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2014 August 18 - 09:23 pm

Top 100, 2014 Analysis: Edging Downward

Despite Decline, Associate Degree Awards Still Exceed 1 Million


During the past year, the U.S. economy continued its slow but steady return from the Great Recession of 2008. In last year’s Top 100 analysis, we illustrated how the recovery was manifest in slight downturns in numbers of typically vocationally oriented certificate conferrals from their record high levels in 2010 and 2011. But associate degree conferrals continued to rise through the 2011-12 academic year, eclipsing 1 million for the first time among the institutions that we track in this analysis. This year’s numbers depict further the impact of the recovery with all three types of awards: associate degrees and the two sub-two-year certificates (< 1 year and 1 to <2 year) all showing declines. Despite the small declines, though, the associate degree count still surpassed one million as shown in Figure 1. In this year’s analysis, we feature the long-term view of trends in associate degree and sub-two-year certificate awards by gender. We also take our usual look at what types of postsecondary institutions are conferring these awards.

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The astute reader will note that this year’s analysis was delayed awaiting the publication of the IPEDS completions data upon which we base the analysis. New protocols employed by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), delay the release of data until the official “First Look” publication including the data is released, which occurred this year on July 10 (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014066.pdf).

NCES collects these data from all “Title IV” participating postsecondary institutions, which now number 7,539. Specifically, Title IV institutions are those that have a written agreement with the secretary of education that requires them to be accredited by a recognized agency and allows these institutions to dispense Title IV federal student financial assistance. Among these institutions, 5,658 conferred at least one associate degree or sub-two-year certificate. We further restrict our analysis to the institutions among these that are based in the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia and open to the public, eliminating military service academies.

The recently released completions data covers degrees and certificates awarded during academic year 2012-13. 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 of full-time course work to complete. 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 year” and “1 to <2 year” certificate programs, respectively, and refer to them collectively as sub-two-year certificates.

Postsecondary institutions report degrees and other formal awards according to the disciplinary or vocational field of study completed by the student. Although every institution has their unique way of characterizing these programs, the data are reported using a common taxonomy, known as the Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) codes. The interested reader can browse the coding system on the Department of Education web site at: http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/cipcode/browse.aspx?y=55

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. Postsecondary institutions collect information on student race/ethnicity information using the two-question format. Students first indicate if they are Hispanic or Latino and separately indicate racial/ethnic identify 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.

When reporting the data within the completions survey, institutional respondents are required to use the U.S. Office of Management and Budget protocols for federal reporting that puts each student into 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.

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 Conferrals

Figure 1 displays the trend in associate degree and sub-two-year certificates from academic year 1990-91 through the most recently available data representing academic year 2012-13. For associate degrees, we see a near 20-year-slow-but-steady increase, followed by the large increases corresponding to the great recession and, now finally, the leveling out and slight downturn that can be related, at least in part, to the recovery. It should also be noted that the growth in the population of college-age participants has slowed in recent years, although it should also be noted that students pursuing these awards, especially during economic slowdowns, often include large proportions of non-traditional-aged students. Among the sub-two-year certificates, the longer term (1 to <2 year) ones had caught up to and even slightly surpassed the short term (<1 year) ones, and both have experienced similar modest declines over the three years Figures 2 through 4 disaggregate the overall trend for each type of award by gender. For each award type, the charts show the trend for conferrals to men and women separately (referenced to the numbers on the left vertical axis), along with a “percent female” trend line (referenced to the percentages on the right vertical axis).

Throughout this 23-year time period, women represented the majority of recipients for these three award types and the majority has grown larger. However, the relative size of the majority and the relative increase in the majority differs by award type.

For the associate degree, women represented 59 percent of recipients in academic year 1990-91 and this has increased by just two points to 61 percent women among the 2012-13 recipients. In contrast, the longer term (1 to < 2 year) certificates started with a 61 percent majority of women in 1990-91, which has increased to a 67 percent majority by 2012-13. Among the shorter (<1 year) certificate recipients, females represented only a slight majority (52 percent) in the first year of the time trend, but this has increase 5 points to a 57 percent majority in the most recent conferral year. These data show that, consistently, women have come to represent an increasing majority of twoyear degrees and sub-two-year certificates, although the increase is most modest for the associate degree.

College Categories

The impetus for analyzing associate’s degree and sub-two-year certificate conferrals is related to the role that the nation’s community colleges play in this arena. However, as our analyses have consistently shown, public, two-year institutions are not the only players. Moreover, the defining characteristic of the community college as primarily a two-year institution has changed over the years, with many offering a range of four-year, bachelor’s degree granting programs.

Table 1 and Figures 5 through 7 illustrate the variety of institution types involved in conferring these three types of postsecondary awards. In Table 1, we show first the 1,095 publicly-controlled and predominantly associate degree conferring institutions, which include both those that do not confer a higher degree (two-year) and those that do (four-year). These are the institutions that we typically define as “community colleges” although they include some that no longer include that as part of their official name (for example, Miami Dade College).

Although these institutions represent less than one-quarter of all the institutions that confer any of these awards, they confer nearly three-quarters of all associate degrees and almost two-thirds of all < 1 year certificates. They confer less than one-half of the longer, 1 to <2 year certificates, but are still the single largest source of these certificates. Private, two-year institutions, which include a relatively small number (just over 100) not-forprofit ones and nearly 900 forprofit or proprietary institutions, confer fewer than 10 percent of both associate degrees and <1 year certificates, but full 22 percent of the longer (1 to <2 year certificates). The four-year institutions that are not predominantly associate’s degree granting account for just over 20 percent of the associate degrees, with proprietary institutions accounting for half of this total. These fouryear institutions play a smaller roll in sub-two-year certificate conferrals.

Finally, the less than two-year, typically “non-degree granting” institutions account for 32 percent of the longer-term and 21 percent of the shorter- term certificates, as well as an anomalous 2 Associate Degrees. Notably in this last group is the large number (1,619) proprietary institutions, which include many of the small, single program institutions, notably including many focusing on personal services, such as cosmetology, hair design, etc.

The accompanying Figures (5 to 7) illustrate the relative market share of each type of institutions, sorted from largest to smallest. For associate’s degrees as well as the shorter term certificate, we see the continuing large presence of the traditional two-year public community college but also the large but varying roll that proprietary institutions have come to play in this market. For the longer, 1 to <2 year certificate (Figure 6), we also see that the proprietary sector when combined across the 4-year, 2-year and <2-year components, has the majority of the market.

Victor M.H. Borden is a professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at Indiana University Bloomington.


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

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