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The 16 Best Programs for an Associate in Graphic Design in 2021

August 20, 2021 | Staff Writers

Associate in Graphic Design
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Graphic designers take a multimedia approach to grabbing attention and getting a message across. In this career you will create ad campaigns, educate and entertain with infographics, build websites, and more. An associate degree in graphic design program will train both your artistic eye and your technical skills as you work with design software.

What Can You Do With This Degree?

This is an entry-level degree that can get you in the door and honing your skills within two years. If you decide to go back to school later, the credits you’ve earned may be applied toward a future bachelor’s.

What is the Job Market Like?

The Occupational Outlook Handbook reports that Graphic Designers earn a median pay of $52,110 per year. This job market is expected to shrink by 4% over that time period.

The programs on this list were ranked according to tuition per credit hour and the credits required. In-state rates were used when possible.

The 16 Best Programs for an Associate in Graphic Design

1 (tie): Northwest College

Northwest College is located in Powell in northwestern Wyoming. Powell has a distinctly small-town energy and is not near any major city. They are 90 miles from Billings, Montana (the closest large city). Besides being the closest school to the Yellowstone National Park borders, there are the Beartooth Mountains, the Big Horn Mountains, and a lot of “high desert” surrounding the community of Powell. The Big Horn Canyon National Recreation Area is also about 30 miles away—probably the most overlooked and bypassed national park destination. Although they are only a junior/two-year college, their on-campus housing makes it feel more like a university setting. They also have a robust international student population.

You can pursue an A.A.S. and an A.A. in Graphic Design at Northwest College. The A.A. degree offering is specifically designed for students who wish to transfer to a university or senior institution where a bachelor’s degree can be earned (whether it is in graphic design or another area). The A.A.S. degree is considered a terminal degree with more graphic design courses and less general education classes since transferring is not desired. Many of their students transfer to the University of Wyoming, Montana State University, and the University of Montana, but they’re not limited to just those schools.

Northwest College has a full-on working printing facility right across the hall from their graphic design labs. Students have the opportunity to actually see production printing and often, their work will end up on one of the presses. As a result, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the student to not only come up with aesthetically-pleasing graphic design, but also graphic design that is actually possible via efficiency and affordability when it hits the presses. Finally, they also have an excellent A.A.S. commercial photography program right down the hall.

  • Tuition: $99
  • Credits: 60

1 (tie): San Antonio College

San Antonio College is the largest community college campus in the state. This college offers a robust number of degrees and certificates. A large percentage of students transfer out, furthering their education in higher level institutions in Texas.

Over the 60 credit hour program, students will explore an array of concepts including vector design, typography, corporate branding, and motion graphics. The program culminates with students developing a portfolio. Note that although a six semester course of study is typical, the final semester consists of one mathematics course. It may be possible to compress your studies into five semesters.

  • Tuition: $99
  • Credits: 60

3: Central Piedmont Community College

Central Piedmont is a bustling community college with an enrollment north of 50,000 students. It’s in Charlotte, NC, home of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Wells Fargo Golf Championship. This community college’s alumni include an Olympic gold medalist and a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Associate degrees tend to be tightly focused just on the subject matter at hand, but the A.A.S. in Advertising and Graphic Design packs a double punch. Students will explore both creating graphics and websites alongside effective advertising techniques. This allows them to walk out with a more versatile and business-focused degree.

  • Tuition: $76
  • Credits: 71

4: Valencia College

Orlando, FL’s Valencia College was founded as a junior college, but it has expanded in recent years to offer bachelor’s degrees as well. Valencia has a large student body of almost 70000 spread across eight campuses in Orange and Osceola County. It also maintains a robust schedule of continuing education programs and community workshops, many of them geared toward ESL students.

The A.S. in Graphic and Interactive Design allows students to specialize in either graphic or interactive design studies starting in the second year. Both tracks culminate in preparing a portfolio for review. There is also an internship opportunity available; this counts toward the needed credit hours.

  • Tuition: $103
  • Credits: 64

5: Foothill College

Foothill College is located in Los Altos Hills, CA, just south of San Francisco. The town is a bit eccentric. Its ban on commercial zones has survived decades of legal challenges dating back to 1973. The only businesses are Foothill College’s campus bookstore and the gift shop at the local monastery. However, all the commercial amenities you could need are a quick drive away.

This community college provides an A.A. in Graphic & Interactive Design. Students will explore a comprehensive curriculum of intensive, mostly four-credit courses. These include typography, photography, illustration, and multiple courses on website design and studio experience.

  • Tuition: $224
  • Credits: 58

6: Gateway Technical College

This public college in Kenosha, WI serves over 20,000 students. Gateway Technical College has a particular focus on supporting the educational needs of GED and HSED students. It maintains credit transfer agreements with numerous other colleges and universities in the state including the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

You can study for an A.A.S. in Graphic Communications at Gateway’s Racine and Elkhorn branches. These campuses come equipped with modern computer software and technical equipment. This lets you explore the hands-on side of the degree. Practical experience is supplemented with numerous classes on art fundamentals, illustration, and web page design.

  • Tuition: $139
  • Credits: 61

7: Delaware County Community College

Delaware County Community College serves the educational needs of Delaware and Chester Counties in Pennsylvania. This public community college is partially sponsored by a number of nearby school districts, meaning that residents of those districts pay lower tuition fees than elsewhere in the state. Delaware County also has dual admissions agreements with multiple four-year colleges near Philadelphia.

This A.F.A. in Graphic Design program is designed to offer flexibility for both career and higher education. Students can immediately enter the field with a strong foundational knowledge. They can also transfer to a four-year college to pursue a Bachelor’s.

