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2008 June 16 - 12:00 am

04. Top 100, 2008 - Analyzing The Numbers

Analyzing The Numbers

What’s the difference between a community college and a public, two-year postsecondary institution? Thirty years ago, the answer to that question would be “substantially, nothing.” Since then, there has been significant change in the nature of institutions that fulfill the community college mission.

At the same time, community colleges have, in many cases, expanded their mission. More specifically, we have noted over the years of this annual analysis, the increasing number of community colleges that have become four-year institutions by virtue of offering a limited number of four-year degrees. The most notable among these, Miami Dade College, is one of several that dropped the community college designation from its name to acknowledge this expansion of mission. With the increase in our focus several years ago to include one- and two-year certificates, we noted the significant role of proprietary institutions in providing this type of education and development.

In this year’s analysis of the Top 100 associate degree, one-year certificate, and two-year certificate producers, we continue to highlight the diverse array of U.S. postsecondary institutions that contribute to the personal and professional development of millions of students. We present listings of the top producers overall and across a wide range of disciplines and professions. We also present to you in this introductory section, a more in-depth look at the changing scene of institutions contributing to certificate and associate degree production. 

As we note each year, degree and certificate production is just one of the many important things that community colleges, proprietary institutions, and others represented in this analysis contribute to their clients, communities and constituents. But it is one of the most tangible and countable outcomes that lends itself to analysis and ranking. As we also note each year, we do not rank institutions in an effort to indicate who is doing a better job.

The 2008 Top 100 analysis examines degree and certificates awarded during the 2006-07 academic year. The data are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics, or NCES, through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set, or IPEDS, completions survey.

The data are also 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 the preliminary dataset are usually relatively small institutions.

We limit our analysis to Title IV eligible institutions, located in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. 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 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 over 100 colleges and offers programs at locations around the world. 

Institutions completing the IPEDS 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, race and ethnicity is captured in 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 “unknown” 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. This common coding system allows us to compare degree and certificate program offerings across institutions.

The National Center for Education Statistics plans to re-cast race and ethnicity reporting for the IPEDS survey in line with the U.S. Census Bureau methods for collecting racial and ethnic data (that is, including a separate yes or no question regarding Hispanic origins and then multiple choices of racial and ethnic group allowing the respondent to choose “all that apply”).  It will still be at least another two years before this change will be seen in the data used for the Top 100 analysis.

The Top 100 Listings

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded a significant number of associate degrees and certificates. The institutions include community colleges, other two-year institutions, less than two-year institutions, and four-year colleges and universities. The primary listings each contain approximately 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, then they will all be excluded and the list will end at 98. On the other hand, if only 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 and ethnicity categories mentioned earlier. Students typically self-select their 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.

Finally, we track degrees awarded within a set of academic disciplines and vocations. The academic disciplines and the individual racial and ethnic group 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.


Shifts and Trends

In past years, we focused our overall analysis on trends in degree conferrals according to several institutional and geographic characteristics. For this year’s analysis we focus more specifically on changes by sector. The sector of an institution is determined by two factors: its control and its level. Control indicates whether the institution is considered to be “public;” “private, non-profit;” or “private, for-profit.” Throughout the remainder of this analysis, we will refer to the second group as simply “private” and the third group as “proprietary.” 

The level of institution refers to the highest degree offering in three categories: four-year or higher (referred to as four-year); two-year or less than two-year. As noted earlier, a significant number of community colleges now offer at least a limited number of four-year degrees and so they appear in the data as four-year institutions. As a result of these two factors, each with three categories, there are a total of nine different institutional sectors. When considering associate degree conferrals, however, we are only concerned with six sectors since, by definition, we do not have any “less than two-year” institutions in the mix.

The first three tablesand their corresponding figures illustrate the changes by sector over the past ten years in one-year certificate, two-year certificate and associate degree conferrals, respectively. The bottom line of Table 1 shows that 15 percent more institutions are conferring 23 percent more one-year certificates. The rate of growth has been larger among four-year institutions than among two-year institutions and has actually declined among less than two-year institutions (especially within the public and private sectors at this level). 

Growth has also been greater among public than among private or proprietary institutions. The charts accompanying Table 1 show that these changes have only slightly affected the overall distribution of one-year certificate conferrals. Two-year institutions lost a slight share and are now about even with less than two-year institutions. Although four-year institutions account for a relatively small percentage of these conferrals, their share has grown the most.  By control, public institutions have gained a little on their existing majority while the proprietary sector lost a few points of its share on this market, even with its volume growing.

Table 2 and the accompanying figures reveal slightly lower overall increases for two-year certificate conferrals but also reveal more of a shift from two-year to less than two-year and from public to proprietary institutions. The highest growth rates occurred in the proprietary, four-year and public, four-year sectors, respectively. The private, two-year sector experienced the most significant rate of decline followed by the public, less than two-year sector.

The final table of this series, Table 3, illustrates a roughly similar pattern in associate degree conferrals. The rate of growth is highest again for proprietary, four-year institutions followed by public, four-year institutions.  Private, two-year institutions show a notable decline. However, even with these changes, public two-year institutions still confer a significant majority of associate degrees, although this majority has diminished from roughly three-quarters to just over two-thirds of all associate degrees.

