Buy One, Get One Free: Program to award four-year students associate degrees

The administrators of Kent State University recently proposed a program that would award some students, enrolled in four-year programs, with an associate degree after hitting the 60-hour mark.

The underlying goal of granting students, already on their way to a bachelor’s degree, with an associate degree — an undergraduate degree that typically requires two years of study — is to bolster student success and serve as a backup plan for students who drop out of their four-year programs.

It could also leave Kent State with an increase in state subsidies based on numerical data representing degree completion and student success.

This possible program has not crept by Youngstown State University’s administration unnoticed. YSU President Randy Dunn said the university should warily consider the pros and cons of such a program.

“I do believe it is probably prudent to put together a small work group to look at the pros and cons of such an approach. When we heard that Kent State had some plans in that direction, it actually raised more questions for us than it answered,” Dunn said. “This could be seen as a potential gaming of the system. So I think we are going to probably have the state weighing in to give us some direction on this.”

This is not the first time this type of initiative has been brought into consideration. Ikram Khawaja, YSU’s provost, said Jim Petro, the previous chancellor for the Ohio Board of Regents, had brought the idea to the table a few years ago.

“Chancellor Petro, this was one of his interests — that somehow we should recognize the work students have done mid-stream to give them a sense of accomplishment and completion before they get a four-year degree. So this conversation started, I would say, three or four years ago,” Khawaja said.

Khawaja said Petro originally planned this simply as a method of encouragement for students, but the possibility of the program adding state funding could reinvigorate the conversation.

“The state has done a calculation for state support. Part of that calculation is based upon degree completion. So students who complete degrees, that helps in terms of our subsidy calculation. So, if you can ramp up the number of degree completion, I am thinking that will certainly help towards subsidy calculation. Now, I don’t know whether Kent is doing it for that reason,” Khawaja said.

One consideration the university has briefly discussed is granting students an associate degree in general studies — around 60 credit hours — because of the flexibility of the program.

“We have had conversation,” Khawaja said. “You may or may not know that we have a general studies bachelor degree that Jane Kestner supervises, and I thought that that would be a very logical way to get a two year — in that people who have completed work that may not be specific to an organized major, we could recognize as associate degrees under general studies.”

Though this may not benefit students across the board, it could serve as a tangible award or inspiration for discouraged or unmotivated students.

“There are students who are so focused that they don’t need anything, and they know exactly where they are going. But, there are students who are sort of undecided, sort of migrating back and forth. They get reinforcement of this kind, it might give them reinforcement to finish up,” Khawaja said.

Any such program has not even inched past the discussion phase, but the possibility of Kent spearheading a similar initiative may revitalize the idea and lead the way to more serious discussion.

“There’s a lot of questions. Are we going to make every student that hits 60 hours now pay a graduation fee?  That is one of about 100 questions that come up, but, depending on how this continues to unfold in Ohio and the high stakes attached to it with performance funding, it is probably something that needs to at least be investigated until we get more guidance from Columbus,” Dunn said.