Best Online Associate Degrees in Computer Science: A Guide to Online Programs for 2022

Best Online Associate Degrees in Computer Science: A Guide to Online Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Technological acceleration has undeniably delivered more progress in the world, and Peter Diamandis predicts that compared to the changes that occurred in the past 100 years, in the 21st century every industry will be frequently reinvented as ushered by developments in technology. If you are thinking of exploring a career in the information technology (IT) sector, now is the best time to take the first step by signing up for an online associate degree in computer science.

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics projections, the employment of associate degree holders in computer science is expected to grow 8% from 2019 to 2029, which is faster than the average. In fact, when the US unemployment rates soared during the first quarter of 2020, computer and mathematical occupations recorded only a slight decline at -1.2 and -1.1, respectively (NFAP, 2021; BLS, 2021).

An online associate degree in computer science gives a student a broad overview of the information technology field, with emphasis on programming concepts. This two-year computer science degree online program provides a solid foundation for using technology and algorithmic thinking in problem-solving. Common topics include computer languages, object-oriented analysis, and software architecture.

Once completed, students can land entry-level information technology jobs like those of computer support specialists or web developers. Latest labor data shows that the median annual salary for computer support specialists is $54,000, and $75,000 for web developers. Associate degree completers may also work as computer systems administrators and computer programmers with a roughly $80,000 median annual wage. Graduates of an online associate degree in computer science can select their career paths after graduation, or they can advance to a bachelor’s degree in web development and eventually a master’s degree.

This article provides a guide for choosing the best online associate degree in computer science. While an online course does not differ much from on-campus programs, the important factors that you have to take into account, such as program design, cost, accreditation, and the overall quality of the online degree program are identified. How it differs from traditional and online programs are also included, along with a discussion on requirements for admission and course lineup.

Online Associate Degree in Computer Science Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Associate Degree in Computer Science
  5. How much does an online Associate Degree in Computer Science cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online Associate Degree in Computer Science?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Associate Degree in Computer Science
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Associate Degree in Computer Science

Can you get a degree completely online?

Getting an online degree is exactly the same as taking one on-campus, the only difference is the mode of delivery. Unlike on-campus learning where you are required to attend classes at pre-determined schedules, enrolling in a fully online degree gives you the liberty to designate your personal study time.

Online learning has been an integral part of several institution’s course offerings for quite some time now as advances in technology have allowed students to access courses offered by prestigious universities from any part of the globe. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the academic community has seen a significant shift towards online education. Digital technologies are recasting higher education as an individualized activity (Castaneda and Selwyn, 2018).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

The traditional way of getting postsecondary education has declined in recent years. Employers are aware of the availability of online degree programs, and HR practitioners are recognizing that more and more graduates are completing their degrees online. Surveys have revealed that recruiters do not particularly check whether credentials were earned the traditional way or online. Rather, employers check the overall qualifications of the applicant.

Looking from the perspective of employers, McGunagle and Ziska (2020) identified in their study the employability skills of students in their work “Employability Skills for 21st Century STEM Students: The employers’ perspective” and found that skills such as self-motivation, verbal communication, problem-solving, being a team player, and being proactive are traits that employers look for, and not the type of degree earned—whether online or traditional.

Published in Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, McGunagle and Ziska (2020) concluded that “employability skills are those that help HR professionals to decide between two qualified candidates who are applying for the same job. These skills make the difference between an employee who does a task when commanded to do so versus an engaged employee who takes initiative alone and thrives when working in a team. Employability skills lead to satisfied employees who do better work and lessen the risk of absenteeism, job-hopping, or turnovers.” If you earned a fully online degree it would speak a lot about you possessing a high level of self-motivation and self-discipline, which will be perceived as positive by prospective employers.

new employee hire rate in tech gaps

Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

The course offerings of universities and colleges are regulated by global and regional organizations whose job is to ensure that institutions comply with defined standards. Computer science associate degree online programs should be accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET-approved programs are recognized worldwide because it provides assurance that the particular program, bet it traditional or online, meets the quality standards of the profession. ABET accreditation is program-specific, a type of specialized accreditation for post-secondary programs granted by institutions that already have the stamp of approval of national or regional accreditation agencies.