The changes shown in Tables 1 through 3 may be due to three different phenomena: changing production levels at institutions that have remained within the same sector; institutions moving from one sector to another; and deletions or additions of institutions reporting within each sector. The three remaining tables of this analysis examine these changes in more detail as related exclusively to associate degree production.

Table 4 provides the first view of this shift by looking at associate degree production according to the 1996-97 sector distribution and any subsequent change in sector or reporting by 2006-07. The first set of columns indicates an overall 25 percent increase in associate degree production among institutions that reported in both years and remained in the same sector. The percentages in the last row of this table show that these unchanging institutions accounted for 86 percent of all associate degrees conferred in 1996-97 and 83 percent in 2006-07. Among this set of institutions, growth was generally larger among two-year as compared to four-year institutions and also larger among proprietary institutions. The public, two-year sector contributed the vast majority of associate degrees among institutions that have remained in the same sector and also exhibited a fairly robust rate of growth at 28 percent.

The second set of columns in Table 4 examines associate degree production among institutions that changed sector between 1996-97 and 2006-07. This includes institutions that have changed level as well as those that have changed control. We will examine these changes in more detail in the remaining tables. But before doing so, it is worth nothing that, as a group, institutions that have changed sector account for 10 percent of all associate degrees conferred in both years and have exhibited a strong rate of growth overall. Among the subgroups of changing sector institutions, those that were originally proprietary, two-year institutions had the highest rate of growth.

The third set of columns in Table 4 show the number and percentage of degrees accounted for by institutions that reported associate degrees in 1996-97 but not in 2006-07, compared to those that reported in 2006-07 but had not reported any in 1996-97. Generally, participation in the IPEDS survey has expanded modestly and Table 4 shows that the expansion has been greatest among proprietary, four-year and two-year institutions. Institutions that have dropped out of the survey since 1996-‘97 may have either phased out or, more likely, have been combined with other campuses into single reporting units.

 Table 5 shifts the focus of the changing scene from changes in degree production to changes in the number of institutions. Two-thirds of the institutions that conferred associate degrees in either or both 1996-97 and 2006-07 remained in the same sector over this ten-year period. About 20 percent of all the institutions were either dropped or added. The remaining 11 percent changed in their level, their control or both. The vast majority of institutions that changed sectors were originally at the two-year or less-then two-year level. Before examining these institutions in more detail, it is worth noting that of the two public, four-year institutions that changed sectors, one became a private, four-year and the other a public, two-year. Among the six private (non-profit), four-year institutions that changed sectors, five become proprietary (for profit), four-year and one became a private, two-year institution.

Table 6 shows the changes among the 375 two-year and less than two-year institutions that changed sector from 1996-97 to 2006-07. The largest group among these, the 164 proprietary, two-year institutions, most (122) shifted upward in level from two-year to four-year but a significant number (39) shifted downward in level, from two-year to less than two-year. Only three of these institutions changed control, moving from for-profit to non-profit. 

Among the 90 less-than two-year institutions that changed sector, most shifted up one level (to two-year status) but eight of them climbed two notches to the four-year level. Although not shown in this table, all but two of these 90 institutions retained the same control. Among the two that changed control, one shifted from for-profit to non-profit and the other from non-profit to for-profit.

The most diverse changes occurred among the 55 institutions that started out in the private, two-year sector. More than half of these (32) just shifted up a level to four-year. An additional five also became four-year but changed from non-profit to for-profit status. Fifteen of these institutions stayed at the two-year level but changed control, with three moving to public and 12 to proprietary. Finally, three of these institutions were downgraded in level but retained private control.

Finally, we examine the 66 institutions that shifted from the public, two-year sector in 1996-‘97 to another sector in 2006-‘07. We have noted throughout the years the number of public, two-year institutions that have added limited bachelor’s degree programs and thereby gained four-year status.  Indeed, these constitute nearly two-thirds of the shift among public, two-year institutions shown in Table 6. However, the majority of the remaining one-third of these institutions went in the other direction, that is, giving up their associate degree status and shifting to the less than two-year level. Two other institutions among this group shifted from public to private (non-profit) control with one remaining at the two-year level and the other also moving up to the four-year level.

Our examination of the changing scene in the sector distribution of institutions conferring certificates and associate degrees places the oft-cited move of community colleges to four-year status in a broader perspective. It shows that many more proprietary than public institutions have switched levels and that for every two or three institutions that shift upward in level, one switches downward. 

We also see that changes in institutional status contribute relatively modestly to overall changes in degree production. Institutions that stay at the same level over time account for two-thirds of the institutions and more than four-fifths of the associate degree conferrals reviewed in this 10-year timeframe.  These stable institutions also contributed the largest numerical increases to associate degrees conferred, even though their growth rate was lower than among institutions that changed sector. 

Moreover, the fact that more institutions come into the system over time than drop out accounted for as much of the increase in associate degree production as did growth in degree production among institutions that change sector. Taken together, these factors show that the scene is changing in a variety of ways with the end result being a 31 percent increase in the number of associate degrees conferred over the last 10 years. 

 Borden is associate vice president and associate professor at Indiana University.

 Related stories:

Top 100, 2008 - Moving Up 
Top 100, 2008 - Point of View
Top 100, 2008 - Rankings


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