• September 1, 2015

Experiment at Ivy Tech: a One-Year Associate Degree

A One-Year Associate Degree: Will It Improve Graduation Rates and Lower Costs? 1

Adam Alexander for The Chronicle

With an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule, five days a week, Nicole Arthur can earn an associate degree in health-care support in one year, starting this fall, at Ivy Tech Community College.

Like many high-school seniors, Nicole Arthur was concerned about how she would be able to pay for the full cost of college. So when her guidance counselor handed her a stack of scholarship applications, one packet caught her eye: an associate-degree program that covered the cost of books, fees, and tuition. It would even give her a weekly stipend.

One of the best parts? She could finish her degree in one year.

A number of four-year colleges, such as Hartwick College and Southern New Hampshire University, are already experimenting with three-year bachelor's-degree programs, and Texas Tech University recently announced a plan to offer a medical degree that students can complete in three years rather than the usual four. Now, Indiana's community-college system appears to be the first in the nation to try an expedited path to an associate degree, one that would move students through in about one-third of the time it now takes an average community-college student to earn a two-year degree.

Ms. Arthur will be in the inaugural class of the accelerated associate program this fall at the Ivy Tech Community College campus in her hometown, Fort Wayne, Ind. This is one of two campuses in the system, along with the Indianapolis campus, that plans to offer the pilot program over the next three years. She will take classes with a cohort of about a dozen students studying health-care support, committing to be on campus from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., five days a week.

The project is backed by a $2.3-million grant from the Lumina Foundation for Education and a $270,000 grant from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, an agency that coordinates college programs and policy. The program, which focuses on enrolling low-income students, seeks to improve degree-completion rates for community-college students. About 25 percent of students who enter two-year institutions and hope to earn an associate degree actually graduate with one.

"We're trying to dramatically increase the number of students who are succeeding in college," says Teresa S. Lubbers, Indiana commissioner for higher education. "We need it for Indiana's economy, and we need it to improve the lives of Hoosiers."

Learning in Cohorts

Completing a two-year degree in one year is an ambitious proposition, and the program's developers have focused on creating a model that will enroll only students who have a good chance of succeeding.

Paula J. Birt, director of the program, says many high-school students were interested in the opportunity, but Ivy Tech worked with guidance counselors to identify only students who were college-ready, as determined by test scores, grades, and attendance and discipline records. A number of high-school graduates were offered a conditional acceptance, provided that they completed a summer remediation plan.

The program, which will begin in August, will consist of three groups of 12 to 20 students: one at Ivy Tech's Fort Wayne campus studying health-care support, and two at the Indianapolis campus, one in general studies and the other in computer-information systems.

Students will be expected to be on the campus during business hours, Monday through Friday, taking classes four of the days, with a fifth day for flexible programming, such as field trips or additional class time. Each cohort of students will take four classes at a time in eight-week segments, and classes will typically be taught in three-hour blocks.

"We're not rewriting the curriculum," Ms. Birt says. "We're simply redesigning it to deliver it in a different way."

The Lumina grant allows each campus to have a part-time academic-support staff member, to meet with students and help them set up tutoring. The program also calls for extensive collaboration among faculty members, who will have common planning time to coordinate their classes.

Linda K. Romines, who is program chair for health-care support at Fort Wayne, will teach a course in medical terminology during the first term of the accelerated associate program. She plans to coordinate with other professors, integrating material from other classes also being taught to the accelerated program's students, such as anatomy and physiology.

Ms. Romines believes the program is set up to not only help students graduate earlier but also improve how they synthesize information, even in a condensed time frame.

"If we didn't say it was going to be more challenging, that wouldn't be an honest approach to it," she says. "But I'm a really optimistic person, and I'm hoping for a 100-percent success rate."

Improving Completion

The program has a lofty goal of improving poor completion rates at community colleges that often stem, among low-income students, from a lack of family financial resources.

To be eligible for Ivy Tech's accelerated program, students must receive free or reduced-price lunches in high school through a federal program. Students who are picked for the program will receive financial aid, typically including Pell Grants, and will be given a small weekly stipend to help with food and transportation costs.

"We're targeting students who are bright kids but for socioeconomic reasons do not see themselves being successful in college," Ms. Birt says.

Program leaders say the key to determining whether the project is a success will be students' completion rates. President Obama has set a goal for community colleges nationwide to graduate five million more students by 2020.

