More than 800 Michigan community college students have been surprised with associate degrees — they didn’t know they had earned them.
The newly awarded degrees are part of a national effort to identify and find former students who took enough credits to earn the degrees but never received them, according to a report being unveiled today.
The two-year effort, known as Project Win-Win, was spearheaded by the Institute for Higher Education Policy and led to more than 4,500 students in nine states receiving associate degrees. Thousands more were notified they were a few credits shy of a degree, prompting some to return to school and finish.
“These folks are wandering around the country empty-handed, and we ought to recognize them,” said project director Cliff Adelman, a senior associate of the institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
The project was important because a degree is an important credential to have, especially in today’s economy, added Michael Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association.
Workers with an associate degree are more likely to find a job and last year averaged an extra $132 a week above those with only a high school diploma, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“A credential has value,” said Hansen. “It has value in the labor market.”
Nine community colleges in Michigan participated in the project, including Oakland, Henry Ford and St. Clair County community colleges. An auditing process to determine degree eligibility led to 847 former Michigan students getting an associate degree.
Meanwhile, 6,935 other residents were notified that they were a few credits short of earning their degree.
Of those, 240 returned to college and took a few classes to earn their degree. Hundreds more said they would return soon to earn it.
The schools leveraged $400,000 from the Kresge Foundation to reconnect with students who had nearly completed their associate degrees. The colleges identified a “universe” of students who had been enrolled after fall 2002, earned 60 credits and had an adequate grade-point average for graduation.
The students records were compared with the National Student Clearinghouse database to make sure they were not enrolled at another college or had been granted a degree elsewhere.
There are a variety of reasons why students earned an associate degree but didn’t know it, said Chris Baldwin, executive director of the Michigan Center for Student Success and state coordinator of the project.
Students may have begun a program, changed directions and not realized they had enough credits for a degree. They may not have been after an associate degree, thought they would transfer and earn a bachelor’s, but never did. There also may have been obstacles, such as a graduation fee.
“The positive thing about this is colleges have taken a hard look at their practices and procedures that are barriers to getting degrees and making changes,” Baldwin said. “There are lessons well beyond the 1,087 degrees awarded through this process.”