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2015 September 13 - 02:02 am


Completions Decline Slightly as Economy Improves





Despite concerns over growing student loan debt and the ability of college graduates to obtain suitable work, the nation’s colleges and universities continue to be pressed to produce more degree recipients. Prominent goals set by the Obama administration and several charitable foundations reflect the underlying understanding that America’s ability to compete internationally requires a bettereducated populace. This demand starts with the colleges and universities that confer associate degrees. More recently, increased attention has been directed toward “non-degree credentials,” and specifically the short-term (< 1 year) and medium term (1 to <2 year) certificates that we track in this annual Top 100 analysis.

In the current analysis, we examine associate degrees and sub-two-year certificates conferred during academic year 2013-14. Continuing a recent trend, the National Center for Education Statistics delayed releasing these data until late July, when they published their “First Look” document that included degree completions along with cost of attendance and 12-month enrollments (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2015/2015097.pdf).

The 2013-14 completions file includes 7,387 institutions that conferred degrees or non-degree credentials. Among this “IPEDS Universe,” we typically consider “Title IV” participating institutions (those which can dispense Title IV federal student financial assistance) that are open to the public (excluding military service institutions) and are located in the 50 U.S. states or Washington, D.C. Among these institutions, 5,549 conferred at least one associate degree or sub-two-year certificate.

We continue our tradition of providing lists for top producers, overall and across a range of disciplines and vocations. We include lists for all types of associate degrees, combined as well as the two types of certificates that require less than two years 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.

Institutions report their degrees to NCES using a common taxonomy, known as the Classification of Instructional Program (CIP) codes. CIP codes are structured in a hierarchy, ranging from very general categories (for example, 51 - Health), to subcategories (for example, 51.08 - Allied Health and Medical Assisting Service) and finally to detailed disciplines or vocations (for example, 51.0806 – Physical Therapy Technician/Assistant). Within this analysis, we focus primarily on the highest level of aggregation. For several areas, like Health and Business, we also provide some lists for the second order subcategories. We determined which subcategories to highlight based on popularity (number of degrees and certificates conferred).

The Lists

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded the largest number of associate’s degrees and sub-two-year certificates.

The primary listings each contain at least 100 total institutions, although 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 fouryear institutions. However the rankings are determined by the overall order, and so there are some “gaps” in ranking values 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. Student race/ethnicity is self-reported by students, typically when they first enter an institution. By federal law, institutions are required to 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 Degree and Certificate Conferrals

As we have for the last few years, we continue to examine the long-term trends in associate degree and sub-two-year certificates, starting from academic year 1990-91 through the most recently available data representing academic year 2013- 14. These trends are portrayed in Figures 1 through 4. Figure 1 compares the trends for the associate’s degree with that of the two sub-two year certificates. The trends are roughly similar, although for the two types of certificates, the trends peaked in 2011, whereas for associate degrees, they peaked a year later, before experiencing slight declines.

The credential-specific 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). As noted last year, women represent the majority of recipients of all three credentials, with the largest majority evident among the < 1 year certificate programs. However, there has been a notable decline over the past few years in the number of < 1 year certificates conferred to women, several years after a very sharp increase at the beginning of the Great Recession. For associates degrees, the trend has been flat for men over the past two years (indeed increasing slightly this last year), whereas for women the recent trend shows continuing slight declines.

Conferrals By Institution Type

Our analysis has consistently shown that the nation’s traditional community colleges — public, two-year institutions — are not the only ones that confer associate degrees and sub-two year certificates. As we have in past years, we include in this analysis a table (Table 1) that shows the various types of institutions that confer associate’s degrees and sub-two year certificates. Although the traditional public, two-year institution represents just over 1,000 of the more than 5,500 institutions included in the overall analysis, they are responsible for conferring nearly twothirds (65 percent) of all associate degrees, and nearly 60 percent of the short-term (<1 year) certificate programs. When also considering the public, four-year institutions that offer very limited bachelor’s degree programs, and so are still considered “Associate’s Colleges” by the basic Carnegie Classification criteria, the public associate’s sector accounts for nearly threequarters (74 percent) of associate degrees.

Four-year colleges that include more than just limited bachelor’s degrees account for roughly one in five associates degrees, with the proprietary institutions among these accounting for half of this amount. We also see in Table 1, that the vocational institutions that award only certificates and hardly any associate degrees (indeed it should be zero, but there are still a few anomalies in the data), confer nearly one-third (29 percent) of the longer-term 1 to <2 year certificates, and one in five (20 percent) of the < 1 year certificates We conclude this year’s analysis by showing the changes over 20 years in the types of institutions that have awarded associate’s degrees. In Figure 5, we consider all associate degrees conferred according to institutional control (public, privatenon-profit, and private-for-profit). Specifically, the top panel of Figure 5 show the significant overall growth in associate degrees conferred by public institutions, which continue to dominate the market. The numbers conferred by private-nonprofit institutions have actually declined slightly. Although associate degrees conferred by proprietary (private-for-profit) institutions has grown significantly, they still comprise only a small proportion of the overall numbers.

The bottom panel shows that, for the public sector, the growth has been “within institution.” That is, the growing degree production numbers stand in contrast to the relatively flat trend in the number of public institutions conferring these degrees. We can also see in the bottom panel of Figure 5, that the private-non-profit and proprietary institutions are more similar in number to the publics, despite conferring far fewer degrees. This is especially notable among the proprietary institutions, where the total number of institutions has nearly tripled and almost reached the level of the public sector, while the number of degrees conferred is still proportionately much smaller.

In the final Figure 6, we explore only the public sector, disaggregating the number of degrees and number of institutions according to the two-year associates, fouryear associates, and other four year subcategories. We see in this figure, the shift in number of associates colleges from the two-year to the four-year category. Despite their decline in number, however, the twoyear public associate’s colleges (the traditional community colleges) have increased their output of associate degrees considerably. The role of other four-year institutions has remained relatively flat in terms of associate degree production over the past 20 years.

Also from Victor Borden, Professor of Educational Leadership And Policy Studies, University of Indiana Bloomington

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