Adult Learners and the Applied Baccalaureate

Goals

The first phase of this project studied all 50 states to determine the extent to which the degrees are offered, contributing factors that led to the creation of the degrees and the decisions not to create the degrees, when applicable.

The second phase was designed to study some states with notable policies and practices, paying particular attention at how well they address the diverse needs of adult learners.

Project Profile

The Adult Learner and the Applied Baccalaureate project documents the applied baccalaureate phenomenon in the United States, including the extent to which applied baccalaureate programs target adult learners. Recognizing the vital link between a healthy economy and a well-educated adult workforce, this project documents educational opportunities as well as public policy and policy-oriented initiatives associated with applied baccalaureate degrees awarded by associate degree-granting and traditional baccalaureate degree-granting institutions. The project is also designed to identify factors that influence the development and sustenance of these degree options for adult learners, and forecast the likelihood that these degrees will continue to meet the needs of adult learners seeking baccalaureate-level employment.

project-profileProject Profile. The Adult Learner and the Applied Baccalaureate

Select Presentations

WEBINAR: The Applied Baccalaureate and Technical Transfer
May 11, 2011
Findings from the Lumina AB project, and an outline of the upcoming NSF-ATE project on AB degrees in STEM fields.
Debra D. Bragg and Collin M. Ruud
Recording

Influences Affecting the Development of the Applied Baccalaureate
American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, April 15, 2009
Preliminary findings from the project’s national inventory of AB programs, including the influences that impact the implementation of AB degrees.
Barbara K. Townsend, Debra D. Bragg, and Collin M. Ruud
American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, April 15, 2009
Presentation

The Applied Baccalaureate Degree: The Right Time and Place?
Council for the Study of Community Colleges Annual Conference, Los Angeles, CA, April 3, 2009 
Analysis of AB degree programs from the state policy context, using Kingdon’s Multiple Streams framework.
Collin M. Ruud, Debra D. Bragg, and Barbara K. Townsend
Presentation

Publications

Publication Search

         

        Current Topics

          AB Outcome Evaluation 2016 Final Corrected_Page_01
        • Evaluation of Applied Baccalaureate Degrees: New Resource on How to Assess Outcomes

          Ideas for conducting outcomes evaluation is addressed in a new report by Maria Claudia Soler and Debra Bragg titled, "Outcomes Evaluation of Applied Baccalaureate Degree Programs in STEM and Technician Education". This report is the subject of a session at the upcoming Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) design lab in Chicago, Illinois on Saturday, March 19.  In print and in person, the authors describe outcomes evaluation applied to the implementation and impact of AB degrees in the community college and university context. They give examples of ways to evaluate AB degrees, including instruments from their NSF Advanced Technological Education (ATE) research on AB degrees in the U.S. The report concludes that evaluators be open to whatever outcome results emerge, whether they favor AB degrees or not.

          For a copy of the report, please go to: Outcomes Evaluation of Applied Baccalaureate Degree Programs in STEM and Technician Education

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        • New Insights into Applied Baccalaureate Degrees

          Our newest research on Applied Baccalaureate (AB) provides a collection of case studies conducted in five regions of the United States (Florida, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and the two state region of Maryland and Delaware). Applied Baccalaureate Degrees in STEM and Technical Education: Program Implementation in Five Regions of the United States presents AB degrees offered in technician education programs in the following STEM fields: biotechnology and biotechnology sciences; energy management; engineering technology; cybersecurity, computer and network security, networking, and cyber security; information security; and information technology. Each case discusses implementation from the perspective of institutional context, program goals, key components (curriculum and instruction, support services, etc.), and intended outcomes. The study also uses the following criteria to analyze the data: program quality, educational significance, evidence of effectiveness, and replicability (Bragg, Bobik, Maxwell, & Palovik, 2002).

          We express our gratitude to the National Science Foundation (NSF) Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program for the $1.2 million award that made this research possible. An earlier report, Investigating Applied Baccalaureate Degree Pathways in Technician Education, may also be useful to readers.