Source: National Foundation for American Policy

Online vs. Traditional Associate Degree in Computer Science

Online and traditional education share many similarities. Students still need to attend class, submit requirements and demonstrate learning, while teachers still need to design the lesson, facilitate discussions and assess the learning of students. Most of the time, however, traditional education is teacher-centered while online education is student-centered. In the traditional classroom, the teacher controls the flow of learning. Online learning, on the other hand, is designed around the needs of the student (Rayens and Ellis, 2018).

Institutions that offer online courses also offer the same courses on-campus. In terms of course design, there is no difference between the online and the traditional associate degree in computer science. While course materials can be accessed anytime by both online and on-campus students, traditional on-campus learning allows the student to interact in real-time with fellow students and instructors during or even outside class discussions.

Since computer science involves highly technical coursework, the traditional format permits immediate mentoring and coaching. An online associate degree in computer science is ideal for those who want to pursue formal education while performing other roles and responsibilities. Compared to the traditional format, among the advantages of an online degree are schedule flexibility, affordability, and the opportunity to learn with students from around the globe.

Flexible Schedule

An online associate degree in computer science accommodates both your personal and professional life. If you have a full-time job, you can still earn a computer science associate degree online. Online learning with its synchronous and asynchronous formats grant autonomy to online learners in choosing when and where to learn. You may also choose to accelerate your pace in online learning, in this way you would be able to finish your associate degree in less than 24 months.

Affordability

Tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, meals, and transportation—these are among the major expenses of post-secondary students. One of the main advantages of online learning is the elimination of room and board expenses, which is a big chunk of the overall cost of college attendance. In addition, your cost of living will not significantly shift as you earn your degree. Pursuing post-secondary studies online also means that you are not going to spend on other fees related to on-campus programs. Most importantly, you don’t have to quit your job or any current commitment because online learning is designed to fit in with your busy schedule.

Peer Diversity

Aside from increased flexibility and related cost advantages, enrolling in an online associate degree in computer science provides you the opportunity to establish a diverse network. Those who enroll in online computer science associate courses are usually from other countries and regions, and having them in your circle would definitely enhance your learning experience. Your perspective of technology will be enriched with a diverse set of peers in your online classroom.

Is an online degree cheaper?

While every institution has a different pricing structure, the overall cost of online learning is lower compared to on-campus learning. Learning from home, or from where you are based compared to commuting every day to attend on-campus classes, translates to significant cost savings. Tuition tends to be cheaper also if you are in-state compared to coming from out-of-state. It is important to note, however, that some institutions charge the same credit per hour rate for both online and on-campus degree programs. Overall, an online degree is still cheaper compared to taking the program in-campus.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

While employers and recruiters look into credentials, they are not very particular with the mode of delivery—whether online or traditional. This is because most online degree programs are being offered by established brick-and-mortar universities and colleges. More than the learning format, employers are more interested in checking if the degree program is accredited by the agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as well as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. For online associate degrees in computer science, accreditation by ABET gains the confidence of prospective employers.

u.s. talent shortfall in computer and math by 2030

How much does an online Associate Degree in Computer Science cost?

Based on available data, the average cost for an online Associate Degree in Computer Science in public two-year colleges is $15,900. The annual average cost is $9,600 at $320 per credit hour. There are a number of factors that affect the pricing of an online associate degree program. There are fees related to technology, online libraries, materials for the online program, and other student activity fees. To determine the overall cost, you should contact the financial aid office of the university or college to learn more about tuition costs and aid packages.

Is an online Computer Science Associate Degree worth it?

A computer science associate degree online program puts you at an advantage because the discipline is a broad technology degree, and having the foundational knowledge in programming, software development, and system design will open opportunities to work in various areas of the industry. Having a degree solidifies your abilities.

