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2006 October 17 - 12:00 am

Interpreting The Numbers

A total of nearly 1.4 million associate’s degrees and one- and two-year certificates were awarded in academic year 2004-’05, representing a near five percent increase from the prior academic year. Half of these awards, just fewer than 700,000 were associate’s degrees with the remaining half split fairly evenly between the two certificate types. The combined number of these certificates and degrees is just slightly less than the total number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the same year.

Community colleges, proprietary schools, and both public and private four-year institutions contribute to the total number of associate’s degrees and one- and two-year certificates awarded, albeit with community colleges still playing the dominant role, especially with regard to associate’s degree conferrals. Today’s students, who shoulder the cost burden more so than their predecessors, require the kind of flexibility, relative low cost and convenience available when pursuing certificates and associate degrees. Most students must work long hours and maintain significant family obligations while pursuing these academic credentials. The widespread locations, flexible scheduling, and increasing use of distance learning technologies enables a wide range of learners to pursue certificates and degrees at any point in their busy lives. With the fastchanging demands of the 21st century workforce, one- and two-year academic credentials are likely to play an increasing role in career and professional development.

With each year’s Top 100 analysis, we repeat the qualification that degree and certificate conferrals represent only one of several important contributions of two-year colleges to their students and their communities. Although this qualification still pertains, the kinds of program completions reviewed in this article are becoming increasingly important for workforce development purposes. As the knowledge economy advances, the education and training requirements for even modestly well paying jobs become more sophisticated and require more than just a course or two to master. Certificate and degree programs provide the level of sophistication needed for entrée and advancement through these evolving career paths. Moreover, employers understand the motivation and persistence required to complete academic programs over and above the competencies that are developed.

The current analysis features associate degrees and one- and two-year certificates conferred during the 2004- ’05 academic year as collected through the National Center for Education Statistics Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set completions survey. The data included in this analysis are considered “preliminary.” That is, the information is complete and accurate for those institutions included in the data sets but not every eligible institution is yet included. Typically, the preliminary dataset represents the vast majority of public and private, non-profit colleges and universities but is slightly less complete for proprietary institutions, particularly those that offer only certificates. These limitations rarely impact more than a few dozen among the 5,000 or so institutions that confer these degrees and certificates, and those excluded from thepreliminary dataset are usually relatively small institutions.

Our analysis considers only Title IV eligible institutions. To be Title IV eligible, an institution must be accredited by either a regional or specialized accreditation agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. We also include only institutions located in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. Excluded are institutions in U.S. Territories and Protectorates, such as Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa, as well as the U.S. Service Academies.

Istitutions completing the survey must categorize their programs and their students according to several sets of definitions and standards provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. For example, student race and ethnicity must be categorized according to one of seven standard categories that include four minority groups (Black, Non-Hispanic; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian or Pacific Islander; and Hispanic), two non-minority categories (White, Non-Hispanic; and Non-Resident Alien) and a final “Unkown” category. Similarly, the field of study completed by the student is categorized using a very extensive and elaborate system of codes known as the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). This common coding system allows us to compare degree and award program offerings across institutions.

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded a significant number of associate degrees and certificates. The institutions represent community colleges, other two-year institutions, as well as four-year colleges and universities. The primary listings each contain approximately 100 total institutions depending on the number of ties at the bottom. If a large number of institutions are tied at the 99th rank (10 or more), then they will all be excluded and the list will end at 98. On the other hand, if a few institutions are tied at the 99th rank, the list will be expanded to include all of them.

Lists that include both two-year and four-year institutions show first the degrees or certificates conferred by two-year institutions, followed by those conferred by four-year institutions. However the rankings are determined by the overall order, and so there may be some gaps in the twoyear listing that correspond to a four-year institution listed later.

We also include lists that identify which institutions confer the most associate degrees and one- and two-year certificates to students of color, as collected through the race and ethnicity categories mentioned earlier. Students typically self-select their racen and ethnicity status according to a set of choices provided by their individual institutions. These choices may differ across institutions but all institutions must report their conferrals and awards to the federal government using the standard categories. The minority racial categories include only U.S. citizens or permanent residents.

Lastly, we track degrees awarded within a limited set of academic disciplines and vocations. The academic disciplines and the individual racial and ethnic group lists will include only the top 50 institutions, with the same caveats as for the Top 100 lists regarding the number of institutions that tie for the last ranks.

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