At Ivy Tech, about 15 percent of students who entered in 2003 graduated with a degree by the end of the 2008-9 academic year, and about 3 percent both earned a degree and transferred to a four-year college. About 16 percent of students transferred to four-year institutions without first earning a degree.

The program's backers say time is the enemy of college completion, as many students get discouraged, or personal and career commitments get in the way. They hope the program's structure and shorter time frame will prevent students from losing focus on their education, allowing them to see the finish line.

"We're very aware of the fact that when it takes longer for our students to complete, it's less likely that they will complete at all," says Ms. Lubbers, the state higher-education commissioner.

The people behind the project also hope some students will use the associate degree as only a starting point for their college education and go on to a four-year institution.

Ms. Arthur, the student in Fort Wayne, says she thought about attending a four-year college, but the financial aid tied to the one-year degree program made it the most affordable option. Her father passed away when she was 10, and she and her mother, who is self-employed, receive federal assistance.

Ms. Arthur was able to defer a state scholarship for low- and moderate-income students, which will cover her tuition at a four-year institution after she completes the Ivy Tech program. She hopes the associate degree will improve her job prospects, and she wants to start working in the health-care-support field while she completes a bachelor's degree.

Interest in accelerated-degree programs has been on the rise in recent years, in part, because of the recession, which has spurred colleges to look for cheaper ways for students to earn degrees and faster ways to move them through to graduation. Getting students out the door more quickly could be particularly helpful to community colleges, many of which have struggled to accommodate surging enrollments in a down economy.

George D. Kuh, director of the Center for Postsecondary Research at Indiana University at Bloomington, is concerned about the expansion of accelerated-degree programs.

He likes some aspects of Ivy Tech's new program. Putting students in a cohort is an effective learning practice, he says, and selecting college-ready students could lead to the Ivy Tech program's success.

But Mr. Kuh is worried that colleges are pushing students to learn too much, too fast.

"We can set up circumstances like that and push people through," he says. "That still leaves us with the question of whether they are going to be competent."

Reproducing the Program

Mr. Kuh also questions whether the program could be reproduced on a large-enough scale to improve completion rates nationally. Other colleges may not have the resources to develop similar pilot programs, and large numbers of students need remedial courses and would be unprepared to succeed on the accelerated path, he says.

But at least one state has been able to offer certificate programs that are similar to the accelerated-degree option Ivy Tech wants to try. Tennessee's technology centers have been cited by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a potential model for community colleges to improve completion rates. Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive of the Lumina Foundation, says the Tennessee centers helped Ivy Tech and Lumina think about how to structure the accelerated-degree program.

At Tennessee's technology centers, students complete certificate programs while studying in cohort groups and taking classes from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., five days a week. The programs' students receive financial aid through a state grant program, financed by a lottery, and many are eligible for Pell Grants. Remedial education is integrated into the regular curriculum of the programs.

The institutions have a 75-percent completion rate, according to James D. King, vice chancellor for the technology centers. Mr. King says community colleges could build similar programs if they started thinking "outside the box."

"The model that we have is truly student-focused," he says. "We're graduating students on time."

Supporters of the Ivy Tech program are optimistic that the program could be expanded, both in Indiana and elsewhere. If the Ivy Tech program succeeds, Ms. Birt hopes companies and community organizations would help back similar programs.

Mr. Merisotis says he would like to see this type of program expanded to unemployed populations to help retrain workers in a short time. The $2-billion set aside for community colleges in the student-loan bill President Obama signed last month could be used to create those kinds of opportunities, he says.

Accelerated programs are sustainable, Mr. Merisotis says, and would allow colleges to more easily accommodate enrollment surges by moving more students through quickly. Money for student stipends could become part of state aid programs, he says.

"Accelerated programs," he says, "have the capacity to be a substantial part of what community colleges do."


1. waterdog - April 27, 2010 at 09:36 am

I hope they don't cut corners just to make this a "success." Success is not measured by graduation rate, but by how these graduates are able to contribute to society. It's hard to imagine students who need remedial work can complete the program on time. This concept speaks volumes about how today's students want instant gratification and how far institutions are willing to sink just to make a buck.

2. dallasm12 - April 27, 2010 at 09:39 am

@waterdog, ditto!

3. ivorytower54 - April 27, 2010 at 10:24 am

I think rather than speaking volumes about the students' need for instant gratification and greed of institutions of higher learning, I believe that it speaks volumes about how many real barriers are potential stumbling blocks to adult learners. If graduating takes too long, then let's decrease the time. If you can't finish because you have to have a source of income, then we'll get you a stipend.

