Considering What Makes an AB Degree…

by Collin Ruud / Jul 26, 2012

While our degree categories and descriptions we use when approaching program analysis appear straight-forward, applying them in practice can be challenging. Differences in perception abound, and are ingrained in terminology, state policy, degree classifications titles, and stated personal and institutional preferences.

We encounter similar issues when considering applied baccalaureate (AB) degrees. For OCCRL’s initial research on AB degrees, funded by the Lumina Foundation, we devised the following definition of applied baccalaureate degrees:

The applied baccalaureate degree is defined as a bachelor’s degree designed to incorporate applied associate courses and degrees once considered as “terminal” or non-baccalaureate level while providing students with the higher-order thinking skills and advanced technical knowledge and skills so desired in today’s job market. (Townsend, Bragg, & Ruud, 2008, p. iv)

An intriguing characteristic of many AB degrees is that they accept the transfer of all, or nearly all, credits from applied associate degrees that, in the past, have been considered terminal. This notion of transferring terminal coursework to create pathways for advanced degree attainment where none existed previously has been a defining feature and continues to be an important aspect of AB degrees.

However, this definition still doesn’t seem complete. What if students move from a traditional, transfer-focused associate degree program into an already-established AB program? Is it still an AB degree? What if we consider the other route of transfer, which we’ve seen in increasing numbers, wherein students move from an applied/technical associate degree directly into a traditional baccalaureate program? Is that an AB on the merit of allowing for applied associate transfer, or a traditional baccalaureate degree because of the end product?

We don’t have the answer. We’d love to hear your thoughts!