Once completed, students can land entry-level information technology jobs, such as those of computer support specialists or web developers. Latest labor data shows that the median annual salary for computer support specialists is $54,000, and $75,000 for web developers. Associate degree completers may also work as computer systems administrators and computer programmers with a roughly $80,000 median annual wage (BLS, 2021).

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that workers with an associate degree command higher weekly earnings, with a median salary of $887, than high school graduates which is at $746. Moreover, associate degree holders are less likely to face unemployment. In 2019 alone, the rate of unemployment for associate degree holders is 2.7% while for those with no college education, the rate is at 3.7% (BLS, 2021).

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

What are the requirements of an online Associate Degree in Computer Science?

Earning a computer science online associate degree is ideal for those who wish to enter the IT industry but do not have the time for a four-year bachelor’s degree. The online program provides students with the foundational knowledge necessary for entry-level computer programming positions. An online associate degree in computer science typically requires 60 to 64 credit hours and can be completed in two years.

Admission Requirements

To be considered for an online associate degree in computer science program, applicants must be able to present a high school diploma or GED equivalent. Most schools also require applicants to pass the entrance exam, including an English proficiency test for non-native English speakers. To be awarded an associate degree in computer science, you must successfully complete all courses required in the program and meet the grade point average (GPA) requirements, which is typically 2.0 to 2.25, depending on the school standards.

General Requirements

While the schedule is flexible in an online format, completing an online degree program would require self-discipline and time management skills. Since online learning involves both synchronous and asynchronous interaction, the student should be self-motivated and disciplined in performing coursework. Communication skills are also important because you will be communicating all the time in order to accomplish your coursework. And since not all communications take place in real-time, patience is also crucial as you collaborate with your fellow learners in the program.

What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

Since most of the coursework would require accessing various software via the cloud, a high-speed internet connection is a must. Students of an online associate degree in computer science may also need computers that are outfitted with specific technology as required by the computer science associate degree online program. In addition, your laptop or desktop computer should also have a camera and a microphone for your online study setup. The system requirements for your device would depend on the classroom management software and video conferencing platform being used by the institution. Schools usually provide a list of minimum technology requirements, including the required hardware and software.

web developer and designer job opening forecast

Courses to Expect in Online Associate Degree in Computer Science

The courses in an online associate degree in computer science are focused on learning to design and develop programs and applications using both mathematics and theory. Through programming, coding, and engineering software, the student learns to create new applications or enhance existing technology tools. The courses in two-year computer science degree online programs are career-specific, geared to provide students with the tools necessary to land an entry-level job after completion. Below is a sampling of courses in the computer science associate degree online program.

Fundamentals in Information Technology. This course covers the foundational knowledge in information technology and human-computer interaction, including the fundamentals of information management, programming, and networking.

Foundations of Computing. This course primarily teaches critical thinking skills through problem-solving. The focus is on the interaction of humans with technology, and the effect of that interaction on learning.

Introduction to Computer Science. This course covers foundational computer science topics, including problem analysis, testing and debugging, incremental development as well as the basics of data representation.

Discrete Math. This course covers the mathematical concepts and applications that are related to computer science, including set theory, symbolic logic, elementary number theory, and algebraic concepts. Boolean algebra, proof techniques, and directed graphs are also part of some courses.

Programming Languages. Using various programming languages, this course teaches students how to develop functional programs that adhere to industry regulations and best practices. Students will also learn that aside from thinking of functionality in developing code, the developer should also focus on creating a tool that is secure, efficient, and professional.

Operating Platforms. In this course, students’ understanding of operating platforms will be strengthened through the practice of analyzing and evaluating the characteristics, advantages, and weaknesses of each platform. This course will also enable a student to appreciate the value of software design templates as used in solving problems.

Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC). Through the lens of developers and testers, this course will let students explore the phases of the SDLC to look into the characteristics, documentation, and purpose of each stage. The aim of this course is for students to learn the principles and best practices employed to create high-quality software while also applying the SDLC stages within an agile development setting, and assessing the impact of documentation, communication, and ethics on the SDLC.

System Analysis and Design. To be able to create system models using the right industry tools, this course will teach students the principles, methods, and techniques used in systems development. While learning how to create system models, students will also learn to effectively convey technical concepts and design decisions to different audience categories.

Modeling and Simulation for the Sciences. Aside from developing computer models, this course also involves simulations using current tools and technologies for various industries.

Website Design. In this course, students will learn how Internet concepts, network protocols, and client-server communications are connected to web design in theory and in practice.

Sequential Mainframe Programming. This is an introductory course to Common Business-Oriented Language or COBOL programming language, which covers input-stream, data input, printer output, alphanumeric and numeric editing.

Object-Oriented Data. In an introductory course to object-oriented programming, students will learn about virtual functions and polymorphism in this course. I/O exception handling and design patterns, multiple inheritances, and storage management are also covered.

share of US workers in computer-related job

Things to Look for in an Online Associate Degree in Computer Science

IT-related courses and certificate programs may be ubiquitous nowadays, but in choosing an online associate degree in computer science, there are a number of factors that you have to consider to ensure that you will be getting the best education available that is worth your time and investment. The first thing you have to look for is accreditation, as this also has an impact on your employment. You also have to check the school’s reputation. Look for an institution that has a good track record, preferably a university or college whose faculty are known practitioners in the industry. Finally, look for a school that will be able to provide support in terms of technology services and student services.

Accreditation

Before committing to an online program, you should verify the school’s accreditation. ABET accreditation confirms that your education meets the global standard for technical education in computer science. Multinational corporations require the completion of accredited programs, thus, earning ABET-accredited associate degree programs will enhance your employment prospects. The ABET stamp will also be useful as you apply for licensure, registration, and certification.

Aside from the program-specific accreditation, check also the regional or national accreditation of the institution offering your chosen program. Accredited institutions are qualified for federal financial aid. Accreditation information for a particular school or program can be verified through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

School Reputation and Faculty

One way to check an institution’s reputation is to survey the current jobs of alumni. This will give you an idea of how the industry perceives the quality of graduates. The school’s web page also features the profiles of their computer science professors and instructors. Look for faculty that has actual industry experience, and are considered authorities by their peers. Faculty reputation is crucial because they serve as instructors and mentors—determining the extent of the learning. Online students have a different profile than on-campus students because the former tend to have a wider degree of responsibility: a full-time job, family, and other roles than the regular on-campus student. While students are expected to adapt, faculty should also have the capability to adapt to the changing requirements of both online and on-campus students.

Technology Resources

For computer science courses, it is essential for the school to provide cloud-based virtual environments that give students access to technology that is needed for learning. Your online associate degree in computer science should provide these resources as part of the overall program.

Student Services

Most institutions have student support services that can be reached 24/7 while other colleges have dedicated communication lines for online students. It is important to check available student services, such as in the area of admission, federal aid, counseling, or academic tutorial. Navigating college can be challenging, so you have to know what are the available support services for students.

Source: EMSI Job Posting Analytics, NFAP

Set Your Career Path In Technology

There are plenty of reasons to enroll in an online associate degree in computer science, you just have to know how to choose the best program that suits your needs and desired outcomes. Online degree programs in computer science will teach you transferable skills like reasoning and computation. The skills and knowledge that you will gain in studying online computer science associate degree cuts across the field of information technology, and gives you a solid foundation as you advance your skills in line with industry developments.

The career-focused program of an online associate degree in computer science will open doors toward a career in computing and technology, while at the same time laying the foundation for further studies into a bachelor’s program or even postgraduate studies. Whichever path you choose, earning your online associate degree in computer science will formalize your knowledge and skillset as you get ready for the next decade of technological progress.

 

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