Top 5 Online Associate in Design Programs for 2019

If you have an eye for design and a knack for working with new technologies, now is a perfect time to consider a degree in design. As mobile devices and e-commerce continues to expand, so do job opportunities for designers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, online digital design jobs are expected to grow by 27% through 2024, adding 40,000 new jobs during that time. Graphic and web designers build the websites we use to inform and entertain, and ensure readers can easily find what they need online. An online associate degree in design offers aspiring graphic artists an entry into this exciting field.



Foothill College Los Altos Hills, California

Foothill College offers an associate of arts in graphic and interactive design degree that can be earned entirely online. This 90-credit design degree teaches students the foundational methods and techniques needed to become a competitive professional designer. The curriculum emphasizes the fundamentals of drawing and photography and includes courses on a variety of topics, such as typography, digital arts and graphics, website design, careers in the visual arts, and 2-D foundations. Each student must take both an English and mathematics proficiency exam or transfer in an equivalent course with a satisfactory GPA.

Distance learners at Foothill have 24/7 access to the school's online tutoring services, as well as a community learning platform where students can help their peers with assignments. Academic counseling is also available online, allowing students to engage in a live video call with their adviser. Foothill is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.


Surry Community College Dobson, North Carolina

SCC offers eight degree programs and six certificate programs online, including an AAS in advertising and graphic design technology with a specialization in illustration, design, and digital multimedia. Students learn how to design and create layouts for various promotional materials that are commonly used by print advertising and digital media outlets. They also develop critical thinking skills and learn how to distill and synthesize large quantities of information.

The curriculum covers a variety of topics, including art appreciation, two-dimensional design, typography, digital photography, and computer graphics. Graduates with an online design degree typically pursue careers in graphic design studios, advertising agencies, newspapers, and business with dedicated design teams. Students can complete this 66-credit program in just five semesters. SCC is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.


Columbus State Community College Columbus, Ohio

CSCC offers an online associate degree in design that features an interdisciplinary approaching and helps students develop a diverse set of skills that pulls from various disciplines. This AA in digital design and graphics program encourages students to communicate their artistic ideas across several digital mediums. The curriculum covers a variety of topics, including computer design, typography and advertising design, storyboarding, and digital painting. Coursework includes individual and collaborative projects that encourage students to explore new creative stimuli and develop their own visual design concepts.

Students work with the latest technology and software, including Adobe Illustrator, InDesign, Dreamweaver, and Animate. As a result, graduates enter the workforce with a portfolio of original work that was created using industry-standard tools. Students can complete this 75-credit program in just five semesters. CSCC is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.


Community College of Vermont Winooski, Vermont

CCV offers an online associate degree in design that emphasizes advertising, publishing, web design, and various other forms of multimedia. This online design degree teaches students a broad set of skills and challenges them to become more expressive and dynamic creators. This 60-credit program emphasizes storytelling skills, self-expression, and utilizing new media as artistic and educational tools. Students must choose one of three focus areas: graphic design, media communications, or visual arts.

The curriculum includes courses on a variety of topics, such as visual communication, introduction to Adobe Creative Cloud, storytelling through media, and digital photography.

The online learning program at CCV enables students to collaborate with other students on small group projects and receive feedback from instructors. Graduates are prepared to pursue careers as graphic designers, multimedia artists and animators, art teachers, and fine artists. CCV is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.


Cuyahoga Community College Cleveland, Ohio

Tri-C offers an associate of applied business degree in visual communication and design with a concentration in graphic design. Students in this online digital design degree program develop a professional portfolio of original work throughout the program. Having a portfolio of original work can help graduates stand out when searching for jobs and increase their chances of employment. This 60-credit program features an emphasis on design for print and media, studio skills, and critical thinking applications.

The curriculum covers a variety of topics, including advertising and design, magazine design, publication design, and brand identity design. The school recommends that applicants have a high school diploma or GED, although it is not required. They must also complete a fundamentals test for English and mathematics or obtain an appropriate score on a placement test to be considered. Tri-C is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

How to Choose an Online Associate in Design Program

Designers need to be comfortable with technology, have an eye for aesthetics, and understand user behavior. A design degree program offers courses in these technical areas, while also developing a student's artistic abilities and the use of specialized design applications. Online design degree courses cover basic elements of design, such as typography, color, and design theory. Students also learn programming languages like HTML and JavaScript, and familiarize themselves with new applications for editing motion, sound, and video. Many employers want to see a portfolio of work examples when making hiring decisions, so consider whether your prospective school offers the chance to build one during your program.