          Individuals interested in learning more about AB degrees should consider attending the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) annual international conference in Chicago, Illinois on March 18-20, 2016. This conference includes the Applied Baccalaureate (AB) Design Lab wherein participants attend dedicated sessions that address degree program implementation, stakeholder analysis, policy and accreditation, and evaluation and continuous improvement. For registration or other information about the CCBA meeting, visit: http://www.accbd.org/#

          References

          • Bragg, D. D., Bobik, C., Maxwell, C., & Palovik, D. (2002). Enhancing America’s workforce one exemplary program at a time: Highlights of 2000 and 2001 postsecondary exemplary CTE programs. Columbus, OH: National Center for Dissemination in Career and Technical Education, The Ohio State University.

          debra-braggDr. Debra D. Braggis the founding director of the Office of Community College Research and Leadership

           

          solerMaria Claudia Soleris a PhD student in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She can be reached at solersa2@illinois.edu.

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        • Community college baccalaureate degrees in the spotlight

          Where are community colleges across the country going in regard to baccalaureate degrees? How are baccalaureate programs doing in terms of legislation, program implementation, and outcomes? What can the U.S. learn about baccalaureate programs in vocational education and training systems in countries such as China and Australia?

          The 15th Annual International Conference of the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) was held in Boston, M.A. on March 6-8. The meeting brought together administrators and scholars in the U.S., including organizations in Australia and China, to learn from each others’ experiences about community college baccalaureate degrees. The OCCRL’s Applied Baccalaureate (AB) research team presented findings on STEM AB degrees associated with National Science (NSF)-Advanced Technology Education (ATE) centers and projects. The presentation focused on qualitative research gathered on stakeholder perceptions (community colleges, students, universities, and employers) that promote or hinder the adoption and implementation of AB degrees. Team members have also shared those findings through a series of blog posts that you can find here.

          The conference agenda also included presentations on AB approvalprocesses, program enrollments, curriculum development and implementation, competency-based education, and industry and community partnerships. A focus on nursing education was especially prominent, and the commitment of community colleges to enable more students to access baccalaureates through multiple approaches (ABs, university centers, improved transfer of applied associates of science programs) was fundamental to the conversation. Keynote speaker, Mark Mitsui, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Colleges, highlighted the efforts community colleges are making to expand access to higher education. He encouraged institutions to carry out initiatives to expand their impact across the board, from accessing the community college to receiving the baccalaureate.

          With the spotlight shining bright on AB degrees throughout the U.S., it is an exciting time for the study of applied baccalaureates. Our research team is pleased to continue studying and disseminating findings on these degrees.

          solerMaria Claudia Soler is a PhD student in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She can be reached at solersa2@illinois.edu


          debra-braggDebra Bragg, OCCRL director and Gutsgell Endowed professor at Illinois, researches the transition to college by youth and adults, especially student populations that have not attended college historically.

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        • Student Perspectives on the Applied Baccalaureate (AB) degree

          This is the fifth in a series of blog posts that focuses on diverse stakeholder perspectives on the AB degree. The perspectives we are sharing represent the following groups: community college personnel, students, university personnel, employers, and state policy leaders.

          Community colleges play a key role in providing open access to postsecondary education in the United States. Almost half of the U.S. undergraduate students attend community colleges, with representation by minority, low-income, and first-generation students higher compared to four-year colleges and universities (American Association of Community Colleges, 2014). Adult learners are also prevalent at community colleges, including students who are working, unemployed, or dislocated, as well as active military personnel (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). Many of these students have attended college but have failed to acquire sufficient credits to obtain a credential. For these individuals, a return to college to obtain skills and knowledge to obtain or advance in employment is imperative.

