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New plan will award associate degrees to students in four-year degree programs

Kent Hall, Kent State Univerity in Kent, Ohio
Kent Hall, Kent State Univerity in Kent, Ohio
Wikimedia Commons

Here is a new twist on public higher education’s aims for student retention and graduation success that may set a precedent nationwide. As states continue to deal with cuts to public higher education, one state university is trying something new. Kent State University plans to start awarding associate degrees to students in bachelor’s degree programs who complete 60 credits of their four-year programs. This idea has a two-fold mission: students who drop out will have a two-year degree, while their progress is likely to encourage others to continue on to finishing their bachelor’s degrees. Plus, in addition to the student support, university officials hope for increased state funding as Ohio moves more funds to public higher education based on degrees awarded and not on enrollment numbers.

The plan’s two-fold benefit can be a win-win situation for students and the university. According to Kent State University Provost Todd Diacon,”A growing amount of research suggest that when you award the associate degree on the way to a bachelor’s degree it helps improve student success.” Diacon continued, “It gives a meaningful milestone for the students to reinforce they are making progress.”

The beauty of this plan is that most students in bachelor’s programs complete 60 credit hours of courses in the first two years of the program, and that would qualify them for an associate’s degree.

For students who need to leave the university before completing a bachelor’s program, an associate degree would help them acquire jobs. Provost Diacon recently presented the plan proposal to the Faculty Senate. Diacon has said he agreed with views of former Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Jim Petro who advocated for awarding associate degrees to students.

The Complete College Ohio report, which was released in 2012 when Petro was chancellor, recommended institutions “grant an associate degree as an interim credential when a student has satisfied degree requirements after 60 or more semester hours of meaningful college-level coursework.”

Although Kent State’s main campus does not offer associate degrees, its regional campuses do. Degrees from the regional campuses did not include a regional designation on the degrees, just “Kent State University.” With the new plan, associate degrees likely will be awarded to students at Kent’s main campus as well.

Not Across The State Agreement

Other state universities in Ohio have no immediate plans or desire to follow the Kent State lead in awarding associate degrees to students in four-year programs.

While Ohio University offers associate degrees at its regional campuses, there is no interest in expanding those degrees to its main Athens campus, according to university president Roderick McDavis. “I’m not real excited by that concept,” he said. “The reason you are a four-year university is to award a bachelor’s degree. Community colleges were created to award associate degrees. I’m not being critical but I don’t want to walk down that path. I think we’re doing pretty well as a four-year campus.”

Kent State University will need to get the approval of the Ohio Board of Regents to start their awards plan. Chancellor John Carey said, “We encourage our institutions of higher education to look at ways that they can help students earn their degrees and certificates of value.” Carey added, “What Kent State is proposing would go through the same approval process with the Board of Regents as other degree programs to ensure the students are awarded valid and meaningful associate degrees.”

Let’s keep an eye on this plan. Will it truly provide a “meaningful milestone” to encourage students to stay for their bachelor’s degrees as see their progress confirmed by an associate degree?

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