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2013 June 24 - 12:00 am

ANALYSIS: Rising High

Analysis: Rising High
Number of Associate Degrees Conferred Jumps by 8 Percent
By Victor M. H. Borden

Discussion of the relationship between the economy and postsecondary education often focuses on the positive impact of college completion on an individual’s economic prospects. Another dimension of this relationship is the impact of the economy on postsecondary enrollment. We have noted over the past few years of this analysis how the “Great Recession” was associated with record degree and award numbers, suggesting that high unemployment rates promoted college attendance. However, last year we saw a curious drop in the shorter-term certificates. With this year’s analysis, we see another large increase in the number of associate degrees conferred, although not quite as sharp as last year. Notably, the total number of associate degrees awarded among the institutions we monitor (U.S.-based accredited institutions excluding military service academies) topped 1 million for the first time in history. The drop we witnessed last year in short-term certificates spread to the longer, “at least 1 but less than 2-year” variety.

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Before getting to the numbers, we note that the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), which collects and reports these data, changed their protocol this year. They did not release a preliminary file and instead waited until the data were complete enough to warrant a release that could be reported as official numbers. Consequently, there was about a three-month delay in obtaining the data, but the numbers are more complete than in previous years. This does not mean that the numbers will not change. Institutions have at least a year to file corrections to the data they report. As we noted in past years, the differences between the preliminary and final data are quite small and the changes expected from this more complete release will be even less noticeable.

This year’s analysis covers degrees and certificates awarded during academic year 2011-12. As usual, we provided lists for top producers, overall, and across a range of disciplines and vocations. We include lists for the associate degree, regardless of type (associate of arts, associate of science, or associate of applied science). We also consider the two types of certificates that require less than two years to complete if a student carries a full-time course load. The shorter certificate program is one that requires less than one year to complete, and the longer program requires at least one but less than two years. We label these on the charts as “1 to <2 year” and “< 1 year” certificate programs, respectively.

We include within the analysis Title IV eligible institutions, which 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 institutions in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, excluding 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 offers programs at locations around the world that are not open to the general public.

When reporting completion data, institutions categorize the field of study completed by the student using the NCES-maintained Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). This common coding system allows us to compare degree and award program offerings across institutions.

Student race/ethnicity information is collected by institutions using the two-question format. Students first indicate if they are Hispanic or Latino and separately indicate racial/ethnic identity by checking all that apply from the list: American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian American; Black or African American; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; and White. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget established a set of “trumping rules” for reporting students in a single category based on their responses to the two questions. First, anyone who is not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is reported as a “Non-Resident Alien.”

Next, anyone who answers “yes” to the Hispanic/Latino question is reported within that category. Non-Hispanics who select more than one racial/ethnic group are reported as “Two or More Races” or “Multiracial”. Finally, the remaining
non-Hispanic, U.S. citizens or permanent residents are reported in the single racial/ethnic category that they selected in response to the second question.

When we initially compiled the data, we noticed that one institution, Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana, experienced extremely large increases in award production. We then discovered that the institution changed its reporting practices. Up until last year, they reported the completion data by region. This year, they combined their numbers and report as a single unit, but they do so under what was previously the Central Indiana region ID number. To make the prior year comparison valid, we re-ran the figures, combining the regional numbers from last year into a single compositefigure. With this change in reporting, Indiana’s statewide community college becomes the top two-year institution in associate degree awards and third overall behind two four-year institutions: the University of Phoenix-Online Campus and Miami Dade College.

The Lists

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded the largest number of associate degrees and sub-two-year certificates. The primary listings each contain at least 100 total institutions. The precise number depends on the number of ties at the bottom of the list.

Most lists include both two-year and four-year institutions. The two-year institutions are listed together followed by the four-year institutions. However, the rankings are determined by the overall order, and so there are some “gaps” in ranking value within each group.

We also include lists that feature institutions that confer the most associate degrees and < 1 year and 1 to <2-year certificates to men and women of color, as collected through the race/ethnicity categories mentioned earlier.

Lists for specific major fields (disciplines and vocations) include the top 50 ranks with the same caveat regarding additional institutions included that are tied at the last rank.

