San José-Evergreen Community College District is trying to track more than 1,000 students who earned a certificate or associate degree, but never claimed their credentials, reports Inside Higher Ed.
Going beyond the Institute for Higher Education Policy’s Project Win-Win, which urges colleges to retroactively award associate degrees, the San Jose district also is targeting certificates. The campaign includes “current students who may have unknowingly earned a certificate on their way to an associate degree.” About half the missing credentials are certificates.
The district graduates only six credentialed students (counting both degrees and certificates) annually for every 100 full-time equivalent students, research director Oleg Bespalov found. Statewide, only 27 percent of community college students who transfer to a California State University have an associate degree.
“That struck me as kind of funky,” Bespalov said. “Students are required to complete at least 60 credits before transferring to a CSU, so they cannot all have not earned an associate degree. Clearly, there’s something wrong here.”
Many of those transfer students will ultimately not earn a baccalaureate degree from their four-year institutions, Bespalov noted, meaning that they will then leave the education system without a credential at all. He said a benchmark degree, such as an associate degree, on the way to something greater can make a difference in a person’s income level and job opportunities.
In addition to helping former students, retroactive credentialing could improve the college district’s graduation rate and help meet President Obama’s 2020 graduation goals.
Degree audits are complex, says Cliff Adelman, senior associate at IHEP. Some colleges that piloted Project Win-Win started with software “that purported to do degree audits, gave up, and went to hand-and-eye” readings of transcript records due to complications identifying, among other variables, residency requirements, degree program idiosyncrasies, the age of credits, and the difference between courses accepted for credit and transfer courses that count toward a credential.