I agree that success is not measured by graduation rates. At most community colleges it is measured by state or national certification on a board certified test. If these graduates are still passing those with the same success rates, then the program will be a success.

4. selfg - April 27, 2010 at 10:33 am

Let me see if I understand this model. We create a cohort "that will enroll only students who have a good chance of succeeding." Then we ensure the students "receive free or reduced-price lunches in high school through a federal program" so they will qualify for a Pell grant; which, in turn, will buy their books and give them a small weekly stipend. Next, we require they attend classes "during business hours, ... four [days a week], with a fifth day for flexible programming, such as field trips or additional class time." Good God, if this doesn't work then Community Colleges are in worse shape than I could imagine.

5. annabucy - April 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

I agree with those that have said that success is not measured by graduation rates, but by quality of graduate. It seems that implementing something similar to the University of Phoenix model will help make public schools more successful by weeding out students who should not be in college in the first place. Maybe, this will help high schools (and their associated school districts) identify areas of curricular weakness and student service needs that can better prepare all students for a rigorous college environment. However, it will likely divert funds from students whose K-12 life was rotten but whose college life will be excellent, like mine.

6. afnaar - April 27, 2010 at 12:48 pm

To selfg's comment on April 27: Here! here! Bravo!!

7. htinberg - April 27, 2010 at 01:42 pm

I am troubled by this development. I fear that in shortening the time needed to acquire an associate's degree we further devalue the "other" (non-vocational) element of the community college mission: to prepare students for successful transfer to a four-year college. Typically, students at the community college need more than a single year of preparation to meet that goal. I am also concerned that pressure to meet 100% graduation rates will mean lowering of academic standards in order to get students in and out quickly.

Howard Tinberg
Professor of English
Bristol Community College
Fall River, MA

8. rshawver - April 27, 2010 at 04:36 pm

I started to write a a comment about how today's posters seem to have gotten up on the negative side of their beds this morning. But then I decided not to waste my time. Try having some faith in today's students and in a state wide community college system that is piloting this program in hopes of facilitating student success

9. steviev610 - April 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm

In response to the majority of the posters who have commented before me, I would like to use myself as Exhibit A. I am a graduate from the Ivy Tech State College (now Community College) system that actually comprises a portion of the listed statistics.

I enrolled at Ivy Tech for the Summer 2003 term and was awarded my Associate of Applied Science degree in Business (Management concentration) in May 2004. I managed to do this through the process of taking 5 3-credit courses in the Summer 2003 term, 6 3-credit courses in the Fall, and 5 3-credit courses in the Spring 2004 term, as well as passing 7 CLEP examinations throughout the year.

From that point, I transferred through the Community College Alliance program at Franklin University of Columbus, Ohio and had earned my B.S. in Business Administration by the end of 2005. Throughout the process, the rapid pace kept me engaged with my learning and furthered my desire to continue my education. Typically, I do not like to interject my own story into debates, but I am living proof that such a program could be potentially beneficial to certain students.

I have since completed a Masters program (though it was occasionally stifling to wait for sections to be taught only once every two years), tutored within the Ivy Tech TRiO program, and now serve as an adjunct at the Fort Wayne campus witnessing at least a handful of students per term who would really benefit from the opportunity to complete their degrees and continue their educations beyond the Associates level.

The intentions of the accelerated format are not to rewrite the entire code of the educational system, but instead provide more options to better serve the diverse needs and desires of the student population. Any school who deprives or increases the difficulty for student success should reexamine its mission.

Ivy Tech's proposed accelerated format simply creates another avenue to foster academic success for a segment of the student population and deserves commendation on its intentions.

10. paievoli - April 29, 2010 at 05:48 am

In the UG program I have been trying for years to explain that if we move the lab hour currently scheduled at the end of the 2 hour class to the end of the week we would gain 3 hours a day of class time. This then allows for students to get finished with class earlier and have more classes scheduled in a day. This kind of thinking would not cut into class time and also help the students schedule better. Of couse the answer was "no". It is amazing that any academic insitution would allow for it to happen. Good luck and let's get moving.