Trends in Awards

We continue monitoring the overall trend in associate degrees and sub-two-year certificates through our first table and the corresponding graph. As noted earlier, the rate of increase in associate degrees was slightly lower this year at 8 percent, compared to last year when it was 11 percent. But this increase still exceeded the ten-year average annual percentage change for associate degrees, which is now at 5.5 percent. The numbers of longer- and shorter-term certificates conferred this year compared to last year declined by 4.6 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively.

The second table probes further into the change in numbers between 2010-11 and 2011-12 by sector. We deviate from the official federal characterization of sector by distinguishing between two types of “public, four-year” institutions: those that confer primarily associate degrees but are characterized as “four-year” because they have at least one bachelor degree program, and those that more traditionally confer primarily bachelor and higher-level degrees.

We continue to see larger percentage increases in associate degree awards among the Public Associate’s “Four-Year” institutions. As we have previously noted, this is primarily due to institutions that switch categories. Between 2010-11 and 2011-12, eight institutions did so, including three in Florida (Florida Gateway College, Lake-Sumter Community College and South Florida Community College), three in Georgia (Atlanta Metropolitan College, East Georgia College and South Georgia College) and one each in Utah (Snow College) and Washington (Centralia College). It is also interesting to note that the percentage increase in associate degrees was larger among public associates colleges than among proprietary institutions.

For both levels of certificates, the declines were primarily due to further contraction within the for-profit sector. Among the “Public Associates” institutions, longer-term certificate Awards remained at the same level as last year and there was a slight increase (2 percent) in the number of shorter-term certificates awarded. Although the numbers are relatively small, the largest percentage increases in the longer-term and especially the shorter-term certificates, were at traditional public, four-year universities.

State-Level Statistics

We explore further in this year’s analysis, aggregate state-level statistics on associate degree and sub-two-year certificate awards. We compare these Awards to state population levels. The final table arrays the 50 states according to their 2010 census population numbers. We then array the number and ranking of the three award types. The population and overall award numbers are highly correlated, with coefficients of 0.92 for associate degrees, 0.96 for the longer-term certificate and a slightly lower 0.86 for the shorter-term certificate. The most populous state, California, also confers the highest number of associate degrees and sub-two-year certificates. Although Florida ranks fourth in population, it conferred more associate degrees and shorter-term certificates than the larger states of Texas and New York.

Arizona ranks notably higher in associate degrees (fifth), longer-term (fourth) and shorter-term (seventh) certificates than it does in overall population (16th). Iowa and Utah also rank relatively high in associate degree Awards compared to their population ranking, with Utah also ranking relatively higher in short-term certificate Awards. At the other end of the spectrum, Massachusetts ranks consistently much lower in associate degrees (23rd), longer-term (22nd) and shorter-term (23rd) certificates than it does in overall population (14th). Other states with a lower ranking in associate degree production relative to their population include Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Louisiana and Connecticut.

Although they are relatively low in associate degree production, Louisiana and Connecticut are relatively high in longer-term certificate production, as are Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico, Alaska and Wyoming. Relatively low longer-term certificate producing states, aside from aforementioned Massachusetts, include New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Colorado, and Idaho.

Populous Northeastern states New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Massachusetts confer low numbers of shorter-term certificates relative to their population, as do two Midwestern states, Indiana and Missouri. In contrast, Louisiana and Kentucky rank much higher in short-term certificate Awards relative to their population.

The least populous state, Wyoming, ranks relatively high in production of associate degrees and the two types of certificates. Indeed, its award conferral numbers are two to three times larger than the slightly more populous state of Vermont, which ranks 50th in production of all three award types.

Associate degrees and sub-two-year certificates are central to workforce development efforts across the United States. Despite the fiscal constraints that have negatively impacted appropriations to public institutions, they have improved degree and certificate production. Ironically, the proprietary sector appears to have suffered more from the recession with respect to certificate production, than have the public sector institutions.

But are the proprietary sector declines and lack of increase in certificate Awards in the public sector a harbinger for associate degree numbers in the years ahead? Although the recession appears to have stimulated enrollment growth that created a pipeline for degree conferral, the combination of improving employment rates and continuing (although not as acute) public sector financial constraints has already negatively impacted enrollment numbers. Are there enough students in the pipeline to support another increase in associate degree awards next year or are we about to see the trend turn around? Stay tuned.

Victor M. H. Borden, PhD.,
is a professor of educational leadership and policy studies,
Indiana University Bloomington.

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Q: What trends in degree and certificate production do you see on your campus?
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