Academic journal article ATEA Journal

From Terminal to Transfer: Bridging the Gap between the Technical Associate and the Baccalaureate Degree

Academic journal article ATEA Journal

From Terminal to Transfer: Bridging the Gap between the Technical Associate and the Baccalaureate Degree

Article excerpt

Defining the Associate Degree

According to Aud et al. (2012), an associate degree is "an award that normally requires at least 2 but less than 4 years of full-time equivalent college work" (p. 316). Associate degrees are generally separated into two major categories: (1) academic or transfer and (2) career and technical, or terminal (nontransferable). Academic or transfer degrees are often designated as Associate of Arts (AA) or Associate of Science (AS), whereas career and technical, or terminal degrees are most often designated as an Associate of Applied Science (AAS).

While associate degrees typically share the characteristic of a two-year curriculum, the distinction between the two major categories is critically important to both college students and faculty. Transfer degrees (AA and AS) are designed to parallel the first two years of a four-year baccalaureate degree, but applied associate degrees (AAS), considered terminal or nontransferable, have no defined academic path beyond the completion of the two-year curriculum (Makela, Ruud, Bennett, & Bragg, 2012). Consequently, AAS graduates who choose to continue their formal education often have limited options. In a study performed by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (2010), the commission noted that for transfer associate degrees:

Some states include transferable associate of art degrees...These degrees provide students with a clear pathway to transfer and often allow transfer students to enter a receiving institution with junior status. In some cases states have also allowed for the transfer of associate of applied science degrees...However, these types of degrees are typically only transferable to bachelor of applied science programs [emphasis added}. (p. 9)

Limitations of the Technical Associate Degree to the Baccalaureate Level

Technical associate degrees, particularly those designated as Associate of Applied Science (AAS), are often referred to as terminal degrees because of their curricular focus on occupational education. As cited in Ignash and Kotun (2005), The National Council on Occupational Education (NCOE) recommends that 50-75% of an AAS degree be comprised of technical courses, with the difference--at least 25% -comprised of general education. The authors clearly identify a measure of concern in academic attainment for a seamless transfer as junior level status to a four-year institution. Further, Townsend (2009) reports that an AAS degree is considered terminal because it consist(s) of occupational or technical courses that are not required and thus not transferable into conventional academic baccalaureate degrees.

Since AAS degrees are designed to prepare graduates for immediate entry into the workforce, the technical focus in the curriculum is appropriate. However, graduates who decide to pursue a baccalaureate degree learn very quickly that the AAS degree represents a tradeoff: employment today for limited educational opportunities tomorrow.

Because AAS degrees require so little general education and because the technical training often does not articulate to a baccalaureate program, AAS graduates often perceive that pursuing a higher degree requires academically starting over. It is not unusual for an AAS curriculum to include general education courses that are considered by senior institutions to be remedial and thus non-transferable. This is especially common in English and mathematics, which are perhaps the most critical elements of a general education.

Ultimately the issue facing AAS graduates is one of academic portability. Unlike AA or AS degrees that are widely recognized and accepted by senior institutions, AAS degrees were never intended to transfer. As a result, students who choose to seek a baccalaureate degree often do not understand if or how their AAS degree fits into a baccalaureate program.

Present Educational Demographics and Employment Projections

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