Improving Access to the Baccalaureate: Articulation Agreements and the National Science Foundation's Advanced Technological Education Program

Article excerpt

This article presents an analysis of national data from the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program regarding articulation agreements for the transfer of 2-year technical degrees to baccalaureate degrees. Quantitative and qualitative data are illustrated to help explain the extent to which ATE projects improve access to universities for technical students.

Keywords: technical degrees; articulation agreement; workforce development; occupational program; associate degree

**********

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program was started in 1994 with the aim of providing support for institutions or consortia to develop curricula for emerging technology fields that are experiencing a shortage of qualified technicians. One of the specific objectives of the ATE program is the collaboration between 2-year colleges and universities in developing formal articulation agreements for the associate degree students in the various technological areas. Because the NSF emphasizes the STEM competencies (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), an additional objective is to encourage students at the technician level to complete a bachelor's degree.

This article will attempt to determine to what extent the ATE program has succeeded in helping students transfer to a 4-year program. Secondary analysis of data collected for the national evaluation of the ATE by the Evaluation Center at Western Michigan University will be used to describe the number and quality of articulation agreements developed by sponsored colleges in 2004 and 2005. First, the broader context in which the ATE is being implemented is described.

Background

There is a convergence of trends in community colleges that is affecting how the needs of business and industry are met. These trends include the increase of students on nontraditional career paths, the academic emphasis in technical degrees, articulation agreements between institutions, and student transfer rates. In general, community colleges have been very resourceful in dealing with these multiple missions. One of the more challenging issues is how to provide a dual foundation in academics and occupational skills so that students can enter the technical workforce while leaving open their option to attain a bachelor's degree.

Community colleges have been a vital part of the workforce development system that has culminated recently with the new degree programs in high-tech, high-demand areas identified by employers (Zinser & Lawrenz, 2004). These programs require an unprecedented degree of collaboration between the education and business sectors, which historically have had very different perceptions about the skills needed for current and future employees. Because a highly competent workforce is a competitive advantage, particularly in technical firms, then there should be agreement on how to develop a reliable supply. In lieu of this, employers are forced to do without, hold back plans to expand, implement technological solutions that de-skill the job, or poach technicians from other employers (Skinner, Saunders, & Beresford, 2004).

Concurrently, more and more students enter education from the workforce or military with experience and training in technical areas. Students from the Community College of the Air Force, for example, have both technical training and college credits that they can transfer to another college or articulate to a university. Along with their counterparts from industry, these "students" are looking for upward mobility--not just skills--to midmanagement or advanced technology positions (Gawenda, 2004). Employers are also increasingly demanding an advanced education that builds on the applied degree. Students are on a nonlinear, nontraditional path that involves working and learning over many years and with several institutions in very unconventional patterns. …