While an associate degree provides a first step in this career path, a bachelor's degree can lead to project management or art director roles. If you are planning to pursue further education, select an accredited design program, as it allows for an easier transfer of credits into a bachelor’s program.

Educational Paths

While an associate degree establishes a foundation for a career in graphic design, advancement in the field may require a bachelor's degree. Available degrees include the professional bachelor of fine arts, in which students specialize in a particular medium; a bachelor's degree in design offers a broad educational foundation, with courses such as communication, history, and science; a marketing degree combines artistic vision with analytical and planning skills; and a degree in computer science explores the technical aspects of web design. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 27% increase in web developer jobs through 2024, with a median salary of $66,130.

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts

    Considered a professional degree, students in a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) develop a chosen medium, such as digital media. Schools may require a portfolio for admission to BFA programs.

  • Design

    A bachelor’s degree in graphic design provides a broad educational foundation. In addition to design and studio courses, students are expected to complete a core education program that includes coursework in communication, history, and science.

  • Marketing

    Students combine artistic talent with business acumen through a bachelor’s degree in marketing. The curriculum develops an understanding of consumer behavior and helps develop strategies to reach the target audience and measure the effectiveness of marketing programs.

  • Computer Science

    While web developers work on the user experience of web pages, computer science degrees involve the overall architecture of a website. Students troubleshoot problems when design elements do not perform as expected, and learn additional technical languages. Courses also include advanced mathematics.

Career Paths for Design Graduates

The design field offers a number of career options to leverage your creative side. Graphic designers focus on visual design, such as corporate logos or the layout of brochures, flyers, or newsletters. Web designers combine creative skills with technical ability to develop an online presence for companies, individuals, and organizations. They must also keep up with ever-changing technology and be adept at learning new software. Marketing directors or art directors combine the creative abilities of designers with the business skills necessary to form collaborative teams and work with clients. Many graduates also find employment in advertising agencies, publishing houses, or corporate offices; however, this field is well-suited to freelance and remote work options, as well.

Web designer

This position combines artistic design skills and technical coding to develop web pages and apps. Knowledge of one or more programming languages is required, and they must keep up with ever-evolving technology.

Median Salary: $48,577

Graphic designer

Graphic designers design logos, print materials, and websites using typography, color and illustrations. They may work for advertising agencies, technology firms, or corporations, and may also be hired as freelance or independent contractors.

Median Salary: $42,558


Animators create cartoons and motion graphics drawn by hand or by using a variety of computer programs.

Median Salary: $50,640

Art Directors

Primarily responsible for conceptualizing design plans, art directors communicate the artistic vision to clients and designers. The position requires project management and budgeting skills, and they use design tools as needed.

Median Salary: $62,747

Marketing Director

Marketing directors lead and develop an overall marketing plan for products and services that reaches audiences through visual and written communication. Marketing directors coordinate with teams that include graphic artists, web developers, and writers, and collect data on the effectiveness of marketing plans.

Median Salary: $83,391

Job Outlook and Salary

While employment in art and design is expected to grow only about 2% through 2024, web design offers the greatest opportunity for job growth at 27%. The continued growth of e-commerce and mobile computing has stoked demand for web designers and web developers; advertising and marketing companies are among the top employers in the field.

Prospective students should note that employment rates and salary can depend upon location, as well. San Francisco, CA, offers the highest concentration of jobs for web developers and designers, but it is the second highest paying metro area in the field, behind San Rafael, CA. The field also has a high rate of professionals who work from home or remotely -- in fact, self-employed professionals make up about one in seven positions.

Employment Growth for CAREER
Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024
148,500 188,000


As graphic designers and web developers gain more experience, they develop new skills and expand their portfolio. Continuing your education and learning new software applications will ensure that your skills stay relevant in a dynamic field. Web designers need to stay up-to-date on changes on a rapidly changing and be prepared to learn new programming languages. User interface design and e-commerce typically earn web designers a higher salary, and web designers often transition into senior designer roles that lead teams of designers or manage design projects.

To determine the best online associate in design programs, we looked at the most important factors prospective students, mainly common predictors of future success and a school's commitment to online programs. This boils down to admissions rate, student loan default rate, retention rate, graduation rate, and the percent of students enrolled in online classes. All data points are taken from information provided by colleges and universities to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Each factor is weighted evenly in order to give an objective view and determine the 10 best online associate in design programs. To calculate our rankings, we looked at a school's ranking when organized by a single factor, and then averaged each category's ranking to find an overall score: Admissions Rate (20%) + Default Rate (20%) + Retention Rate (20%) + Graduation Rate (20%) + Percent of Students Enrolled in Online Classes (20%) = Final score.