          A number of factors are prompting the proliferation of Applied Baccalaureate (AB) degrees in the U.S., including the need to improve associate-to-baccalaureate degree transfer, to increase baccalaureate degree completion, to deliver instruction to non-traditional and underserved learners, and to align higher education to the workforce (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). By definition, the AB degree incorporates applied associate of science courses and degrees once considered as “terminal” or non-baccalaureate level, helping students develop higher-order thinking skills and to gain advanced technical knowledge and skills so desired in today’s job market (Townsend, Bragg, & Ruud, 2009). Because of their potential to widen access beyond traditional transfer baccalaureate-degree pathways, adoption of AB degree programs may provide a way for higher education to reach more undeserved populations, including full-time employed, place-bound learners (Ruud & Bragg, 2011).

          Our research suggests students who have participated in AB degree programs tend to have a positive perspective toward AB degrees, highlighting their workforce relevance, flexible scheduling, affordable costs, and contribution to baccalaureate completion. We noted that some students also express concerns.  Mostly, they worry about whether the AB degrees will lead to the specific positions and promotions they are seeking, and whether the degrees will gain in acceptance and credibility. These perspectives are discussed below:

          • Workforce relevance: Generally, the content of AB programs of study is viewed as workforce oriented and well aligned with students’ interests in careers that require a bachelor’s degree, such as Information Technology (IT). Compared to general baccalaureate degrees, students perceive that ABs provide a highly relevant learning experience, and they value this aspect of the degrees (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). They also believe that the coursework associated with these degrees is relevant to the workforce, even if they do not have specific information about job placement.

          • Flexible scheduling: Many AB degree programs represent convenience of scheduling through online instruction, evening sessions, courses offered at work sites, and compressed scheduling (Grothe, 2009). This flexibility is especially convenient for learners who work and have other life commitments. Illustrating this point, an Ohio student who participated in an OCCRL focus group commented that the AB allowed him “a little bit more opportunity and flexibility, because my job…  sometimes I have to stay late; somebody’s called in sick, and we have day and night sessions. So it allows me a little bit more flexibility to meet all worlds.”

          • Affordability: Though not universally true, AB degrees may have lower tuition rates than traditional bachelor’s degrees. Also, because the programs are offered close to where students live and work, the cost of attendance is much lower than college-going that requires residence away from home. Further, some employers pay tuition and fees for their employees who are students in AB programs, especially when their education is linked to future advancement. AB students have told us lower cost represents a substantial advantage over traditional baccalaureate programs, sometimes making the difference in attending college, or not.

          • Increased baccalaureate attainment: An intriguing characteristic of many AB degrees is that they accept the transfer of all, or nearly all, credits from applied associate of science (AAS) degrees that, in the past, have been considered terminal (Makela, Rudd, Bennett, & Bragg, 2012). For students who graduate with technical associate degrees, AB degrees provide a pathway to pursue the baccalaureate without losing a substantial number of credits (Bragg et al., 2009). One student who participated in our study illustrates this point when s/he commented: “What’s nice about the Bachelor of Applied Technology degree is that I could take my electronics program, the credits from that, and apply it towards finishing the bachelor’s. And I guess, flexibility-wise, that’s nice.”

          • Credibility: Since AB degrees are relatively new, some students do express uncertainty about whether this new form of baccalaureate is marketable. Some students worry about tangible benefits, such as job opportunities and earnings. Demonstrating a concern for whether the AB studies will compliment work and lead to further employment, one student said: “You know, there’s always that concern. You always have to go through the screening process of your resume… You continue to work full-time and to gain that experience along with getting my degree in the hopes [that] they’ll also see that I have experience to back up that degree.”

          Will AB students/graduates find good jobs related to their baccalaureate-level studies?  Will their investment of time and money lead to more opportunities for advancement and higher income, beyond the associate-degree level?

          Join us in this discussion. Please use the comment field below to share your thoughts!  Stay tuned!

