Does the Associate’s Degree Matter? Evidence from Hawaii and Ohio

by Jason L. Taylor / Jun 3, 2015

We know the associate’s degree matters for students’ employment outcomes, but what, if any, impact does the associate’s degree have on transfer students’ bachelor’s degree outcomes? In the third Data Note in the CWID Data Note series, I examined this question using data from the CWID Baseline Study in two states.

Confirming prior research in this area, I found that the associate’s degree matters, but so does the type of associate’s degree. Descriptively, Figure 1 shows that in both Hawaii and Ohio, the bachelor’s degree attainment rate was higher by at least 10% for students who completed an associate’s degree prior to transfer. However, these results did not control for other factors that might influence transfer students’ bachelor’s degree attainment.

Controlling for other pre-transfer factors such as demographics, transfer GPA, and credits earned prior to transfer, Figure 2 shows that transfer students who completed transfer associate’s degrees such as the Associate of Arts (HI & OH) and the Associate of Science (OH) were significantly more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree compared to students who transferred with applied associate’s degrees such as the Associate of Science (HI) and the Associate of Applied Science (OH).

The results from this study have implications for transfer at large and illustrate perennial questions related to transfer policies, including how the transferability (or lack of transferability) of credit impacts students. Many students who receive applied associate’s degrees have bachelor’s degree aspirations and transfer to a four-year institution, but the lack of credit transferability may be negatively impacting their bachelor’s degree attainment. These results suggest that transfer associate’s degrees aligned with traditional transfer pathways are more likely to lead to successful transfer than applied associate’s degrees.

Jason L. Taylor is an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at the University of Utah. He received his PhD in higher education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a research specialization in evaluation methods and concentration in public policy. His broad research interests are at the intersection of community college and higher education policy and educational and social inequality. Dr. Taylor has conducted and led several quantitative and mixed methods studies related to college readiness, developmental education, adult pathways to college, dual credit/enrollment and early college experiences, transfer policy and reverse transfer, LGBTQ students and educational access and equity. He is currently the Co-PI with Dr. Debra Bragg and co-leading the research agenda for the Credit When It’s Due initiative, a 15-state effort to develop and implement reverse transfer programs and policies.