tc columbia

Valuable Learning or "Spinning Their Wheels"? Understanding Excess Credits Earned by Community College Associate Degree Completers

By Matthew Zeidenberg

Substantial numbers of students who earn an associate degree from a community college accumulate more college credits than are required. This phenomenon raises the issue of efficiency: Are students getting their degrees in the most expeditious manner, both in terms of time out of the labor market and in terms of the monetary cost? It also raises the question of whether the extra credits are beneficial to students, even when not contributing to degree attainment.

The paper examines credit distributions of six cohorts of students who completed associate degrees in one state’s community college system. The study examines the extent of excess credits overall in the community college system and presents case studies of excess credits within individual degree programs.

The paper finds that excess credits accounted for about 12 percent of all college-level credits earned by students who completed a degree, with substantial variation among different programs.

The author concludes with methodologies colleges and college systems can employ to assess excess credits for their students.

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