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An associate degree is an undergraduate academic degree awarded by community colleges, junior colleges, technical colleges, bachelor's degree-granting colleges, and universities upon completion of a course of study usually lasting two years. In the United States, and some areas of Canada, an associate's degree is often equivalent to the first two years of a four-year college or university degree. It is the lowest in the hierarchy of post-secondary academic degrees offered in these countries. In spite of persistent high unemployment, there is high demand for people with so-called “middle-skills” that often require no more than an associate’s degree, such as lab technicians, teachers in early-childhood programs, computer technicians, draftsmen, radiation therapists, paralegals, and machinists.
An associate degree is awarded to students who complete 90 quarter credit hours or 60 semester credit hours of schooling. Typically, on a full time schedule, this requires two years to complete.
Other requirements include "general ed" courses such as English composition, Algebra, social interaction, humanities, etc. Some people refer to associate's degrees as "two-year" degrees because it is possible to obtain the degree in approximately that length of time. For students who place into developmental (sometimes called pre-college or remedial) courses, the time will be extended since these credits will not apply toward the associate's degree.
Other credentials, called either a Certificate or a Diploma, may be awarded for specific studies that either do not meet the Associate's Degree requirements for general education or for program length. For example, certification in a particular field of information technology may only run for four to six months and will most typically require coursework only in that subject matter, without any "Gen Ed" requirement.
At 2-year colleges in the United States, more students attend part-time than full-time. To accommodate part-time students, many of whom work, most US community colleges offer required courses during evening and weekend hours and, increasingly, online (the Sloan Consortium reports that 51% of all degrees earned online are associate's degrees.)
Names of associate degrees
Data on associate degrees are frequently disaggregated by curriculum: vocational or nonvocational. The Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS) counts nonvocational degrees under the category "Arts and Sciences or General Programs," and vocational degrees fall under six headings:
- Business and commerce technologies
- Data processing technologies
- Health services/paramedical technologies
- Mechanical/engineering technologies
- Natural science technologies
- Public service-related technologies
Europe and Australia
The Foundation degree in the United Kingdom and the Higher Certificate in the Republic of Ireland  can be considered European equivalents of Associate Degrees. These programs are mainly provided through affiliated colleges at universities.
In 2004, Australia added "associate degree" to the Australian Qualifications Framework. This title was given to more academically focused advanced diploma courses. However, very few courses yet use the new title.
In the Netherlands, there were four pilots between 2005 and 2011 to assess the added value of the associate degree. In 2011 the associate degree has been added to the Dutch system of higher education as a means to close the gap with the vocational education system.
In the province of Ontario, a college is an educational institution which awards a 2-year diploma or a 3-year advanced diploma in technical or career programs. Universities offer 4 year bachelor's degrees, and at times partner with career colleges to offer joint diploma-degree programs. For example, the University of Toronto and Centennial College offer a joint Diploma-Degree program in Paramedicine. Students are eligible to enter these programs once they have completed an Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) program at a high school, focusing their studies on college preparation. Students who wish to attend university must study a different stream of academics while obtaining their OSSD. 
In the province of Quebec, an associate's degree is equivalent to a college diploma, which is delivered by a college-level institution. Students can take two different paths to obtain a college diploma. One way consists of completing a pre-university program, which normally has a duration of two years and prepares the applicant for university-level studies. The other way consists of completing a technical or career program in a college. Normally, courses of this nature have a duration of three years and enable the student to enter the work force directly after obtaining their diploma.
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In Hong Kong, associate's degrees, first introduced into the territory in 2000 with the aim to increase the number of students with post-secondary qualifications, are generally regarded as an inferior substitute to bachelor's degrees. The quality of teaching and graduates have been under doubt since it was introduced. Many degree-awarding and non-degree-awarding institutions start to offer associate's degree courses following the government's encouragement; some of them are accused of over-admission for profits. Students who do not do well enough for university admission in the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination (HKDSEE), the public examination sat by the territory's students in the final year of their secondary education, enroll on associate degree courses with the hope to obtain a place for government-funded bachelor's degree courses. As the number of university graduates continues to increase, more and more of associate's degree holders are finding it difficult to get employed and receive the salaries that were advertised by the government or the institutions. Although the recognition of associate's degrees gradually improves in recent years, it was generally regarded as one of the worst flaws of the Hong Kong education system.
In the United States, associate's degrees are usually earned in two years or less, and can be attained at community colleges, technical colleges, vocational schools, and some colleges. A student who completes a two-year program can earn an Associate of Arts (A.A.) or an Associate of Science (A.S.). A.A. degrees are usually earned in humanities, business, and social science fields. A.S. degrees are awarded to those studying in scientific and technical fields. Students who complete a two-year technical or vocational program can earn an Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.). They may also have the option to use the credits from the associate’s degree toward a bachelor’s degree.
Associates in Arts and Associates in Science degrees are offered at a number of universities around the United States including Pennsylvania State University, Florida Institute of Technology, Liberty University, and New England College.
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