Colorado is poised to enact legislation that will allow four-year institutions to offer associate degrees to students who have dropped out despite making significant progress toward a bachelor’s degree. The initiative, a switch-up on the growing number of community colleges offering four-year degrees, is part of wider efforts to support students and workers who were dealt a blow by the pandemic.
Angie Paccione, executive director of the Colorado Department of Higher Education, says the state is home to more than 700,000 people with some college but no degree. About 13,000 Coloradans who left college during the past three years would be eligible for an associate degree under the Colorado Re-engaged Initiative created by HB 21-1330, she adds. The bill has passed both houses and is awaiting signature by the governor.
“There are students who went three or three-and-a-half years to a four-year institution, stopped out一for whatever reason, life happens一and could be a semester away from a bachelor’s degree,” Paccione says. “They enter the marketplace, and the highest credential they have is a high school diploma. That is just not right. You should have something to show for it that is marketable.”
Other states have similar programs. The University of New Hampshire offers six associate degrees, mostly in the sciences. The University of South Carolina has five regional campuses that offer two-year degrees, after which students can complete their bachelor’s degrees online.
Under the Colorado bill, four-year institutions would be able to award associate degrees to students who:
- Did not transfer from a community college
- Have not been enrolled for at least two semesters
- Earned at least 70 credit hours, including core classes and other courses deemed required for an associate degree
Paccione thinks about the earning power of an associate degree一which she puts at an annual $13,000 to $15,000 more than a high school diploma一that those students are missing out on. The initiative will also encourage students to re-enroll and complete their bachelor’s programs.