ERIC Identifier: ED261758
Publication Date: 1985-08-00
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los
The Current Status of the Associate Degree. ERIC Digest.
How many associate degrees are awarded by institutions of higher
education in the United States? What areas are those degrees awarded in? Who
receives associate degrees? This ERIC digest draws upon available sources of
national data to answer these and other questions often asked about the
associate degree by community college practitioners.
WHAT TYPES OF ASSOCIATE DEGREES ARE AWARDED
The associate degree is most often awarded to students completing
postsecondary programs requiring at least one but no more than two years of
full-time study. Wittstruck (1975) notes that the associate degree goes by
several different names:
--Associate of/in Technical Studies --Associate in General Education
--Associate of/in General Studies --Associate of Individualized Study
--Associate of Applied (name of specialty) --Associate of/in Applied Science
--Associate of/in Applied Arts --Associate in Technical Arts --Associate of/in
Technology --Associate of/in (name of specialty) --Associate of/in Occupational
Studies --Associate of/in Science --Associate of/in Arts --Associate of Arts and
Sciences --Associate in Specialized Business --Associate in Specialized
Technology --Associate in Nursing --Associate of Science in Nursing
Data on associate degrees are frequently disaggregated by curriculum:
vocational or nonvocational. The Higher Education General Information Survey
(HEGIS) counts nonvocational degrees under the category "Arts and Sciences or
General Programs"; vocational degrees are counted under six headings:
--Data Processing Technologies --Health Services/Paramedical Technologies
--Mechanical/Engineering Technologies --Natural Science Technologies --Business
and Commerce Technologies --Public Service-related Technologies
HOW MANY ASSOCIATE DEGREES ARE AWARDED?
The number of associate degrees awarded rose rapidly in the 1970s. In 1981-82
(the latest year for which comprehensive data are available), 434,515 associate
degrees were awarded, representing a 25 percent increase over the number of
associate degrees awarded during 1973-74. All of the increase is accounted for
by growth in the number of vocational degrees awarded. Between 1973-74 and
1981-82, percent changes in the number of associate degrees awarded were as
--Arts and Sciences or General Programs (-4.5%) --Data Processing
Technologies (225%) --Mechanical and Engineering Technologies (86%) --Business
and Commerce Technologies (39%) --Health Services and Paramedical Technologies
(31%) --Natural Sciences Technologies (30%) --Public Service-related
In terms of absolute numbers, 158,000 nonvocational and 276,493 vocational
associate degrees were awarded in 1981-82. Of the vocational degrees awarded,
35% were in business and commerce technologies, 22% were in health services and
paramedical technologies; 21% were in mechanical and engineering technologies;
9% were in public service-related technologies; 5% were in natural science
technologies; and 8% were in data processing technologies.
The growing popularity of vocational degrees is not necessarily a sign of the
diminution of the transfer function, because many occupational students transfer
to senior institutions. Indeed, a study conducted by the State University of New
York (SUNY) found that 29 percent of SUNY community college students receiving
vocational associate degrees in 1980 transferred to a four-year institution.
Illinois data also shed light on transfers with vocational associate degrees.
Of the 3,871 students who transferred with an associate degree from an Illinois
community college to an Illinois senior institution in Fall 1979, 19 percent
(727) held the associate in applied science (AAS) degree. While the
baccalaureate attainment rate for AAS transfers (19%) was lower than the
baccalaureate attainment rate of those transfers with associate of arts or
associate of science degrees (31%), it was higher than the attainment rate of
those community college transfers who had earned no associate degree at all
WHO RECEIVES ASSOCIATE DEGREES?
Since 1976-77, over 50 percent of associate degrees have been earned by
women. Though female students are beginning to enter occupational curricula in
which women have been traditionally underrepresented, most women who obtain
occupational associate degrees remain in health, office and public service
occupations. The 1981-82 data reveal that women made up:
--88% of the recipients in health services and paramedical technologies
(compared to 89% in 1971-72)
--65% of the recipients in business and commerce technologies (compared to
47% in 1971-72)
--52% of the recipients in public service-related technologies (compared to
38.6% in 1971-72)
--50% of the degree recipients in data processing technologies (compared to
30% in 1971-72)
--41% of the degree recipients in natural science technologies (compared to
24% in 1971-72)
--9% of the degree recipients in mechanical and engineering technologies
(compared to 2% in 1971-72)
Of the nonvocational associate degrees awarded in 1981-82, 54% were awarded
to women (compared to 43% in 1971-72).
PROBLEMS FACING ASSOCIATE DEGREE CURRICULA
Koltai (1984) presents a comprehensive analysis of the current status of the
associate degree. He reports several issues that need to be addressed as
community college educators plan associate degree programs for the future. These
--the relatively low prestige of the degree in higher education
--college-by-college variation in subject area and unit requirements
--the fact that many colleges and universities prefer their own transfer
requirements rather than accepting the associate degree as qualifying students
--the need to keep up with high technology in vocational associate degree
--the desirability of competency-based programs that certify the learning
outcomes of associate degree programs
--the need for more honor sections to attract and retain gifted students
In light of these issues, Koltai recommends that colleges establish testing
and placement procedures for entering students, specify competency standards for
degree graduates, improve the pre-service and in-service professional
development of community college faculty, and establish associate degree
committees to work with faculty, students, four-year institutions and businesses
in improving counseling, job-placement, and transfer.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
ASSOCIATE DEGREES: A LOOK AT THE 70'S., NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATIONAL
STATISTICS BULLETIN. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics,
1981. ED 207 628.
Bragg, A. K. FALL 1979 TRANSFER STUDY. REPORT 3: SECOND YEAR PERSISTENCE AND
ACHIEVEMENT. Springfield: Illinois Community College Board, 1982. ED 230 228.
Koltai, L. REDEFINING THE ASSOCIATE DEGREE. Washington, D.C.: American
Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1984. ED 242 378.
SUNY COMMUNITY COLLEGE GRADUATES: THEIR FUTURES. ANALYSIS PAPER NO. 822.
Albany: State University of New York, Office for Community Colleges, 1982. ED
Wittstruck, J. R. REQUIREMENTS FOR CERTIFICATES, DIPLOMAS AND ASSOCIATE
DEGREES: A SURVEY OF THE STATES. Denver, CO: State Higher Education Executive
Officers Association, 1985.