Diplomas vs. Associate Degrees

health care programs, diploma vs. associates

When it comes to browsing health care programs at Concorde Career College to find the one that's right for you, one of the factors that might work into your decision is whether, at the end of the program, you receive a diploma or an associate degree.

Currently, Concorde offers 22 health care programs among its 16 campuses across eight states. Of those 22, 10 are offered as associate degree programs, six are diploma and five are offered in both at some campuses (one other program is offered as a bachelor's degree).

All of which might get you to thinking - what are the differences between a diploma and associate degree? What are the pros and cons? How do specific industries/job sectors view each? And, most important, which is the right fit for me?

We spoke with Jim Thompson, Vice President Compliance and Regulatory Affairs, and Graham Nott, Vice President of Academic Affairs, to answer these important questions, and more.

Time is Changing

Typically, in a diploma program, coursework is narrowly focused on the field itself, the training designed specifically for the tasks you'll be performing on the job.

Associate degrees include some general studies courses, such as English and Psychology. Because of the more focused curriculum, diploma programs generally take less time to complete than associate degrees.

For some programs, associate degrees are offered because it is required by programmatic accreditors, Thompson said.

But, Thompson is quick to add that, in most instances, employers don't grade level of pay based upon whether an employee has an associate or diploma. Therefore, which program is right for you simply depends upon your educational and career goals.

This especially is true if there is a choice between a diploma and an associate degree in the same field.

"If the goal is to go to work as soon as you can... then a diploma is probably the way to go," Thompson said. "Where the associate may come into play is if you're wanting to move into a supervisory role later on. An associate might give a leg up on the competition for that job. It also opens up opportunities for furthering your education, should you choose to do that."

"But, for an entry-level job, the pay is the same, so why not get out and get into the job as quickly as you can?"

Thompson pointed to two health care fields - medical assistant and dental assistant - and compared percentages in each between diploma recipients and associate degrees.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65 percent of all medical assistants hold diplomas, while 18 percent have associate degrees, while 63 percent of all dental assistants hold diplomas to 12 percent associate.

Change is on the Way for Some Health Care Programs

Nott agrees with Thompson that the "diploma certainly is quite a bit faster and more focused. An associate degree is a lot of times a stepping stone to a more advanced degree."

Nott added that more accrediting bodies, and for that matter more health care fields, are moving toward higher degree requirements to become licensed and/or certified to work.

"It's starting to be that way," Nott said. "Some accreditors have already announced that they will move to an associate degree as a minimum requirement for licensure starting a few years from now. Others are continuing to study the benefits of an associate but are considering it."

For now, though, Concorde will continue offering excellence in both diploma and associate degrees.

"It's our philosophy that we want you out in the workplace as quickly as possible," Thompson said. "That's why you came to us."

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