It pays to earn a 2-year degree

Earning an associate or bachelor’s degree paid off for students who enrolled in North Carolina community colleges in 2002-03, concludes a working paper from the Center for Analysis of Postsecondary Education and Employment (CAPSEE).  The economic returns for health-care credentials such as nursing were “extremely high.”

However, certificates did not produce strong economic benefits.

The recession did not erode the “substantial and consistent” gains from earning a two-year degree, the report found. “Even accumulating some college credits (but no degree) led to higher earnings for students.”

Students who earned degrees in nursing, allied health fields, construction, mechanics and welding improved their earning significantly, reports Community College Daily. However, there were no economic returns for women who earned education or child care degrees; men in those fields actually did worse.

The CAPSEE review tracked incomes five years after initial enrollment for students enrolling between 2001 and 2008 and completing an associate degree. It found that the advantage conferred by a degree remained consistent — about $4,800 per year for women and $3,000 per year for men — despite the recession starting in late 2007.

Graduates were less likely to be unemployed, according to CAPSEE.

University wants to give 2-year degrees

Kent State University wants to start awarding two-year degrees to students on their way to four-year degrees, reports the Columbus Dispatch.  Students who earn 60 credit hours could qualify for the associate degree, which would “provide a fallback” for those who never complete a bachelor’s degree — and increase state funding.

 Of the money that Ohio sets aside for four-year public schools, a greater share this year is tied to the number of degrees that schools grant. That includes associate degrees, even though they traditionally have been a specialty of community colleges and the regional campuses of four-year universities.

That could be a boon for Kent State but take a toll on other schools –– the state sets aside only a certain amount of money for colleges, so more for Kent State means less for others. 

Community college presidents are wary of competition. “It’s gaming the system,” said Karen E. Rafinski, interim president of the Ohio Association of Community Colleges. 

All four-year colleges should award associate degrees to students who finish two years of higher education, argues Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University, in an Inside Higher Ed commentary.

He imagines two brothers. One goes to community college, earns an associate degree and finds a job. The other goes to a university but drops out in his third year. Without a credential, he can’t find an entry-level job. 

Three years of college study but no earned degree is worth less in the market place than two years of college that culminates in an associate degree. If that is so, then why not award the A.A. to students who successfully complete two years of study but don’t make it to the finish line at traditional four-year institutions?

An associate degree in no particular field of study isn’t worth much in the workforce. The dropout brother would do better to reverse transfer to a community college and pick a field of study that lets him use some of his old credits. 

Ambition matters

Ambition matters,writes Bryan Caplan on EconLog. It explains why students who apply to selective colleges earn more than those who set modest goals.

In Ambition Revisited, he looks at James Rosenbaum’s College-For-All: Do Students Understand What College Demands? It shows degree completion as a function of high school students’ grades and goals.

Exhibit A: Percentage of high school seniors who plan to get a BA who successfully do so.

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Exhibit B: Percentage of high school seniors who plan to get an AA who successfully do so.

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More than two-thirds of A-students who plan to get a BA succeed, compared to less than half of A-students who plan to get an AA, Caplan observes. “This pattern extends all the way down to the weakest students.” In fact, B students who aim for a bachelor’s are as likely to succeed as A students who aim for an associate degree.

It’s likely seniors who want a BA are more ambitious than classmates willing to settle for an AA, Caplan writes. “As a result, they are — holding grades fixed — markedly more likely to achieve their goal despite its intrinsic difficulty. Seniors who say they only want an AA, in contrast, simultaneously aim low and fall short.”

Ninth graders should be shown Exhibit A: Less than half of B students and one fifth of C students earn a bachelor’s degree. Ambition isn’t enough: You need to do the work in high school.

College premium varies

The college premium is growing, but higher education’s benefits vary significantly depending on “individuals, types of credentials, occupations, and geographical locations,” concludes an Urban Institute study by Sandy Baum.

Median earnings for full-time workers aged 25 to 34 with an associate degree were 19 percent higher than for high school grads in 2012. The college premium rose to 26 percent for workers 35 to 44 years old and 28 percent for those 45 to 54.

Full-time workers 25 to 34 years old with “some college but no degree” earn 7 percent more than those with a high school diploma only. That rises to 19 percent for workers 35 to 44 years old.

The “some college” group includes a mix of college dropouts and people who earned vocational certificates. Dropouts aren’t likely to see an earnings premium, while some vocational certificates raise pay significantly.

Including full- and part-time students, 56 percent of college enrollees complete a degree or certificate in six years, one study estimates. After 10 years, 62 percent have completed a credential. 

Six is the new four

Brooklyn’s P-Tech is the The School That Is Changing American Education, writes Rana Foroohar in Time. Students can graduate in six years with a high school diploma, an associate degree and a job offer from IBM, which worked with the City University of New York to create the program. “Six should be the new four,” says IBM executive Stanley Litow.

