With the current academic year in shambles and ongoing uncertainty regarding the 2020-2021 school year, universities should think about one thing that is completely within their control – awarding degrees. I propose that every bachelor’s degree-granting institution comb through their student records for non-graduates and award all of their eligible students an associate degree.  This proposal benefits both the student and the institution.

The student benefits by being recognized for credits they have earned.  Degree-holders have a credential to demonstrate their knowledge acquisition to potential employers. Associate degrees have value in the labor market which studies have shown increase the student’s earning potential.  Furthermore, earning a degree is an accomplishment in which the student and their family can take great pride. As an alumnus, the student has a stronger connection to the institution and this can spur progress towards attainment of their bachelor’s degree.

Studies show that students who earn an associate degree are more likely to complete a bachelor’s degree. Awarding an associate degree help can help the institution increase student retention rates, and ultimately, the number of students who graduate with bachelor’s degrees.  Retention and graduation rates are key indicators of institution academic health and strength.

Many 4-year institutions already participate in Reverse Transfer programs. Reverse Transfer is the process for awarding associate degrees to students who have transferred to a 4-year institution in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree before completing the requirements for an associates. In this situation credits earned at the 4-year institution are transferred back to the community college and an associate degree is awarded to the student by the 2-year institution.  In this proposed approach, there is no need to transfer credits or coordinate with another institution — the degree-granting institution has everything within its own control.

Think of the opportunities this gives institutions to connect with their student population, most of whom are stuck at home wondering if their college experience is over. Communication from their administration about achieving an associate degree milestone could be an unexpected delight as well as a catalyst for increasing student engagement and planning for the coming academic year.

Being awarded an associate degree would also be a powerful gift of certainty for the students and their families. They would know that no matter whatever else happens in the coming months, they’ve got a new credential burnishing their resume from their alma mater — an educational partner who has their back.