Viewpoint: A closer look at AGS degrees

By Dr. Hans Andrews

Many students stop short of achieving their community and technical college associate degrees. There are many reasons, such as dropping out of college to work, raise a family, running out of personal funds and/or being unable to master one or more required courses. The associate in general studies (AGS) is an option worth considering by colleges to help guide many more students to their degree completion.

What is the AGS degree?

The AGS degree is not necessarily designed for transfer to universities. Counselors can guide students carefully through courses for the AGS degree that will meet transfer requirements. It provides a way for students who have attended other colleges to have their previous college courses brought into an “umbrella” type of format toward graduation.

The AGS degree normally requires a semester or more of general education courses that do transfer to most every senior college or university. The other nearly 75% of the courses can be transferred in courses and/or specific courses offering students an opportunity to explore various career options, such as business, computer science, health-related careers and others.

A specific course that’s a barrier

In the early 1960s, American colleges and universities began requiring a college Algebra course for most all of their degree curriculums. This became true in the community and technical colleges as well.

There was much political pressure on American colleges to help the U.S. catch up with Russia after their launching of the first satellite, Sputnik. This college algebra requirement has continued through to the present time.

A retired political science professor from Queens College of the City University of New York, Andrew Hacker, argues that requiring Algebra has become a major obstacle for students to graduate secondary schools and/or in colleges. The Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce sees it in much the same manner in the future. They project that no more than 5% of entry-level jobs in the future will require proficiency in Algebra.

Mathematics professor Robert Blumenthal provided a good argument for not making a mathematics requirement for all students going through a college program:

Yes, I as a math professor am prepared to argue for doing away with a math requirement if such a requirement is nothing more than a formal hurdle, adding little or nothing to a student’s education and only reinforcing the negative associations students already have concerning mathematics. Such a requirement is a waste of time and does more harm than good.

In California, it has been recorded that only 48% of its community college graduates have achieved an associate degree. The state also identifies that passing college Algebra is possibly the major barrier for many students to graduate. In a discussion on a recent National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, it was suggested that the Algebra requirement should be struck from the curriculum. It added that then we can watch how it will increase graduation rates.

Significant numbers of students stop short

California’s Foothills College reports that its graduation rate is 59%, compared to Napa Valley College’s graduation rate at 35%. The national graduation rate stood at 49%.

Fayetteville Technical Community College has found its associate in general education (AGE) degree is its most flexible. The North Carolina college converts certain military training to credit hours toward students’ AGE degree. Counselors help these students to transfer with ease to their “partner institutions” where they can pursue an advanced degree.

Central Michigan University is using a promotion, ‘Finish up Chips!,” to improve graduation rates and bring back students who dropped out.

How students, counselors learn about AGS

Checking out numerous community and technical colleges’ websites presents a mixed pattern of how AGS is promoted. In some colleges, it is not one of the degrees offered. One college in North Carolina reported that it had the AGS degree, but for some reason it was not included on its website.

Southwestern Michigan College does promote its degree in general studies very visibly on its website. The college mentions how it gives students up to two years of college work while still exploring their fields of interest and work to establish their long-range goals.

Michigan’s Kellogg Community College also has a full page outlining course options for the associate in general studies. It also encourages students to visit with their counselors to find the courses that will best fit their individual career goals.

Another Michigan college, Macomb Community College, highlights its AGS degree as a way to “explore one or more career areas without necessarily deciding upon a major.” In this way, its AGS degree is an option to accomplish this and still have a degree to transfer to a four-year college or university. The college says that it is one of its most popular degree programs.

Counselors are a major source on how the various degrees requirements can be fulfilled. The AGS degree offers a flexibility that the associate in art, associate in science, and associate in applied science do not offer. With some colleges not offering this degree option, a significant number of students leave the college short of fulfilling graduation requirements.

There’s more to the story! Read the full article in CC Daily.

Dr. Hans Andrews

is a Distinguished Fellow in Community College Leadership and former president of Olney Central College in Illinois.