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2012 June 12 - 12:00 am

TOP100 ANALYSIS: Opposite Tracks

Analysis: Opposite Tracks
Degree Awards Continue Rise As Short-Term Certificates Dip

By Victor M. H. Borden, Ph. D.
Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies
Indiana University Bloomington

We began last year’s analysis by noting that, despite a highly constrained fiscal environment, America’s postsecondary institutions conferred an all-time record of associate degrees and two-year or shorter certificates. This year’s analysis demonstrates that we hadn’t yet seen the worst and best. In the even tougher fiscal year of 2010-11, especially for public institutions, completion of two-year degrees and the longer (1-2 year) certificate awards not only reached another all-time high, but increased at an even faster rate than the year before. Incongruously, however, there was a decline in awards of the shorter, less than one-year certificate awards. As we shall see later in this analysis, the decline in shorter certificate program completions appears to be primarily a disinvestment within the proprietary sector.




Two Plus Two

When Top 100 edition of Community College Week first appeared in the late 1990s, it was considered controversial to focus so much attention on degree and certificate completion within a sector that provides a wide range of postsecondary educational services to a diverse array of students and clients. Increased national emphasis on completion by the federal government and many foundations and non-governmental agencies has mitigated that controversy. Indeed, the IPEDS completions data upon which this analysis is based is now considered by many to be one of the more accurate representations of the community college sector, compared to graduation rates, fiscal, human resources and enrollment information.

Another notable change over the years has been the diversification of the institutional market. Traditional, two-year community colleges still confer the majority of associate degrees but their market share has dwindled, especially with the growth of the proprietary sector led by the countries single largest institution, the University of Phoenix-Online. Moreover, many of the traditional two-year community colleges are now four-year colleges, offering at least a modicum of bachelor’s degrees in their program mix. Before describing in further detail the statistical trends and characteristics of associate degree and two-year or shorter postsecondary certificates, we provide more details about the data source and address definitional issues.

This year’s Top 100 analysis examines degrees and certificates conferred during the 2010-11 academic year. We include in this issue lists for top producers, overall, and across a range of disciplines and vocations. We consider one specific degree level — the associate — but do not distinguish between the various forms, such as the associate of arts (A.A.), associate of science (A.S.) or associate of applied science (A.A.S.). Two types of certificates are included and, as we learned from several astute readers last year, the shorthand characterization we used in the past, distinguishing between one- and two-year certificate programs, was misleading. Technically, the shorter formal certificate program is one that requires “less than one year” to complete if pursued full-time, and the longer formal certificate program requires “at least one but less than two-years” to complete if pursued full-time. Therefore, we will refer to these as “< 1 year” and “1 to <2 year” certificate programs.

The data for this analysis are collected by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Set (IPEDS) completions survey. The preliminary data available at this time are complete and accurate for those institutions included in the data set but not every eligible institution is yet included. The data typically are complete for the vast majority of public and private, non-profit colleges and universities but 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 include within the analysis Title IV eligible institutions, which 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 institutions in the 50 United States and the District of Columbia, excluding 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 offers programs at locations around the world.

When reporting their completion data, institutions categorize the field of study completed by the student 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.

After several years of transition, student race/ethnicity is now collected by all institutions using the two-question format. Students first indicate if they are Hispanic or Latino and separately indicate racial/ethnic identity 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. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget established a set of “trumping rules” for reporting students in 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-Hispanic 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.

The Top 100 Listings

The Top 100 listings include institutions that have awarded the largest number of associate degrees and certificates. 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 (6 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 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 mentioned earlier.

Finally, the disciplinary/vocation 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.

Overall Trends

The first table and accompanying graph show the record increases in associate degree (+11.1 percent) and 1 to <2-year certificates (+31.9 percent) between 2009-10 and 2010-11. The accelerated rate of increase over the last three years can be seen in the accompanying graph as an uptick from a more stable rate of change across the prior 4 years. However, there was a modest decrease this past year in the <1 year certificate awards (-3.8 percent), which represents the second time in the last ten years when these shorter certificate programs experienced a decline.