          References:

          • Grothe, M. (2009). Employer and graduate perspectives of the Community College Applied Baccalaureate: Meeting the college Mission (Doctoral dissertation).  Available from Oregon State University Library.
          • Makela, J., Rudd, C., Bennet, S., & Bragg, D. (2012). Investigating applied baccalaureate degree pathways in technitian education: Technical report. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College  Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from http://occrl.illinois.edu/files/Projects/nsf_ab/NSF-AB-Tech-Report-2012.pdf
          • Ruud, C. M., & Bragg, D. D. (2011). The Applied Baccalaureate: What We Know, What We Learned, and What We Need to Know. Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED521413
          • The White House. (2014). Building American skills through community colleges. Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/education/higher-education/building-american-skills-through-community-colleges
          • Townsend, B. K., Bragg, D. D., & Ruud, C. M. (2009). Development of the Applied Baccalaureate. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 33(9), 686–705. doi:10.1080/10668920902983601

          solerMaria Claudia Soler is a PhD student in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She can be reached at solersa2@illinois.edu

           

          debra-braggDebra Bragg, OCCRL director and Gutsgell Endowed professor at Illinois, researches the transition to college by youth and adults, especially student populations that have not attended college historically.

          Full story
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        • Employer Perspectives on the Applied Baccalaureate (AB) degree

          This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that focuses on diverse stakeholder perspectives on the AB degree. The perspectives we are sharing represent the following groups: community college personnel, students, university personnel, employers, and state policy leaders.

          More and more the American economy requires that workers have at least some postsecondary education or occupational training to secure living-wage jobs. Economists Carnevale, Smith & Strohl (2010) claim jobs are becoming more complex and requiring of more advanced skills in association with growth in middle-skills occupations. Others observe middle-skills jobs are growing, but employers are increasingly requiring the bachelor’s degree to fill jobs that previously required less than a bachelor’s degree (Burning Glass Technologies, 2014).  Referred to as upcredentialing, this phenomenon appears most prevalent in occupational fields where education and training is not as tightly coupled to licensing and certification. Whereas the Great recession may have fueled this trend, there is some evidence that this phenomenon was emerging despite the nation’s economic downturn.

          As noted in our research, various stakeholder groups have commented favorably on the implementation of Applied Baccalaureate (AB) degrees, noting that these degrees can help fulfill unmet workforce needs while improving baccalaureate completion. The states of Florida, Arizona, and Washington implemented AB degrees to address workforce skill gaps in certain fields, healthcare, education, and technical fields. More recently, California has passed legislation allowing for implementation of an AB pilot program in community colleges in January 2015 (Block, 2014), indicating workforce needs create the need for additional baccalaureate degree graduates.

          By incorporating applied associate of science courses and degrees once considered as “terminal” or non-baccalaureate level, AB degrees aim to provide students with advanced technical knowledge and skills desired in the labor market (Townsend, Bragg, & Ruud, 2009). But, what types of skills do employers need and demand? What input does business and industry have in the creation of AB degree programs?

          These questions relate to employers’ perspectives toward AB degrees. A snapshot of these multiple perspectives is presented below:

