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2010 June 14 - 12:00 am

Top 100-2010_Analyzing the Data

By Victor M. H. Borden, Ph.D.
Associate Vice President and Professor
Indiana University

In most economic downturns, attention turns toward the role of postsecondary education in preparing people to adapt to changing conditions. Enrollments typically swell as the unemployed seek new avenues for future gainful employment. The current downturn is deeper and wider than any experienced since a postsecondary credential has become an essential to even basic levels of employment. The enrollment demand created by this downturn is well beyond the capacity of the public higher education sector, given the constraints on government appropriations available to subsidize student enrollment. The for-profit or proprietary sector has been able to respond to the changing market demand more rapidly, although controversies abound regarding issues of quality, recruiting tactics and student indebtedness.

It is within this context that we take our annual look at associate degrees and pre-baccalaureate certificates conferred by the nation’s diverse postsecondary institutions. Through the years of conducting this analysis, it has become clear that traditional community colleges (i.e., those in the public, two-year sector) still play a large role in this domain, but they share the market with an increasingly diverse array of other public, private-non-profit, and private-for-profit education providers. Over the last 10 years, the traditional community college has lost about 9 percentage points in the market share of associate degree conferrals, declining from roughly three quarters (74 percent) to under two-thirds of the total (65 percent). Also, as our Overall Top 100 list shows, one institution in particular — University of Phoenix Online Campus — now dominates the top spot, having conferred nearly 24,000 associates degrees in 2008-09, representing 3 percent of the national total.

> Phoenix Rising
> 2010 Rankings
> Display 1: Trends
> Display 2: Sectors

This year’s analysis of the Top 100 associate degree, one-year certificate, and two-year certificate producers examines the awards conferred during the 2008-09 academic year. We offer the usual set of tables for top producers, overall, and across a range of disciplines and professions. In this introductory article, we remind you of the data source and methods used to assemble the lists and highlight recent trends. This year’s special statistical focus is on the change in conferrals of associate degrees by sector over the last 10 years.

As usual, we recognize that degree and certificate production is just one of the many important things that community colleges, proprietary schools and the other institutions represented in this analysis contribute to their clients, communities, and constituents. But it is a very tangible and countable outcome that lends itself to analysis and ranking. We rank institutions to recognize the efforts of hundreds of thousands of faculty, staff and administrators who dedicate themselves to educating an increasingly diverse array of students.

The data for this analysis are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set (IPEDS) completions survey. The preliminary data available at this time is complete and accurate for those institutions included in the data sets, but not every eligible institution is yet included. The data are typically complete for the vast majority of public and private, non-profit colleges and universities but 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 the preliminary dataset are usually relatively small institutions.

We include within the analysis Title IV eligible institutions, that is, those that are accredited by either a regional or specialized accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. We also limit this analysis geographically to include only those institutions in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia. Therefore, we exclude institutions in U.S. territories and protectorates, such as Puerto Rico, Guam and American Samoa, as well as the U.S. service academies, such as the Community College of the Air Force, which includes more than 100 schools and offers programs at locations around the world.

The institutions that report this data use a set of definitions and standards provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. 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 method for capturing and reporting student race/ethnicity is currently in a period of transition. The traditional method for capturing this information was based on asking students to declare their racial/ethnic identity by self-selecting one (and only one) of five categories: African American or Black; Asian American or Pacific Islander; American Indiana or Alaskan Native; Hispanic; and White. Individuals who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents are separately classified as Non-Resident Alien.

Starting next year, all institutions will use the two-question format. Students are first asked if they are Hispanic or Latino. Students who answer “yes” are reported in this category. Those who answer “no” are reported according to their responses to a second question that presents five categories and asks them to check all that apply: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White. Under this new reporting format, any non-Hispanic, U.S. citizen or permanent resident who selects more than one of these five categories is to be reported in a separate category, “Two or More Races.”