Similar to prior year analyses, we examine in the second table the change in associate degree and pre-baccalaureate certificates according to sector. Because some community colleges are now officially considered to be four-year institutions by virtue of offering some bachelor’s degrees, we include in the top rows of the table institutions classified as “Associates Colleges” according to the “basic” Carnegie Classification of Higher Education Institutions. Although the numbers are still relatively small, the table shows that the largest percentage growth in award conferrals is among the “four-year” institutions within the Public Associates category. This reflects the shift of institutions from the two-year to the four-year category over this time period. The other largest growth sector in percentage terms is the proprietary four-year sector, which includes the University of Phoenix Online Campus conferred more associate’s degrees in 2010-10 than the next six institutions in the total Top 100 list combined. The proprietary sector is also the dominant player among the “less than 2-year” institutions in conferring 1 to <2 year certificates, conferring almost as many as public associates institutions.

The graphs accompanying the second (Table 3) table explore the changes in combined production of associate degrees and pre-baccalaureate certificates by institutional level (two-year vs. four-year) and control (public, private-non-profit, and private-for-profit). The level graphs shows that while two-year institutions still dominate for each award type, the four-year sector has experienced more significant growth, as reflected by the percentage increases. It is also interesting to note that “less than two-year institutions” have actually experienced a decline in awarding < 1 year certificates. Table 1 shows that this decrease is primarily among the public sector institutions at this level.

The graphs that portray the change in award production by control show that the public sector still dominates in associate degree production although the proprietary sector has picked up some market share. With regard to 1 to <2 year certificates, the proprietary institutions have gained the majority market share over the past ten years. Private, non-profit controlled institutions continue to play a very minor role in conferring all of these pre-baccalaureate awards.

Given the high percentage growth in associate and 1 to <2 year certificates over the last year, and the seemingly contradictory decline in < 1 year certificates, we explore further in our final table (Table 4) the distribution of these awards and percent change over the past year by institution type, race/ethnicity, and region. The first column for each award type shows the distribution of those degrees awarded in 2010-11. For example, the traditional community college (Associates, 2-Year) accounted for just over three of every five associate degrees awarded (61 percent), with proprietary institutions awarding just over one in five (21 percent). The percent change from the prior year is shown in the second column of each set.

It shows that compared to the overall 11.1 percent overall increase in associate degree conferrals, proprietary institutions had the highest rate of change. Private, non-profit institutions had the lowest rate of change, even though it is still positive at 2.9 percent.

Further examination of the changes by institution type shows that the private-sector institutions, non-profit and especially for-profit (proprietary), disinvested in shorter certificate programs. However, these short programs actually grew at public institutions (associates two-year, associates four-year, and other four-year). The proprietary institutions appear to have shifted their attention to the associate degree and especially the longer
1 to < 2 year certificate programs.

The largest percentage growth among racial ethnic categories occurred for the still relatively small “2 or More Races” group. This likely reflects both the growth of this multiracial group, but also the increased tendency for students to report a multi-racial identification as the relatively new two question format becomes more institutionalized.

Another notable change among racial groups is the absolute decline in associate degrees and <1 year certificates and relatively low growth rates in 1 to <2 year certificates among Asian Americans. Associate degree conferrals by race/ethnicity follow fairly closely the general population percentages, with a slight under-representation among Hispanics and Whites. For the 1 to <2 year certificates and the < 1 year certificates, African American and Hispanic students are over-represented and whites generally under-represented.

Percent changes in associate degree and < 1 year and 1 to < 2 year certificates by region do not follow any clear pattern. The largest percentage increase in associate degree conferrals was in the relatively small Plains region, substantial growth occurred in 1 to <2 year certificates but decline in
< 1 year certificates in the Far West and, inexplicably, growth in the < 1 year certificates in the New England and the Mid East regions.

The distribution of degrees and pre-baccalaureate degrees by region follows pretty closely with population representation with some slight deviations. Specifically, the < 1 year certificates are under-represented relative to population in the Mid East states but highly over-represented in the Southeast. The 1 to < 2 Year certificates are over-represented relative to population in the Southwest.

The economic recession may have stimulated the large increases in completions over the past two years as employment opportunities were limited and retraining a high priority for many out-of-work citizens with notable support made available through stimulus funds. More recently, two trends portend potential slow growth in the year ahead.

The fiscal situation has reached a point where many public institutions must limit their enrollments to accommodate funding cuts. At the same time, with employment conditions improving it is possible that the demand for retraining may decline. We will see in next year’s edition how these trends played out.

It’s YOUR TURN: CCW wants  to hear from you!
Q: Where is your college seeing the most growth in number of associate degrees conferred?
Share your opinion: ccweekblog

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

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