          • The value of the applied baccalaureate: Among all stakeholder groups, employers are the least likely to express concern for the title “applied baccalaureate”. Illustrating this point, an Ohio employer observed that candidates with applied degrees are “basically the same” as graduates with traditional bachelors degrees. She added, “I never really looked into it too much to determine what the differences are”. However, since AB degrees are new in some states, it’s possible uncertainty about the meaning these degrees will emerge, but the preponderance of OCCRL’s data suggest concerns over the “applied baccalaureate” degree title is greater in the academy than in the workplace. A common observation that we have heard from employers is paraphrased as follows: Whether graduates can do the job is what matters, not the title of the degree.
          • Qualified workforce: Employers observe that AB degrees represent a means of addressing the needs of existing full-time and place-bound workers who seek to return to postsecondary education to pursue job advancement opportunities (Ruud & Bragg, 2011). Workers who seek a bachelor’s degree to advance in their careers represent a substantial proportion of the AB student population, and some of these students receive employer reimbursement for their successful completion of AB coursework.
          • Serve communities: AB degrees are seen as enabling local employers to retain citizens who wish to remain in their communities to pursue baccalaureate studies. By helping students attain credentials close to work and home, ABs provide talent to the local marketplace that helps to sustain the economic vitality of their communities. Employers mention this advantage to AB degrees, and many community college practitioners echo this sentiment.
          • Social mobility: Representing the social value of college education, an employer participating in OCCRL’s research emphasized that the AB degree “gives folks an opportunity who might not otherwise have an opportunity to attend a large state university or private university to obtain a baccalaureate degree”. Also recognizing that AB degrees may address the needs of unemployed workers, another employer suggested the AB degree is “a great way for people where they’ve been displaced to gain if they want to move [in a new] direction in terms of their career”.
          • Cross-sector collaborative relationships: Employers see value in building cooperative relationships with postsecondary institutions to align workforce needs in fields targeted for AB degrees. Representing this perspective, an Idaho employer remarked, AB degrees are a great strategy to “get the right people coming in the door at the right time with the right skills”. This may explain why AB programs of study appear to be proliferating in STEM fields, as well as in business- and management-related occupations with STEM employers (Makela, Rudd, Bennett, & Bragg, 2012).

          As AB degree programs grow, will graduates of these programs fulfill workforce needs and demands? Will concerns about the degree fade as graduates find employment? Will demand for AB degrees grow if the relationship between higher education and the workforce strengthens?

          We would love to hear from you. Please join us in the discussion!

          References:

          • Block, M. SB-850 Public postsecondary education: community college districts: baccalaureate degree pilot program, 850 SB § 78040 (2014). Retrieved from http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billStatusClient.xhtml
          • Bragg, D. D., Townsend, B. K., & Ruud, C. M. (2009). The Adult Learner and the Applied Baccalaureate: Emerging Lessons for State and Local Implementation. In Brief. Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED504447
          • Burning Glass Technologies. (2014). Moving the Goalposts: How Demand for a Bachelor’s Degree is Reshaping the Workforce. Boston, MA: Burning Glass Technologies. Retrieved from http://www.burning-glass.com/research/credentials-gap/
          • Carnevale, A., Smith, N. & Strohl, J. (2010) Help wanted. Projection of jobs and education requirements  through 2018. Georgetown University. Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from https://georgetown.app.box.com/s/ursjbxaym2np1v8mgrv7
          • Grothe, M. (2009). Employer and graduate perspectives of the Community College Applied Baccalaureate: Meeting the college Mission (Doctoral dissertation).  Available from Oregon State University Library.
          • National Commission on Adult Literacy. (2008). Rach higher, America: Overcoming crisis in the U.S. Workforce. Council for Advancement of Adult Literacy. Retrieved from http://www.nationalcommissiononadultliteracy.org/ReachHigherAmerica/ReachHigher.pdf
          • Makela, J., Rudd, C., Bennett, S., & Bragg, D. (2012). Investigating applied baccalaureate degree pathways in technician education: Technical report. Champaign, IL: Office of Community College  Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved from http://occrl.illinois.edu/files/Projects/nsf_ab/NSF-AB-Tech-Report-2012.pdf
          • Ruud, C. M., & Bragg, D. D. (2011). The Applied Baccalaureate: What We Know, What We Learned, and What We Need to Know. Office of Community College Research and Leadership. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED521413
          • Townsend, B. K., Bragg, D. D., & Ruud, C. M. (2009). Development of the Applied Baccalaureate. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 33(9), 686–705. doi:10.1080/10668920902983601


          solerMaria Claudia Soleris a PhD student in the Education Policy, Organization and Leadership program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Graduate Research Assistant for OCCRL. She can be reached at solersa2@illinois.edu

           
           

          debra-braggDebra Bragg, OCCRL director and Gutsgell Endowed professor at Illinois, researches the transition to college by youth and adults, especially student populations that have not attended college historically.

          Full story