Because reporting practices are in transition, we translate any institutions that report using the new system into the old format. We do this by collapsing the Asian and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander categories, and by considering those in the “two or more races” category to not be in any of the other categories. Starting next year, when everyone is using the new categories, we will display “two or more races” as a separate category.

The Top 100 Listings

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded the largest number of associate degrees and certificates. The primary listings each contain about 100 total institutions. The precise number depends on the number of ties at the bottom of the list. 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 two-year listing that correspond to a four-year institution listed later.

We also include lists that feature institutions that confer the most associate degrees and one- and two-year certificates to men and women of color, as collected through the race/ethnicity categories mentioned earlier.

Finally, the disciplinary/vocation lists include only the top 50 institutions, with the same caveats as the Top 100 lists regarding the varying number of institutions depending on ties at the bottom rank.

The Changing Scene in Conferrals

The overall trend table shows that the percentage increase in the most recent year — 6.7 percent for one-year certificates; 7.2 percent for two-year certificates; and 4.7 percent for associate degrees — all exceed the average annual change rates over the last 10 years. In fact, they each represent the third highest annual change rate in the 10-year period. This accelerated rate of increase can be seen in the graph as representing an uptick from a more stable rate of change across the prior four years. When comparing the most recent numbers to the first year in this series, the overall count of associate degrees and two-year certificates have both increased by about 40 percent and the count of one-year certificates is up nearly 60 percent.

In our final summary display, we examine in greater detail the changing profile of institutions that confer associate’s degrees over the last decade (from 1998-99 to 2008-09). We do this using a slightly revised version of what is commonly called the institutional sector, which combines the control of the institution (public, private-non-profit, and proprietary), with the highest degree level (two-year or four-year). Our revision to this standard characterization is to pull out of the public, four-year sector, those institutions that predominantly offer associate degrees but, because they offer some limited bachelor’s degrees, they are technically considered to be four-year institutions. This includes many of the traditional large community colleges.

The first two sets of columns in our display show the number of institutions and number of associate degrees conferred at each end point of the 10-year spectrum. The traditional public, associate/dominant institutions, including both the two- and four-year ones, currently comprise 38 percent of the institutions but confer 71 percent of the degrees. These market shares have reduced by 4 and 5 percentage points, respectively over this decade. Within this category, we see that the loss is among two-year institutions in this sector with the four-year associates group growing in both number of institutions and number of degrees. It is important to remember that all of the 31 institutions that joined this sub-group “crossed over” from the two-year group

Among other two-year institutions, the small private, non-profit sector shrank in both number of institutions and number of associates degrees conferred. The number of two-year proprietary institutions and the number of degrees they conferred both increased notably, although not as significantly as did institutions in the four-year proprietary sector.

In addition to containing the largest growth market in the proprietary sector, the “other four-year” group had increased production in degrees from among the public institutions, although their market share of degrees remained at 5 percent, compared to the 10 percentage point increase in market share among four-year proprietary institutions from 3 percent to 13 percent of the total. It is important to note that precisely one-half of this increase is due to one institution: the University of Phoenix Online Campus, which went from conferring 1 associate degree in 1998-99 to 23,824 in 2008-09; an increase of over 2.3 million percent!

The right-most set of columns in this display shows the total percentage change in the number of institutions and degrees by institutional type. It also includes as a reference point, the overall change in institutional enrollment, which is based on total student enrollment and not just the enrollment of students seeking associate degrees.

This is especially important to consider when examining the changes among four-year institutions, all of which enroll students seeking bachelor’s degrees and many of which also include students seeking post-baccalaureate degrees. These enrollment percentage change numbers are included to detect if recent surges in enrollment are filling the pipeline more quickly than students are completing and thereby exiting the pipeline. This appears to be the case for the proprietary schools, where enrollment growth generally exceeds degree production growth. It will be interesting to monitor these growth rates in the next few years when the impact of the economic downturn becomes more evident in these lagging indicators.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

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