  • Tuition: $125
  • Credits: 64

8: SUNY College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill

The name’s quite a mouthful, which is why most students attending this New York public university call it SUNY Cobleskill. It offers a number of technology, business, and hospitality related degrees. This is also a sporty college, with athletic facilities for everything from baseball to tennis. Teams regularly participate in the NCAA Division III.

SUNY Cobleskill’s A.S. in Graphic Design Technology degree is designed to foster creative thinking and flexibility in the budding graphic designers. Students work in small classes with state of the art technology. The course of study ends with a portfolio presentation.

  • Tuition: $236
  • Credits: 60

9: Portland Community College

As you can guess from the name, Portland Community College is in Portland, Oregon. The West Coast can be expensive, but community colleges like this one are an affordable option. PCC has four campuses and multiple centers throughout the area. This college is well-known for its robust non-credit, continuing education courses. Over 30,000 students a year take advantage of these learning opportunities.

The A.A.S. in Graphic Design available here is a limited entry program. The first three courses are available to all PCC students who meet the prerequisites, but you’ll need to formally apply and pass certain requirements to go farther.

  • Tuition: $123
  • Credits: 90

10: The Community College of Vermont

The Community College of Vermont is the second largest institution of higher learning in the state. Its first location was opened in Montpelier in 1970, but the college has expanded to twelve campuses. This school offers free course auditing for senior citizens for one course per semester as well as several veterans’ programs.

Students here can pursue an A.A. in Design & Media Studies. This degree has four possible focus areas: Graphic Design, Media Communications, Visual Arts, and Digital Media Production. That gives flexibility to students who aren’t quite sure what branch of design that they want to concentrate on.

  • Tuition: $280/credit (in-state)
  • Credits: 60

11 (tie): Alexandria Technical & Community College

Alexandria Technical & Community College is located in its namesake town in central Minnesota. Just off Interstate 94, Alexandria is an easy drive from Fargo-Moorhead, St. Cloud, or the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. ATCC provides on-campus housing opportunities and unique varsity sports.

Unlike several colleges on this list, the A.A.S. in Communication Art & Design degree here dives deeply into multiple areas of graphic design. Students will take multiple courses in communication design, interactive design, and design technology. This allows the budding graphic artists to develop a deeper understanding of graphic design as they master the often-complex software used in this field.

  • Tuition: $171
  • Credits: 72

11 (tie): Salt Lake Community College

Salt Lake Community College is located in Salt Lake County, UT. However, several of its campuses are not actually within Salt Lake City limits. This is the largest community college in the state and educates a highly diverse student body. Over 60,000 students attend its ten campuses and online programs.

You can study for an A.A.S. in Visual Art & Design with a Graphic Design Emphasis here. The program combines core educational skills with courses in drawing, design, software use, and portfolio development. Students can also choose from a list of electives, learning more about subjects like photography or website design.

  • Tuition: $239
  • Credits: 64

13: University of Cincinnati

With a bustling student body of almost 45000, the University of Cincinnati is one of the largest of the state. It has a number of distinctive buildings on campus including the Engineering Research Center, which resembles a 4-cylinder engine. UC also has a multi-year commitment to green initiatives and sustainability.

The UC Blue Ash campus offers an A.A. in Applied Graphic Communication. This program can be completed in two to three years of full time study. Students must own a MacBook Pro that can run the classroom software, or purchase one before classes start.

  • Tuition: $261
  • Credits: 62

14: Ferris State University

Ferris State University is a public research institution in Big Rapids, MI. It was founded in 1884 and, unusually for the time, accepted female students from the opening day. FSU has a student newspaper, a large number of volunteer organizations, and 27 sororities and fraternities.

You can study for an A.A.S. in Graphic Communications here. These courses offer learning experiences in a highly collaborative, hands-on environment. Real life scenarios are discussed in class along with problem-solving strategies. The courses taken here can also be applied toward a future B.S. in Graphic Media Management through Ferris State.

  • Tuition: $443
  • Credits: 61

15: Pratt Institute

New York’s Pratt Institute is a relatively small private university housed in Brooklyn with several satellite campuses. Pratt is well known for its fine arts and architecture programs. Campus buildings have a variety of architectural styles. One of the standouts is Pratt’s iconic Romanesque Revival clock tower overlooking the Rose Garden.

The two year A.O.S. in Graphic Design moves quickly from fundamentals to a focus on mastering the various software involved in this career. Studies culminate in a final portfolio of student work. This school also offers an A.A.S. in Graphic Design. This program emphasizes developing an artistic style, with fewer courses on software fluency.

  • Tuition: $1623
  • Credits: 66

16: The New School

Greenwich Village is home to the Parsons School of Design. It is one of five divisions of The New School, a private research university. This institution offers a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate level programs in liberal arts, humanities, music, and more. Star-studded alumni include fashion designer Donna Karan, painter Norman Rockwell, and actors like Jesse Eisenberg.

The A.A.S. in Communication Design here gives students a highly functional, hands-on learning experience in entry-level graphic design challenges. This program emphasizes both traditional art and computer program literacy to create a comprehensive overview of the field.

  • Tuition: $1700
  • Credits: 65

Choosing the right graphic design program is a big decision. If you need to learn more, take a look at our ranking guides.

Our Ranking Methodology

We found colleges across the country that offer associate degrees in Graphic Design. This list was drawn from professional associations like AIGA and government databases like the NCES.

We ranked these 16 schools based on two factors: tuition per credit hour (cheapest is best) and the credits required for the degree (lowest is best). The score was weighed with tuition making up 66.7% of the points.

Problems With Your Ranking?

Do you work at one of the colleges ranked here and you’ve seen an error? Contact us and we’ll be happy to update the list.

Find the program that’s right for you

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BestValueSchools.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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