11. eliffmavi - April 29, 2010 at 06:43 am

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12. jfritz - April 29, 2010 at 08:04 am

Advanced preparation for students for them to acquire the requisite academic skills is the key to promoting student success. The accelerated nature of course delivery is possible but must have the necessary student support both by the instructors and administrative staff. Access and opportunity for generations of high school and adult learner is how well they will be prepared once a properly aligned curricula is matched with their skills and interests. The caveate here is that this concept in viable but it is not a panacea to the degree completion rate. I have bee avocating earlier preparation for students to enter higher education and structuring the support systems to achieve those goals. I believe this could be the first step in making the dreams of students to make a better life through higher education and training.

13. dank48 - April 29, 2010 at 08:23 am

Good for you, Steviev610.

There's more than one way to get an education, and more than one way to make an education available. It will be interesting to see how well this innovative program works and what lessons are learned from the experiment.

14. bwyatt4561 - April 29, 2010 at 09:30 am

I have been an adjunct college instructor for fifteen years now; teaching for two and four year institutions, Ivy Tech being one of them. In my opinion this program is going to be a big challenge for the students and Ivy Tech. The shorter route is not always the best because one misses the scenic view along the way. The general education programs will have to be cut short, causing the student not to get the well rounded education, which is important to help one function proficiently at their task, with the public and co-workers. In my years of teaching college I have not seen any student, young or older, start their freshman year equipped with all the basic skills needed to accomplish a two year degree in one year.Ivy Tech is a fine institution and has a good reputation, but I hope this is not a money/numbers game with them, because they will be the loser in the end displaying their ill prepared product.

15. intered - April 29, 2010 at 10:04 am

Congratulations to Ivy Tech for being willing to experiment, a rare disposition in uber conservative higher education. That said, I hope Ivy Tech will be so equally bold as to require that solid metrics be put in place to see how the experiment works and make adjustments based on the findings. (Grades are not solid metrics.) I would be interested in seeing comparisons of learning outcomes and comparisons of personal and professional impact. Too often in higher education, we earn a living teaching the merits of the experimental method but we can't quite bring ourselves to apply it to what we do.

16. goxewu - April 29, 2010 at 10:11 am


17. hlsimmons - April 29, 2010 at 10:28 am



18. 11274135 - April 29, 2010 at 06:51 pm

As others have noted, this experiment seems to be designed to accelerate the sucess of the students who are already succeeding in the standard 2 year model. Thus the accelerated model will not really increase by much the number of students completing degrees. Over half the students comng to community colleges need developmental work in reading, writing, or math of some combination of the three. This is a huge hurdle that the Ivy Tech experiment has set aside by being selective (just as the most selective four year colleges and universities have the highest graduation rates. Many community college students have families, jobs, and complex lives that make any college experience difficult. The "stipend" this program offers will generally not be enough to pay day care, remove the need to work,and so on. The program recognizes many of the problems that keep students from completing degrees and certificates, but it seems to be encumbering with help those who need it least.

19. eliffmavi - April 30, 2010 at 07:24 am

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20. 22256297 - May 01, 2010 at 03:37 pm

It looks like they are still earning 60 credits ... I don't see the problem. Where is it written students must have 16 week semesters, a month off between semesters and three months off in the summer?

As for the benefit ... the consistency of the schedule and the cohort model seems particularly appealing.

It will be interesting to see how this works.

Good luck to the students!

21. performance_expert - May 02, 2010 at 09:25 am

If they had an outside accreditation agency meddling with them, they would never get there.

22. spowell14 - May 02, 2010 at 08:10 pm

Way to go Ivy Tech. Excellent addition to our efforts to provide quality education to all students.

23. fizmath - May 03, 2010 at 03:00 pm

At my CC, students go to school year round and finish most programs in 18 months. It could be done in 12 months without the gen ed courses. Those are supposed to make the students well rounded. In any other nation you are well rounded enough after high school.

24. kfreimiller - May 04, 2010 at 10:20 am

I'm just wondering... If a two year degree actually takes at least three years, why are we pretending there is any such thing as a One year degree?

25. hellworld - May 10, 2010 at 06:16 pm

The problem with higher education is that it assumes students have unlimited time to pursue educational goals. Many students have families, need to find a way to support them, and cannot afford to commute to classes at all hours of the day and evening while still trying to hold down a job. Having a full-time program, from 8-5, Monday through Friday, gives the student a definitive track to follow in a finite time. There is no need to wait for the right semester to try to get into a class. There is no need to try to convince the manager at your part-time job to change your schedule to accommodate classes. There is no need to try to "do it all" by taking part-time employment that potentially distracts. It is nothing more than effective time management in higher education. What is wrong with that?

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