New NIU adult bachelor’s degrees pay off with career advancement for community college grads

NIU is becoming a regional leader in changing Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees into pathways for bachelor’s degrees.

Formerly, the AAS was regarded as a “terminal” degree, because its career and technical emphases prepared students for specific professions but not for further college studies.

Education-earnings chart“The concept of a terminal associate degree is becoming obsolete,” says Meryl Sussman, director of Undergraduate Adult Programs at NIU. “Higher degrees are necessary for individuals’ career advancement and for building the expertise of the region’s workforce.”

NIU now has rolled out five baccalaureate completion degrees that build on the AAS and has partnered with local community colleges to deliver the degrees closer to where students live and work.

The economic downturn, technological changes in their fields and employer expectations have converged on AAS degree holders, who recognize a need for bachelor’s degrees.

In the past, community college students completed AAS degrees confident of immediate employment in a wide range of technical and service fields such as public safety, computer information technology, construction, and healthcare.

Moving up the career ladder with a “terminal” degree has been another story. In the words of one student in the new BSAM program in public safety at NIU, “I was hired as a patrol officer with an AAS in criminal justice. Then, my chief told me that if I want to move up to anything higher, I needed a baccalaureate degree.”

The more you learn, the more you earn: Economic advancement through higher education
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, 2007 Annual Social and Economic Supplement.

AAS grads are on to something: Career advancement can depend on completing a baccalaureate degree.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that increased education leads to increased earnings and lower unemployment. A recent report from the Illinois Department of Employment Security found the same patterns closer to home.

Students in NIU’s five degree programs for AAS graduates can complete the additional general education courses required for the baccalaureate at their local community colleges. In addition, students may receive proficiency credit from NIU based on the technical content of their AAS degree, following an evaluation by the appropriate university offices.

Responding to the expanding market for more baccalaureate completion options, NIU Outreach is developing additional degree programs with NIU’s colleges.

“Our goal is to establish a career pathway toward further college studies for all AAS graduates from the 26 community colleges in northern Illinois,” Sussman says. “The Associate of Applied Science degree will change from being a terminal step and become the first step toward advanced college degrees.”

Three off-campus open houses are scheduled this month:

For more information, contact Sussman at msussman@niu.edu or check out the options at Off-Campus Academics.

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