A background in economics can lead to careers in fields including government, insurance, and market research. Economics is about choices; it is also about change. Economists have the ability to look at data and forecast trends regarding societal issues, business strategy, and budget analysis. An associate degree in economics is a solid step toward obtaining a four-year degree in economics, business administration, finance, statistics, or accounting.
Employment in economics or a related field requires at least a bachelor's degree, and many students begin with a two-year associate degree.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the employment of economists to grow by 6% between 2016 and 2026. At $102,490 a year, economists earn approximately 63% more than the national average. For this occupation, the BLS projects the best prospects for those holding a master’s degree or Ph.D. However, a bachelor’s degree in economics could be the right fit for other occupations, such as budget analyst, personal financial adviser, or researcher. The BLS projects personal financial adviser positions to grow by 15% over the same time period.
Should I Get an Associate Degree in Economics?
An associate degree in economics prepares you to either enter the workforce or transfer to a senior institution. Employment in economics or a related field requires at least a bachelor’s degree, and many students begin with a two-year associate degree. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), two-year enrollment is on the rise among college students. The NCES projects attendance at two-year schools to grow by 12% between 2016 and 2027.
Economists study numbers, patterns, and trends in data, as well as interpret what they mean for a community, corporation, healthcare provider, or school district. Economy majors learn to forecast, communicate, and devise a plan of action for business cycles, exchange rates, and healthcare costs.
As you consider an economics associate degree, make sure to weigh factors including part-time versus full-time enrollment, and online versus on-campus programs. Online programs may appeal to working professionals or someone changing careers, while on-campus programs might attract recent high school graduates who plan to major in economics at a four-year institution. Prospective students should also consider cost, location, and time commitment.
What Can I Do With an Associate in Economics?
An associate degree in economics can qualify you for a variety of career paths. Graduates may choose to become economists, or instead pursue positions in research, finance, marketing, and sales. As the BLS notes, most economists hold an advanced degree. However, a bachelor’s degree still qualifies you for many positions.
- Financial Analyst
Financial analysts help clients find the right investments for their situation. Their recommendations cover a variety of investments, including bonds and stocks. Many manage portfolios for both businesses and individuals. To work in this field, financial analysts must hold a bachelor’s degree in economics, finance, statistics, or math.
Median Annual Salary: $84,300
- Personal Financial Adviser
Personal financial advisers provide similar services as financial analysts, but they work exclusively with individuals. These clients may have modest savings or fortunes. A personal financial adviser helps clients with all types of financial planning, including for college, a family, a home, and retirement. Also like a financial analyst, personal financial advisers must hold at least a bachelor’s.
Median Annual Salary: $90,640
- Sales Manager
Economics is a social science, but it is also tied to business. This degree analyzes data and forecasts future performance, and provides the ideal foundation for a sales career. Sales managers direct sales teams, setting goals and policy for representatives. Those with bachelor’s degrees stand out, as do those with years of experience. In sales, companies value employees with direct experience.
Median Annual Salary: $121,060
- Budget Analyst
Budget analysts help enterprises organize their finances. Daily tasks include assessing assets, debt, and overall financial health. Budget analysts also evaluate proposals for feasibility and future impact. Many companies expect these candidates to have at least a bachelor’s.
Median Annual Salary: $75,240
How to Choose an Associate Program in Economics
Community colleges are usually open enrollment, meaning all applicants get in, with few exceptions. For that reason, choosing a community college depends on factors including part- or full-time enrollment, cost, and curriculum. It’s easiest to find course equivalency at four-year schools for lower-level postsecondary courses, so make sure to choose your courses and create a plan of study that will transfer easily after you obtain your associate. Associate in economics programs usually start with general education classes, then zero in on the major, with courses in macro and microeconomics, theoretical and practical application, accounting, and calculus.
Economics degrees at the two-year level don’t usually require a practicum. Online economics programs are ideal for working professionals, while on-campus programs work best for recent graduates who wish to stay at or close to home. Most community and junior colleges don’t offer specialization options, but some programs may emphasize one part of economics over another.
Applicants should always make sure their prospective colleges hold proper accreditation, especially if they plan to transfer to a four-year institution. Many colleges only accept transfer credits from schools with regional accreditation.
Associate in Economics Program Admissions
Admissions to community college differs from applying to four-year schools. Admissions for most community college programs is open enrollment, meaning anyone who applies and meets the minimum admissions criteria gets in. When you apply to a four-year college or grad school, you should apply to a mix of institutions, including both safety schools and reach schools. For community college applicants, this isn’t necessary.
Even so, choosing a junior college and program takes research and consideration. A community or junior college may not offer the program you want, in which case you may need to look elsewhere. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that the U.S. is home to 1,462 community colleges, of which 71% are public institutions. Start by looking into community colleges close to your home, then work your way outward.
- Application: The application for community college is less involved than that of a four-year institution. Most schools offer online application forms, and some states offer application services that allow students to apply to multiple colleges with a single form. In California, for example, applicants should look for “CCCApply.”
- Transcripts: For community colleges, your transcript is the most important application material. Community colleges require students to hold a diploma or a GED equivalent. Official high school transcripts provide proof of your qualification, and also help in placement (for example, if you took AP courses). Standardized test scores, like the ACT or SAT, aren’t necessary for community college applications. Your high school transcripts are free to request.
