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2007 July 9 - 12:00 am

Analyzing the Data

By the same token, many other institutions are involved in the same business as community colleges. For example, in academic year 2005-06, public, two-year institutions represented only 37 percent of all institutions that awarded associate degrees, 28 percent of institutions awarding one-year certificates, and 31 percent of institutions awarding two-year certificates. However, they were very productive, having conferred 70 percent of all associate degrees, 50 percent of all one-year certificates and 41 percent of all two-year certificates. If you can understand those last two sentences after only one reading, then this issue of Community College Week should delight you.

In this year’s analysis of the Top 100 associate degree, one-year certificate, and two-year certificate producers, we 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 review of overall trends and issues.

As we note each year, associate degree and certificate production is just one of the many important things that community colleges, proprietary institutions, and the other colleges and universities represented in this analysis contribute to their clients, communities, and constituents. But it is one of the most tangible and countable outcomes, which lends itself to analysis and ranking.

The 2007 Top 100 analysis examines degrees and certificates awarded during the 2005-06 academic year. The data are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics through the Completion Survey of their Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set, known as IPEDS. 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 data set 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 institutions that are eligible for participation in Title IV programs—which encompass all federal financial aid—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. Our geographic limitation excludes 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 colleges and offers programs at locations around the world.

Institutions completing the IPEDS Completions Survey must categorize their programs and their students according to several sets of definitions and standards. For example, student race/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 award program offerings across institutions.

The Top 100 Listings

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 (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 conferring 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. Students typically self-select their race/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 race 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/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.

The Trends

We begin our trend analysis by examining the ten-year trend for associate degree and one- and two-year certificate conferrals as illustrated in Display 1. Associate degree conferrals increased by 2.5 percent over the last year, matching the overall average growth rate for the past ten years, but marking a slight slowdown in the growth rate compared to the prior three years. One-year certificate conferrals also slowed their pace of growth this past year and the number of two-year certificates conferred declined slightly—by less than 1 percent. If the most recent year’s numbers (2005-06) are compared to the baseline numbers ten years ago (1995-96), one-year certificate production has increased by 51 percent, two-year certificate production by 25 percent, and associate degrees by 28 percent.

Display 2 includes a profile of minority and female representation among associate degree and one- and two-year certificate recipients, as well as a profile of the types of institutions conferring these degrees and certificates. Minority participation (including African American, Asian American, Hispanic, and Native American) is generally lower among associate degree recipients but has increased over the past ten years from 21 to 24 percent. Although minority representation is higher among one- and two-year certificate recipients, the rate has declined slightly since 1995-96. It is important to note, however, that minority representation among the certificate recipients is at or above minority representation in the general population.

Females comprise a growing majority of postsecondary award recipients. Among both associate degrees and one-year certificates, the representation of females increased from 60 to 62 percent over the last ten years. Female participation is even higher among two-year certificates, having increased from 64 percent in 1995-96 to 66 percent in the most recent year.

Two-year institutions confer the vast majority of associate degrees although the proportion has declined slightly (from 86 percent to 79 percent) over the past ten years. However, the increasing role of four-year institutions in conferring associate degrees can be largely attributed to the change in status among some of the largest two-year colleges. More than 200 institutions, including the perennial leader in degree conferrals, Miami Dade College, moved from two-year to four-year status over the past 10 years. "Less than two-year" institutions, account for a smaller proportion of one- and two-year certificates produced in 2005-06 compared to the rates ten years ago. Again, this difference can be largely attributed to the 173 institutions that moved from less-than-two-year to two-year status between 1995-96 and 2005-06.

Private, non-profit institutions continue to play a small role in the conferral of associate degrees and one- and two-year certificates. Associate degree conferrals are still dominated by public institutions (four- and two-year combined), although their dominance declined slightly over the past ten years. Proprietary institutions have increased their role in associate degree production, and more so in two-year certificate production, where their 48 percent market share is now equal to that of public institutions. It is perhaps surprising to note that proprietary institutions have lost some of their share of the larger one-year certificate market, where public institutions have taken the lead.

In this year's analysis, we provide additional information on trends in the disciplinary areas in which associate degrees and one- and two-year certificates are conferred. Display 3 shows the dominance of business majors, which represent more than half of all awards. The second most frequent associate degree field is general studies, representing about 16 percent of associate degrees conferred. Health disciplines come in at third with 9 percent of all associate degrees and they account for about 20 percent of all two- and one-year certificates. Display 3 also shows the percentage change within each discipline between 1995-96 and 2005-06. Many of the largest percentage increases are within the smaller disciplines. Among these, it is notable that there have been significant percentage increases in some programs that likely serve four-year transfer preparation, such as humanities and fine arts, social and behavioral sciences, and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, collectively known as the STEM disciplines.

Our final piece of the big picture analysis examines differences in minority and female participation across the disciplinary areas for the 2005-06 associate degree and one- and two-year certificate recipients as shown in Display 4. The disciplinary areas shown here are arranged according to the percentage of women who receive associate degrees. Health, which is dominated by nursing, and the pre-professional programs, dominated by legal assistant, have the highest representation of women. Men represent a majority of award recipients within the agricultural, trades, and STEM fields and disciplines.

Minority representation is somewhat inconsistent across award levels. For example, minority representation is higher among two-year certificate recipients in six of the 10 disciplinary areas (most notably in the health fields) but is even across award levels for three disciplines and notably lower among two-year certificates in the social and behavioral sciences. Minority representation is particularly low for the small group of agriculture-related awards, although not quite as low among the two-year certificates awarded in these fields.

Collapsing across all minority categories may mask some important differences in representation among specific racial/ethnic groups. For example, there is often a concern that including Asian Americans may mask under-representation of African Americans and Hispanics in the STEM fields. However, the vast majority of associate degree recipients in the STEM disciplines are accounted for by African Americans (43 percent of the minorities) and Hispanics (38 percent of the minorities), combined.

It is likely that many of the 1.4 million individuals who received an associate degree or a one- or two-year certificate in 2005-06 have taken new jobs or received raises or promotions as a result of their achievement. Although attaining a degree or certificate is not the only reason for attending college, it is an important reason.

Moreover it is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that many students who pursue these achievements do not succeed in attaining them. The challenges inherent in pursuing an academic or vocational credential are part of what make the achievement notable. These challenges also make it important that we monitor completion rates in relation to two distinguishing principles of the U.S. postsecondary education system: access and equity. We hope our lists and analyses help motivate college faculty members and administrators to contribute further to the production of associate degree and one- and two-year certificate completers.

Borden is associate vice president and associate professor at Indiana University. Brown is the associate director of enrollment services at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.

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