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CO universities may issue associate degrees

The State of Colorado recently enacted legislation that allows its universities to grant associate degrees to students who left school without finishing a four-year degree program. Governor Jared Polis signed the bill, which could become a model for other states.

The law is Colorado’s attempt to provide credentials for some 700,000 residents who have attended college, but do not have a degree. These residents are at a significant disadvantage when they enter the job market. To qualify, a student must have earned at least 70 credits. Those credits must include the core courses that an associate degree requires. They must also have not been enrolled for at least two semesters. Students who transferred to the university from a community college do not qualify.

Colorado is not alone in having a sizable population that has “some college, no degree.” Michigan has more than 1M adults who fall into this category. Currently, the State is attempting to address the issue with programs like “Sixty by 30.” Futures for Frontliners and Michigan Reconnect also aim to increase the completion rate among adults.

Community colleges should worry about programs that allow universities to issue “unintentional” associate degrees. If nothing else, the approach eliminates an opportunity to enroll these credential-less individuals in two-year programs.

Some college, no degrees associate degrees

Now is a good time to increase enrollment among adults who have started but not completed a degree program. Many community college students hope to transfer credits to a four-year university. Few actually do. People with university credits in hand may not realize that they can apply those credits to a two-year degree. Leveraging general education credits earned elsewhere enables someone to complete degree requirements faster. Community colleges can compete more effectively with for-profit colleges, which eliminate general education requirements to shorten programs.

Without doubt, other states will look carefully at this approach to retroactively issuing associate degrees. The value of such a degree in the employment marketplace remains to be seen. But locally, it would certainly raise the question of whether an associate degree from Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan or Michigan State University would have greater value than an associate degree from Washtenaw Community College.

At the end of the day, the practice of retroactively granting an associate degree to students who stopped out will foreclose the possibility of getting those students back into a community college classroom.

Tick tock.

Photo Credit: Christian Schnettelker , via Flickr