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Report Finds Bachelor’s Degrees More Beneficial Than Associate’s

When it comes to various forms of well-being—from financial to physical—associate’s degree holders trail behind holders of bachelor’s degrees across the board, according to a new report released Wednesday.

Be that as it may, associate’s degree holders are slightly more likely to say their education was worth the cost (46 versus 45 percent) and that they are “deeply interested” in the work they do or have the ideal job.

The findings—sometimes seemingly contradictory or counterintuitive—are among the many reported in the newly released “Gallup-USA Funds Associate Degree Graduates Report.”

The report represents one of the latest in a field that incessantly parses data on college degrees in order to produce a more nuanced picture of the various types of degrees and the divergent statuses to which they lead in life.

The new report from Gallup-USA Funds was light on income data and more heavily focused on other indicators, such as graduates’ sense of purpose, engagement and well-being on their jobs.

Carol D’Amico, executive vice president of national engagement and philanthropy at USA Funds, a nonprofit corporation that works on issues of college access and success, said it’s important to judge colleges on factors that transcend completion rates.

“Quality of life indicators are ways that we believe are a better way to start talking about the assessment and performance of colleges generally,” said D’Amico, former US Department of Education assistant secretary for adult and vocational education under George W. Bush and former chancellor of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

She said the kind of data included in the report helps define what constitutes a “good quality experience” because it is based on a consumer point of view.

The report not only compares how associate’s degree holders are faring in relation to their bachelor’s degree holding peers but also what kind of experience they had in college.


For instance, the report found that associate’s degree holders were:


          • Slightly more likely than bachelor’s degree holders to “strongly agree that their instructors or professors care about them as people,” 30 versus 26 percent, respectively.


          • Slightly less likely than bachelor’s degree holders to say strongly agree that they had an instructor or professor who made them excited about learning, 56 versus 61 percent, respectively.


          • Slightly more likely to say they had a mentor in college who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams, 20 versus 18 percent, respectively.

Much of the report focused on comparisons of well-being in five different areas.

Associate’s degree holders were less likely than bachelor’s degree holders to be thriving in all five areas of well-being: purpose (42 versus 49 percent); social (40 versus 47 percent); financial (27 versus 41 percent); community (35 versus 44 percent); and physical (25 versus 32 percent).

Curiously, when it came to the question of whether graduates were “deeply interested” in the work that they do, associate’s degree holders were more likely—41 versus 38 percent—than bachelor’s degree holders to strongly agree.

Forty percent of associate’s degree holders said their job gives them the opportunity to do work of interest versus 38 percent of bachelor’s degree holders. And 29 percent of associate’s degree holders were likely to say they had the “ideal job” versus 26 percent of bachelor’s degree holders.

However, when it came to the question of how engaged graduates were on their jobs—engagement being an important predictor of loyalty and productivity, according to Gallup—associate’s degree holders once again lagged behind bachelor’s degree holders 35 to 38 percent.

Unclear is how one could be more interested in their work or more likely to report having the “ideal” job but then being less engaged in it.

Brandon Busteed, executive director of education and workforce development at Gallup, said that, while the difference in job engagement between associate’s and bachelor’s degree holders is statistically significant, it “certainly is not something we would consider to be a meaningful difference.”

D’Amico, of USA Funds, said that, while the report shows associate’s degree holders are “holding their own,” in other respects “some of the measures of career satisfaction are too low.”


Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.

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