Linking Occupational Training and 4-Year Degrees

November 11, 2015

Many occupation-focused associate degrees and certificates are not designed to lead to bachelor's-degree pathways, according to a new policy report from New America, a think tank.

Those weak links are one reason the going has been slow in the national college completion push, according to Mary Alice McCarthy, the report's author. McCarthy is a senior policy analyst for New America's education policy program, and a former official at the U.S. Labor and Education Departments. She said it is often hard for students who begin college in career and technical education programs at community colleges and for-profits to transfer seamlessly to a four-year degree program.

"A higher education system in which students can start their journey to a four-year degree and beyond with high-quality training in a specific occupation would be a great help to many students, particularly those who cannot afford to delay earning a decent living for four years. But our federal higher education policies, sometimes intentionally, sometimes inadvertently, limit the ways in which students can get onto bachelor-degree paths," McCarthy wrote in the paper.

"The policies are strongly biased in favor of students who can delay career training until they graduate with a four-year degree and make it difficult to connect academic and career pathways below the bachelor’s degree. The barriers are generated by a combination of outdated conceptions of what a four-year degree must include, the manner (and sequence) in which students must learn those things, and a host of unintended consequences from policy changes made to the Higher Education Act almost 40 years ago."

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