Students are Taking Longer to Go From Associate Degrees to Bachelor’s Degrees

Posted By Eliana Osborn on July 7, 2015 at 1:05 pm
Students are Taking Longer to Go From Associate Degrees to Bachelor’s Degrees

The U.S. does a decent job of getting students to college.  Getting them to finish degrees, whether associate or bachelor’s, is another story.  And a new report from National Student Clearinghouse Research Center about degree completion has revealed some important insights about who completes degrees and how long it takes.

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Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

488,000 students got an associate degree in the 2008-9 school year as their first higher education credential, according to the National Student Clearinghouse’s Degree Pathways report.  Of those students, 41% made it to a bachelor’s degree within the next six years.  However, the traditional plan of two years to an associate degree and another two years for a bachelor’s degree no longer seems to be the primary path for most students.

Students who finished an associate degree before the age of 20 were the most likely to earn a bachelor’s degree, with 60% reaching that goal.  Men are slightly more likely than women to complete their bachelor’s.  The most common length of time it took students to go from an associate to a bachelor’s degree was 2.8 years.


Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

It’s no surprise that degree completion is taking longer than in the past, especially for students starting with a certificate or associate degree.  These students usually begin their post-secondary education at the community college level, and they are often unable to attend on a full-time basis.  Many choose to earn an associate degree so that they can get a job with the credential before moving on to a higher degree.

As community colleges work to improve services for non-traditional and first generation college students, data like this is crucial.  What help do older students need in transitioning to four year universities?  What advising resources impact completion rates?

Programs like those at NYU for community college transfer students aim to support those on their way to higher degrees.  Unfortunately, most universities don’t have such resources available, with minimal assistance for those transferring in with an associate degree.

Doug Shapiro, executive research director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, told the Chronicle of Higher Education, “These first credentials are increasingly the entry points of choice for disadvantaged and first-generation college students, making them important to questions of equity in postsecondary-degree attainment.” In the interest of making higher education attainable to all students, administrators and policy makers will need to look hard at these bachelor’s degree completion statistics.  Achieving an associate degree is a step in the right direction, but most jobs of the future require further credentials, and we need to make the path to such skills more direct.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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