- Application Fee: The fee depends on the college, but you might qualify for a waiver. Some schools may waive enrollment fees for students who demonstrate financial need.
Educational Paths for Economics Associate Programs
Associate programs in economics are typically the first step in earning a bachelor’s degree in economics, finance, business, math, or computer science. Many students may wish to work in economics, while others may want to go in a different, but related, direction.
Students aspiring to become economists, financial advisers, investment bankers, or directors of sales must first obtain a bachelor’s degree or higher. An associate degree in economics can be that first step. According to a 2016 report from NCES, candidates with more advanced degrees have higher employment rates. For example, the employment rate for individuals with at least some college was 77% — higher than the rate for those with only a high school diploma. The NCES reported that the highest employment rate (88%) goes to young adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Finance majors focus on financial markets, theories and methodology, and management. Courses delve into strategies for managing risk, assessing trends, and developing strong decision-making skills. Finance courses tend to start during a student’s second year, so an associate degree in economics may prove the perfect segue into a finance major.
Economics deals with numbers and statistics, and for this reason, many economics majors switch to a statistics major to begin their careers in data science or research. Economics is a social science, but schools often categorize statistics under business, the college of liberal arts and sciences, math, or engineering.
- Business Administration
An economics degree introduces you to data and data management strategies. In business administration and/or management, you learn how to become an effective leader of teams, departments, and even a startup of your own. Similar to economic majors, business administration majors work across various fields, from business and finance to healthcare.
What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Economics?
Associate programs in economics vary depending on the school and program you choose. However, most parts of these programs are similar, providing students with a foundation in economics practice and theory in areas including micro and macro economics, modeling, and data analysis. Economics degrees at the associate level cover lower-division prerequisites.
Courses in an Associate Program in Economics
Depending on what school you attend, courses for a degree in economics may differ slightly. The basic curriculum; however, should be comparable. For example, any associate degree in economics program should offer an introduction to microeconomics. The sample curriculum includes basic courses you will likely find in your school’s course catalog.
- Principles of Macroeconomics
In this course, students learn the difference between micro and macro economics. It explores concepts such as output, inflation, and interest rates, plus classic and contemporary models of macroeconomics. Instructors base course content on real-world cases, taken straight from headlines on the national and global economy.
- Elementary Statistics
Students receive an introduction to basic statistical concepts. Topics should cover popular, sample, and parameter, along with elementary probability, testing a hypothesis, and the difference between normal and t-distributions. Students should know by the course’s end how to carry out tests and interpret resulting data.
- Financial Accounting
This courses teaches economics students about financial accounting systems, covering financial statements, cash flow, inventory, assets, and liability. Students learn bookkeeping fundamentals.
Calculus is essential to the economics and mathematics majors. As a statistician or economist, you must apply calculus formulas in your analysis and data interpretation. An introductory calculus course covers concepts such as single variables, derivatives, and indefinite integrals.
- Introduction to Econometrics
This course is more common in the third or fourth year of economics degrees, but students enrolling in associate programs should also look for it. If available, this course covers the testing of economic theories using real-life economic data. Econometrics is fundamental to forecasting.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Economics?
Associate degrees take full-time students about two years to complete. Students enrolled in an associate degree in economics must obtain at least 60 semester credits, or 90 quarter hours, to graduate. Students who attend part time take about twice as long to fulfill all degree requirements. On average, part-time students take anywhere from three to five years to earn an associate degree.
One factor that could affect program length is a student’s credits coming into the program. A student who took and passed a variety of advanced placement classes in high school may enroll into a two-year program with many core GE courses already complete. Otherwise, they should plan to earn 30 to 45 credits per year. Full-time students take 12 to 18 credits per term. Summer sessions provide students with a chance to earn six more credits. If you work during your schooling, it can help offset costs.
How Much Is an Associate in Economics?
An associate degree costs significantly less than the first two years at a four-year institution. As a result, many students choose to begin their postsecondary careers at the associate level. The true cost of attendance varies by school. The College Board adds that the quicker a student earns their two- or four-year degree, the less they pay for their degree overall.
In its 2017 report on Trends in College Pricing, the College Board estimated a rise in tuition across two- and four-year institutions. At public two-year colleges, in-district tuition rose 2.9% year over year from 2016 to 2017. The College Board notes that location impacted tuition; certain states, like California, charged significantly less than other states. In fact, California charges community college students 82% less than Vermont. Many community college students live at home during their time in school; this means savings on room and board. Staying local (or attending school online) also reduces overall costs by eliminating transportation expenses.
Professional Organizations in Economics
Minus networking, there is a variety of benefits to joining a professional organization. These organizations often offer scholarships and internships to their members, plus access to journals, workshops, mentoring, and annual conferences, which offer opportunities to network and learn from industry leaders. Members also gain access to job boards, career services, and veteran advice.
Established in 1885, AEA is for economists, the oldest organization for promotion of the field and economic research. Originally, AEA was open only to economics professors, but it has since grown to welcome economists from all levels of learning. The organization has 20,000 members and is growing.
NABE caters to business economists. Members come from academia, business, and economics, and all use economics in business.
Founded in 1979, this organization focuses on economics as it pertains to the environment and the use of resources. Membership in AERE features economists from more than 30 nations.