In Chicago, IBM partnered with Richard J. Daley College to open Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy, a six-year program that leads to a $40,0000- a-year IBM job. It’s a ticket to the middle class, writes Forhoohar.

A four-year high school degree these days only guarantees a $15 an hour future, if that. According to projections by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the U.S. economy will create some 47-million job openings in the decade ending 2018, but nearly two-thirds will require some post secondary education. The Center projects that only 36% of American jobs will be filled by people with only a 4-year high school degree – half of what that number was in the 1970s.

Workers with a vocational associate degree will earn 73% more than those with only a high school diploma, the center projects.

Tennessee: Transfer, then earn 2-year degree

Tennessee universities will let former community college students “reverse transfer” university credits to complete an associate degree, reports The Tennessean.

“It’s all about advancing the numbers of people with post-secondary credentials, and this is an approach that allows us to do that,” University of Tennessee System President Joe DiPietro said.

State officials say two-year degrees are valuable in the pursuit of jobs — and a “fail-safe” for those who don’t ultimately earn a bachelor’s degree.

Community colleges would get to count reverse-transfer graduates in their figures. Because a revamped funding formula rewards colleges for higher graduation rates, the program would help two-year institutions financially.

Many community college students transfer before they complete a two-year degree.

In 4 years, 38% complete 2-year degree

Graduation rates inch up if students are given double the normal time to reach completion, according to new data by the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System. The analysis looks at first-time, full-time students seeking a certificate, two-year or four-year degree after four to eight years.

Two-year degree completion rates rose the most with time:  21 percent earned a degree in two years, 34 percent in three years and 38 percent in four years. Completion rates in certificate programs taking less than two years rose from 46 percent after two years to 67 percent in three years and 69 percent in four years. After eight years, 60 percent of four-year students had completed a bachelor’s degree, up from 58 percent after six years and 38 percent after four years.

More 2-year colleges add 4-year degrees

More community colleges are offering bachelor’s degrees in career fields, reports Community College Daily.

South Seattle Community College (SSCC) added a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management, which lets graduates seek a supervisory job in the hotel or restaurant industry.

North Dakota’s universities don’t offer a bachelor’s degree in energy management, so Bismarck State College (BSC) started a program to meet industry demand.

Courses are entirely online and are in eight-week blocks rather than the traditional 16 weeks. Only about 10 percent of the 250 students in the program are in North Dakota; the rest are all over the country. Most are adults already working in the field, although there are some traditional students who’ve just completed an associate degree.

California community colleges hope to offer four-year degrees in vocational majors.

The chief executive officers of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Community Colleges Association (SDICCCA) this week voted unanimously to endorse the concept. SDICCCA comprises the nine community colleges in the six college districts of San Diego and Imperial counties: Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District, Imperial Community College District, MiraCosta Community College District, Palomar Community College District, San Diego Community College District and Southwestern Community College District.

“Our local community colleges excel at preparing students to enter the workforce in career technical fields such as nursing and allied health, ”Melinda Nish, SDICCCA president and superintendent/president of Southwestern College, said in a statement. “It’s time for California to join this national movement and address our local workforce and student needs.”

Colorado community colleges are trying again to add four-year degrees, despite a defeat in the legislature last year, reports the Denver Post. Possible majors included dental hygiene and mortuary science.

Best associate-degree jobs

Associate Degrees
Source: DegreeQuery.com

Study: Online learning boosts completion

Does Online Learning Help Community College Students Attain a Degree?  Yes, in some cases, concludes research by Peter Shea, an associate professor of education at the State University of New York at Albany.

Online community college students in Virginia and Washington state have higher failure and dropout rates, according to earlier studies by the the Community College Research Center.

Shea, who used to run SUNY’s online education system, found the CCRC’s conclusions “counterintuitive,”  he told Inside Higher Ed. Online education’s flexibility and convenience should help students advance, he believes.

In contrast to the CCRC studies, the Albany research found that students who had enrolled in at least one online course in their first year did not come into college with better academic preparation than did those who took no courses at a distance.

And students who took online courses at a distance were 1.25 times likelier to earn a credential (certificate, associate or bachelor’s degree) by 2009 than were their peers who had not taken any online courses. Those who started college with a goal of attaining a certificate (rather than a bachelor’s degree) and took online courses were 3.22 times as likely to earn a credential than were students who did not take online courses.

Shea used a nationally representative data set, he points out. Virginia and Washington state could be outliers.

Shanna Jaggars, a co-author of the Community College Research Center studies, said the Albany study may include more adult students.  ”For older students who are working full-time and have children, the ability to maintain a full-time load by mixing in one or two online courses per semester may outweigh the negative consequences of performing slightly more poorly in each online course they take.”