Instrumentation Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in instrumentation? Find out degree program requirements, online options, and info on courses and instrumentation training programs.
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Studying Instrumentation: Degrees at a Glance

The instrumentation field delivers support services to the automation and manufacturing industries. People who work in instrumentation occupations apply their knowledge of high-tech machinery and their components to the diagnosis, repair, and maintenance of many types of machines. Instrumentation professionals work in a range of settings, including power plants, product manufacturing facilities, and refineries. Employers want candidates skilled in the calibration of equipment, electrical control devices, and programmable logic controllers.

The associate's degree program delivers the basic knowledge required to function safely and efficiently in manufacturing environments. The bachelor's degree emphasizes the knowledge and skill required to pursue a career in industrial or automation engineering. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that several careers in the industry face slow job growth. Robotics technicians would see between -2% and 2% job growth over the 2010-2020 decade (www.bls.gov). Similarly, electronics engineers would see between 3% and 9% job growth, reported the BLS.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People seeking entry-level technical support positions in the manufacturing industry Individuals who want to pursue a career in electronics or industrial engineering
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Robotics technician ($51,000)*
- Electrical and electronics engineering technicians ($57,000)*
- Industrial engineering technologist ($59,000)*
- Industrial engineer ($77,000)*
- Electronics engineer ($92,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60 credits - Roughly 120 credits
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma or equivalent
Online Availability None found as of September 2012 None found as of September 2012

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's in Instrumentation

The associate's degree program provides the basic skills necessary to troubleshoot, maintain, operate, and monitor machinery and instruments. Programs provide a foundation in working with fluid processors, level measurements, control valves, and distillation columns. The hands-on nature of the work requires real-time training in simulated environments; as such, you'll spend substantial time working in a laboratory. You'll also gain an understanding of health and safety in manufacturing and food processing plant, wastewater treatment facilities, and public utility environments.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Median annual salaries were relatively competitive; electrical and electronics engineering technicians earned $57,000*
  • Pursuing an instrumentation degree might prepare you for multiple career opportunities in different environments
  • Programs prepare students to transfer to a bachelor's degree program in a related discipline

Cons

  • Electrical and electronics engineering technicians would see a -2% to 2% change in jobs over the 2010-2020 decade**
  • Associate's degree programs don't prepare students for engineering positions
  • Certification and re-certification will require a commitment of time and financial resources

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

The associate's degree program develops a student's understanding of health and safety, roles in the industry and equipment operation. You'll learn to interpret instrumentation diagrams and start, operate, and safely shutdown common equipment. Programs combine general education and subject-matter coursework to deliver a well-rounded education. Following are some common courses offered by the program:

  • Process instrumentation
  • Quality control
  • Specialized production
  • Process control
  • Instrumentation physics
  • AC/DC circuits
  • Electrical safety codes

Online Degree Options

The development of practical skills requires hands-on training. Consequently, very few, if any, online instrumentation degree programs exist. ABET - the standard accreditation organization for engineering programs - doesn't currently accredit online programs in instrumentation. Keep in mind that access to certain credentials, including certification, usually rely on obtaining a degree from an accredited program. If you do find online instrumentation training, consider researching the accrediting agency and inquiring about your certification options.

Stand Out with This Degree

Validating your skills through certification might increase employment prospects. The International Society of Automation (ISA) offers several industry-related designations. You can pursue the Certified Automation Professional or the Certified Control Systems Technician credentials, depending on your desired career path. Both programs require that candidates meet minimum education, training, and experience foundations. In addition to gaining certification, it's advisable to pursue internships and participate in several lab courses to increase your practical experience; many employers prefer to hire candidates with demonstrable experience.

Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering

The bachelor's degree program offers a wider range of education options. Most schools design programs in electrical, mechanical, or electro-mechanical engineering and deliver the foundation or classes required to develop an interest in instrumentation. Programs emphasize mathematics and the sciences through a curriculum designed to address modern-day engineering problems. Programs offer areas of specialization in mechanics and materials, general mechanical engineering, and mechanical systems, to name a few. Similar to the associate's degree program, you'll spend substantial time in a laboratory using instrumentation equipment.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Median annual salaries were competitive; electronics engineers earned $92,000 with the appropriate experience*
  • Program flexibility allows students to select from multiple specializations
  • Some programs offer substantial opportunities to gain experience through internships and cooperative education programs

Cons

  • Salaries for some positions were comparable to those of associate's degree holders; electrical and electronics engineering technicians earned $57,000, and industrial engineering technologists earned $59,000*
  • Industrial engineering technologist, electronics engineer, and industrial engineer jobs were expected to grow only 3%-9% over the 2010-2020 decade**
  • Research and development positions will most likely require a master's degree

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2010-2020 job growth projections).

Courses and Requirements

Instrumentation bachelor's degree programs require roughly 40 credits of advanced coursework in engineering topics. Schools spread the remaining course requirements out among general education, mathematics, sciences, and lower-level subject-matter courses. You can expect to take classes in a range of disciplines, including engineering physics, mechanical engineering practice, measurements and instrumentation, manufacturing engineering, thermodynamics, heat transfer, and statics. Additionally, many programs require that seniors participate in a design project. Design projects synthesize your knowledge with practical experience using computer-aided design, modeling, and conceptual designs.

Online Degree Options

Like the associate's degree, very few online bachelor's degree programs exist. Pursuing a non-ABET accredited program might affect your ability to achieve certification or licensing. Consequently, inquiring about a program's accreditation and cross-referencing the information with your certification or licensing plans is important.

Stand Out with This Degree

Pursuing certification and gaining the appropriate experience might increase your competitive edge. Employers require bachelor's degrees for entry-level engineering opportunities, but a strong background in mathematics, the sciences, and common technologies might boost your marketability.

  • Take advantage of several internships, senior projects, and cooperative education opportunities during your studies. Multiple experiences will develop a diverse background.
  • Pursue the certification offered by the ISA.
  • Consider taking the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination offered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. The FE is the first step to receiving a Professional Engineer license, which the BLS recommends for government contracting positions.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. ECPI University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor's - Electronics Engineering Technology
      • Bachelor's - Mechatronics
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Excelsior College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS in Electrical Engineering Technology (Electronics)
      • BS in Electrical Engineering Technology (Nanotechnology)
      • BS in Electrical Engineering Technology (Power Systems)
      • BS in Technology (Electronic / Instrumentation Technologies)
      • Bachelor of Professional Studies in Technology Management (Electrical Technology)
      • BS in Technology (Electromechanical Technologies)
  • Okmulgee, OK

    Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology

  • Pocatello, ID

    Idaho State University

  • Elko, NV

    Great Basin College

  • Stanford, CA

    Stanford University

  • Cambridge, MA

    Harvard University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Okmulgee, OK

    Oklahoma State University

  • Durham, NC

    Duke University

Featured Schools

ECPI University

  • Bachelor's - Electronics Engineering Technology
  • Bachelor's - Mechatronics

What is your highest level of education?

Excelsior College

  • BS in Electrical Engineering Technology (Electronics)
  • BS in Electrical Engineering Technology (Nanotechnology)
  • BS in Electrical Engineering Technology (Power Systems)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology

Idaho State University

Great Basin College