among others):

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
  • New England Commission of Higher Education
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education

You can also look for an economics degree program that has been accredited by the ACBSP, a national accrediting agency. When your degree comes from such a highly regarded program you will surely have no problem both finding an entry-level job and applying for a four-year bachelor's degree program later on.

Further Economics Education


Bachelor’s Degree


A bachelor’s degree in economics helps you build on your associate degree with courses that explore topics in more depth and detail. You can even focus your work on specific topics, such as international business or monetary policy. Some programs might also allow you to delve into projects of your own making. For instance, a four-year program might support a self-directed study of Bitcoin and the future of the blockchain technology that supports cryptocurrencies. Such specialization will help you when it comes time to interview for the jobs that align with your interests.

Master’s Degree


With a master’s degree in economics your career will start to reach all-time highs in the marketplace. This advanced degree will allow you the opportunity to delve deep into your chosen specialty area. Once you have the degree you can rise to the top of your organization or join one that provides the opportunities you need to pursue your passions. For instance, you could focus on one of the following: Public Policy, Political Economy, Business Economics, or Health Policy. Keep in mind that some programs have a more analytical approach and likely confer a Master of Science where others have more of a humanities character and bestow Master of Arts degrees.

MBA


If you've been applying your bachelor’s degree in economics for a few years and wish to go farther in the world of business, you should consider an MBA. These programs are typically structured so that you spend a full year steeped in business fundamentals. After that you might continue your study of economics or concentrate in some other area, such as Banking and Finance, Supply Chain Management, Marketing, or some other passion. No matter which concentration you choose, keep in mind that you can always return to complete another if your career would benefit from more study.

Doctorate or PhD


The highest academic degree possible is at the doctoral level. Once you have your PhD in Economics you will likely want to pursue research in an academic setting or through an economic policy institute of some sort. However, some doctorate level economists pursue work as consultants or as top-level economists for investment banks, government agencies, or a private venture.

With a PhD in Economics, you can also pursue a job as a college or university professor. If this is your intention, make sure that you work as a teaching assistant while you complete your master’s degree. Then, you can work as an associate professor while you complete your PhD. When your dissertation is complete and accepted you should qualify for a tenured position in a college or university.

Economics Certifications


On top of academic degrees, you can also pursue a certification in economics. These credentials are offered by independent professional associations and can be a terrific addition to your resume. For instance, the Association of Certified Chartered Economists offers a series of courses that lead to a certification from the Global Academy of Finance and Management.

You might pursue credentials that include:

  • Chartered Petroleum Economics
  • Chartered Industrial Economics
  • Chartered Managerial Economics
  • Chartered Energy Economics
  • Chartered Health Economics

You will need an accredited degree to qualify for the ACCE's courses, but there are options that don't require a specific degree to qualify for a certification. You could, for instance, join the National Association for Business Economics which only requires that you apply economics in your job. In fact, they allow student members. Thus, if you are able to complete their requirements to become a Certified Business Economist while still in school, you might graduate with a dynamite resume.

Earning one of these professional certifications can elevate your status in your firm and in your career in general. Since these credentials are often tied to membership in an association, you will have access to all of the resources that entails. For instance, association membership often comes with an included subscription to a periodical, job boards, and reduced fees for conferences. When you maintain your credentials through regular dues payments and continuing education units, the credentials will accrue value. That's because you can show that you have been actively pursuing more knowledge of your field over time.

Available Careers for Economics Associate Graduates


  • Bookkeeper:
    Your quantitative skills will pay off with an entry-level position as a bookkeeper. In this position you'll record and tally the daily financial transactions for your firm.
  • Sales Representative:
    With an economics degree you will have valuable insights into the microeconomic concerns of your clients. Further, you'll have a big picture, macroeconomic view that helps them navigate the broader economy.
  • Loan Officer:
    A degree in economics will certainly help you land a job writing loans for a local bank or credit union. After all, the loans you write will have a direct impact on your local economy.
  • Supply Chain Coordinator:
    This position can be a springboard to a fantastic career in supply chain management. After all, supply chains are becoming ever more important in today's business world.
  • Healthcare Administration:
    Your economics degree will come in handy if you land a position in a healthcare system. You might help assess the broader market and help the hospital deliver healthcare in the most efficient, and effective manner possible.
  • Corporate Recruiter:
    Your job will be to find the best talent to fill your client's positions. Most of this work is conducted on the telephone, but you might find yourself traveling across the country to meet top talent.

Salary Expectations


Every economics student is interested in knowing the value of their degree on the open market. Economics degrees are highly valued in today's marketplace. In fact, with an Associate of Arts in Economics, Payscale.com's research shows that the average salary is $55,000. The average salary for a worker with an Associate of Business Administration, Economics Degree earns a bit more at $63,000 per year.

These salary figures are less than what a professional with a bachelor’s degree might earn at a similar experience level. However, given that it only takes two years to earn an Associate of Arts in Economics, you can gain two extra years of experience while your friends in bachelor’s degree programs are still in school. This way you might even come out ahead by opting for a cheaper AA degree. If you later return to school to complete a four-year degree, your employer may even foot part of the tuition bill.

Even before you return for a bachelor's degree you can enhance your resume with professional certifications and additional skills. For example, you could expand your knowledge base with non-academic courses and certificates in IT topics such as programming or networking. This could lead to a position as a business IT analyst, for instance.

Outlook


The outlook for economists is also quite good these days. If you go all the way through a master’s degree in economics, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that you can expect a salary around their posted median of $105,000. Economists at this level spend much of their time conducting research and evaluating statistics. This field is expected to expand by as much as 14% percent through 2029.

On the other hand, those with an associate degree or bachelor's degree in economics can find gainful, rewarding employment, as well. For instance, a budget analyst is reported to need a bachelor's degree in economics. They earn a median salary of $77,000. Though the BLS indicates that a bachelor's degree is needed for this position, a worker with an associate degree may be able to land an entry-level position and work their way up in a few years.

Another related career path is that of an operations research analyst. The BLS shows that they apply mathematical and other analytical tools to help their firm or client achieve maximum operational efficiency. If you have an associate degree in economics you might find a job assisting an analyst and soon begin to apply the same models in your own analysis.

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