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ABOR approves ASU associate's degree pilot program

The associate degree in professional studies will be offered to students at three high school groups

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The ASU charter is pictured outside of the Student Union on the Polytechnic Campus on Thursday, May 21, 2020.

The Arizona Board of Regents has approved ASU's third associate degree, a pilot program in professional studies.

An associate degree is a two-year undergraduate degree program predominantly provided at community colleges, but universities like ASU are looking to expand that opportunity.

The University's third Associate of Arts degree was approved unanimously by ABOR's Academic Affairs and Educational Attainment Committee on Sept. 15 and later approved unanimously by the full board on Sept. 30. 

The program is intended to be a pilot project funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a private foundation built to support a variety of different people with different intersectionalities across the world, including under-resourced student communities.

The Associate of Arts degree in professional studies is "designed to be both a valuable credential for students to launch a professional career and a pathway to efficient and cost-effective completion of a baccalaureate degree," said Nancy Gonzales, executive vice president and university provost, at the ABOR committee meeting on Sept. 15.

The pilot project is a small-scale experiment currently partnered with three high school groups: United for College Success in Texas, Yakima School District in Washington and ASU Preparatory Academy.

"Each of these partners serves a low-income population, and through this project, they are committed to designing a funding structure such that students can complete this degree at lower cost and without debt," Gonzales said.

"I think it's a great option, as a shorter term education is more in the grasp of many people these days," Connor Reinhardt, an electrical engineering major and transfer student from GateWay Community College, said in a text message. "The degree can definitely act as a stepping stone in a lot of fields where a moderate amount of higher education is required."  

Gonzales said that more than 35 million Americans have attended college but did not earn a degree, revealing the lack of completion within four-year degree programs.

"There is clearly a need for innovation and experimentation to develop new approaches to promote degree completion," Gonzales said.

Inclusivity is a motivation to bring associate degrees to the University, Anne Jones, vice provost for undergraduate education, said in an email.

 "ASU approaches associate degrees as an opportunity to fulfill our charter obligations and to create inclusive educational programs that serve our diverse communities," Jones said.

If the pilot program ends up successful, ASU will consider offering the degree "more broadly," an ASU spokesperson said.

Magge Wall, a transfer student and sophomore studying journalism and mass communication, said that she was having a difficult transition between community college and ASU as many of her credits were unable to transfer over.

Wall said if associate degrees were widely offered at ASU she "definitely would have done the AA degree at ASU" because it would have been a smoother transition into her other degrees.

Ashley Sinclair, a junior studying journalism and mass communication major and a transfer student, expressed concerns about the financial standpoint of an associate degree being offered at universities and its potential cost. She said many people choose to get an associate degree at a community college to save money.

"The classes for an AA degree from a community college and an AA degree from a university should cost, somewhat, the same," Sinclair said. She views it as "pointless" if the AA degree offered at ASU ends up being more costly than one at a community college.

Ava Rice, a transfer student from Mesa Community College, and a junior studying gender, women and sexuality also expressed concern about the potential cost of an associate degree at ASU in a text message.

"It's super cool and probably gives even more people a chance to consider enrolling in a 4-year university when they first apply to college," Rice said.

The other two associate degrees the University offers are in partnership with the United States Naval Community College. ASU and USNCC created an Associate of Arts in military studies and an Associate of Arts in organization studies. These programs are offered to active sailors, marines, and guardsmen enrolled at USNCC.

Edited by Jasmine Kabiri, David Rodish, Piper Hansen and Luke Chatham.

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Claire Le GalloCommunity Reporter

Claire Le Gallo is a reporter for the Community and Culture desk at The State Press. She is a sophomore majoring in Journalism and Anthropology.

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