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2009 June 15 - 12:00 am

ANALYSIS: New Mix of Numbers

Like the students attending them, postsecondary institutions conferring associate degrees and one- and two-year certificates are growing in diversity. We noted in past years’ analyses that many community colleges are playing an increasing role in conferring bachelor’s degrees, and that proprietary institutions have stepped up their production of both associate degrees and certificates. A quick glance through this year’s Top 100 lists shows that the top spot in overall associate’s degree production now belongs to the online campus of the University of Phoenix. American Intercontinental University Online ranks fourth.

This year’s analysis of the Top 100 associate degree, one-year certificate, and two-year certificate producers includes our usual focus on top producers, overall, as well as across a range of disciplines and professions. In this article, we remind you of the data source and methods used to assemble the lists and highlight recent trends. This year, we also take advantage of the revised Carnegie Classification of Postsecondary Institutions to explore the distinctions within the new typology among “associates” institutions.

But before getting to any of that, we must insert our usual caveat regarding the role of degree and certificate production as part of the overall mission of the institutions represented in this analysis. Much like master carpenter Norm Abram admonishing us about wearing safety glasses at the beginning of each episode of the “New Yankee Workshop,” you may tire of hearing this, but it is critically important.

The production of degrees and certificates is just one of the many important contributions that community colleges, proprietary schools and the other institutions represented in this analysis make to their communities, constituents and clients. But it is one of the most tangible and calculable outcomes that lends itself to analysis and ranking.

And as we also note each year, we rank institutions not to indicate who is doing a better job, but rather to recognize the efforts of hundreds of thousands of faculty, staff and administrators who dedicate themselves to educating an increasingly diverse population of students.

The current analysis pertains to degrees and certificates awarded during the 2007-08 academic year. The data are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set (IPEDS) completions survey.  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 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 degrees and certificates, and those excluded from the preliminary dataset are usually relatively small institutions.

We limit our analysis to Title IV eligible institutions, that is, those that 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 those institutions in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. 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 schools and offers programs at locations around the world. 

The degrees and certificates reported through the IPEDS completions survey are categorized according to several sets of definitions and standards provided by the National Center for Education Statistics. 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 academic discipline completed by the student is categorized using a very extensive and elaborate system of codes known as the Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP). This common coding system allows us to compare degree and award program offerings across institutions.

The Top 100 Listings

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded the largest number of associate degrees and certificates. These include community colleges, other two-year institutions, less than two-year institutions and four-year colleges and universities. The listings each contain about 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, they will all be excluded, and the list will end at 98. On the other hand, if a small number of 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 associate degrees or certificates conferred by two-year institutions, followed by those conferred by four-year institutions. However, because 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 featuring institutions that confer 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.

Finally, the academic discipline 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.

Changes in Conferrals

After giving the overall trend table a year off, it returns in this year’s analysis, showing a healthy increase this past year in associate degrees (up 3.8 percent), as well as for both one-year certificates (up 4.9 percent) and two-year certificates (up 8.7 percent). The growth rate this past year for both associate degrees and two-year certificates is greater than the average annual growth rate for the last 10 years. For one-year certificates, this year’s growth rate matched the 10-year average.

In 2005, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning released an updated version of its classification system for postsecondary institutions, most commonly referred to as the Carnegie Classification. As part of the revisions, the foundation introduced several new dimensions of classification, including those reflecting the academic program mix and student profile characteristics of institutions.

Our primary interest for this analysis, however, is on changes to what is known as the “Basic” classification that is most like the typology that has been in place since the classifications origins in 1970. The original typology was based on the highest degree offered by the institutions: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral. Historically, all levels above associate were further subdivided into categories based on additional characteristics, such as program mix or research intensity. One of the flaws with this classification was that the associate classification was not similarly subdivided, making it the single largest category in terms of number of institutions represented. 

But that has all changed with the latest version of the Carnegie Basic Classification. Specifically, associates institutions are further distinguished in this system into the following categories:

  •  Public Rural-serving Small
  •  Public Rural-serving Medium
  •  Public Rural-serving Large
  •  Public Suburban-serving Single Campus
  •  Public Suburban-serving, Multi-campus
  •  Public Urban-serving Single Campus
  •  Public Urban-serving Multi-campus
  •  Public Special Use
  •  Private Not-for-profit
  •  Private For-profit
  •  Public 2-year Colleges under Universities
  •  Public 4-year, Primarily Associates
  •  Private Not-for-profit 4-year, Primarily Associates
  •  Private For-profit 4-year, Primarily Associates

The pie chart of this section examines associate’s degree production according to the old categories that distinguish institutions by highest degree offered, as well as containing categories for special focus and other institutions. We see that the vast majority (83 percent) of associate’s degrees are conferred by institutions classified as “associates.” (Note: This includes institutions that offer some bachelor’s degrees but confer predominantly associate degrees). 

For the second chart, we “drill down” to provide detail among the associates institutions, using combinations of the new subcategories. Specifically, we combined the three public rural categories into one. We did the same with the two suburban-serving and two urban-serving; two private-not-for profit (“private”); and two private-for-profit (“proprietary”) each into one category.  Finally, categories 11 and 12 listed above were combined into a “public mix,” and the final category, “public special use” remains as a separate category.

“Rural” institutions account for more than one-third of all associate degrees conferred by associates institutions, and “Suburban” and “Urban-serving” each account for about one-quarter. Within the private sector, “Proprietary” institutions far exceed non-profit institutions in production, accounting for about 12 percent of all degrees among those conferred by associates level institutions. 

The third graph of this series shows the number of institutions within each of these subcategories. It shows that rural institutions are represented in number of institutions just as they are in number of degrees: about one-third of the total. The suburban- and urban-serving institutions are obviously larger, since they each represent less than one-eighth of the institutions while conferring one-quarter of the degrees.  Proprietary and private institutions are more numerous than their production numbers indicate, suggesting that they are much smaller in average size.

While the proprietary institutions make up nearly one-third of all institutions in number, they confer fewer than one-eighth of the degrees. There is a similar discrepancy for the private, non-profit group. Another way to summarize these differences is by examining the average number of degrees conferred per institution. The largest institution type by this measure is the urban-serving group, which confers 859 degrees per institution. This is followed by the suburban-serving institutions at 713 per institution.  There is then a large drop-off to the next three types: public mix (403), rural (371) and special (303). As noted earlier, the proprietary (135) and private-non-profit (109) produce the smallest number of degrees per institution.

Losing Market Share

The final chart in this series examines the change in degree conferral across these categories by comparing the current year production to that of five years ago. The largest percentage increase in degree production has occurred at the urban-serving (20.7 percent) and public mix institutions (19.6 percent). The suburban-serving and rural institutions have also experienced a healthy rate of increase.  The growth rates are still positive, although a little smaller for the special and proprietary institutions.

Only one category of institution has experienced a notable decline in degree production over the five-year period. The private, non-profit institutions — a relatively small contributor to associate degree production among associate’s institutions — has been losing market share over the last five years. 

Victor M. H. Borden
Associate vice president and professor
Indiana University

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