In the past year, 1,756 people have earned an associate, or two-year, degree at OCCC.
President Paul Sechrist said those students will have an advantage over those with a high-school diploma.
“If you look at the last recession, who stayed employed?” he said. “People with college degrees — much higher than people who only had high school diplomas.
“The advantages of having an associate degree are numerous … ,” he said.
Sechrist said associate degrees are divided into two categories: transfer degrees and immediate job entry degrees.
The associate of arts and the associate of science degrees are transfer degrees. Applied science degrees are designed for immediate employment.
“The … associate of arts and the associate of science degrees [are] designed as the first two years of a baccalaureate program,” Sechrist said.
He said this type of degree is often referred to as a university parallel degree program, because the goal is to take the first two years at a two-year college, then transfer to a four-year university to complete a bachelor’s degree.
Sechrist said it’s a good idea to complete the first two years of college at a two-year institution.
“The advantages of [completing the first two years] at a community college are affordability, smaller classes, direct access with faculty, lots of support services and a wide array of courses and degree programs that are a good affordable way to test different disciplines,” he said.
“Almost every student who gets an associate degree, then transfers says … they like having those first two years at a community college.”
Sechrist said there also are advantages for those students who go on to get a bachelor’s degree.
He said the transfer associate degree provides the student with an easier pathway for transfer, eligibility for certain transfer scholarships and preference for admission as a transfer student to a university.
“There usually are scholarships that are available if you already have an associate degree,” Sechrist said.
He said having an associate degree also helps in the event a bachelor’s degree can’t be completed for some reason.
For those wanting to enter the workplace immediately upon getting a two-year degree, Sechrist recommends an associate of applied science degree.
“This degree is designed to provide the student with the credential to enter the workplace in a professional position or in a technical position,” he said.
“At OCCC, we offer a number of applied associate degrees that prepare students for work, Sechrist said.
He named registered nurses, paramedics, physical therapy assistant, certified occupational therapy assistant, film and video technician, biotechnology research assistant, automotive technician, administrative office technician, cyber security specialist and several other information technology specialist positions.
“Most people who get an applied associate degree go to work full time in a fairly high paying job,” Sechrist said.
Sechrist said while both types of degrees have significant earning power in the workplace, unless a transfer degree is completed at a four-year university, it doesn’t pay as well as an applied science degree.
“The average wages of those with an applied degree are even higher than having (only) a transfer associate degree,” he said. “[With] this applied degree on average, you’ll earn about the same as a person who gets a bachelor’s degree, which is something most people don’t realize. If you’re getting an A.A. or an A.S., definitely go on [to get a bachelor’s].
“Really, the full benefit of a transfer associate degree is if you go ahead and get the bachelor’s degree.
“If you’re getting an applied degree, you don’t have to,” he said.
“The applied degree is the pathway to a professional or technical position – generally with very good wages and opportunities for promotion.”
Sechrist said the University of Oklahoma has collected data that supports his position.
“[Data shows] those who stay at a community college and complete the degree actually do better at [OU] than those who transferred earlier,” he said.
Business major Savannah Lester said she plans to get an associate degree before transferring to a university.
“It’s possible that I might have to get my associate degree then wait to go on to my bachelor’s,”
Lester said. “I want to have a degree so when I go to fulfill the rest of it, I’ll at least have some background.
“And if I have to wait, I can at least get a job that’s a little bit better with an associate.”
Visual arts major Rachel Schutte also plans to get an associate degree before transferring.
“Generally when you get the associate, … all your credits [carry] and that’s very helpful,” Schutte said. “It’s cheaper here anyway and I like it. If I could get my bachelor’s here, I would.”
Sechrist said the more people who are educated, the better society functions.
He said those with an education are less likely to be on public assistance or be incarcerated.
“If you look at who’s in prison, the fact of the matter is our prison population is largely a non-educated population.”
And, he said, a college degree is beneficial in more than just cost-of-living terms.
“I think in terms of looking at education attainment overall, there’s even maybe a greater purpose involved, like democracy,” Sechrist said.
“To be able to participate in a democracy, where it says it’s a government by the people, for the people, you want educated people who are governing ourselves,” he said.
“To really have a vibrant democracy, you have to have people who understand the issues, who are able to intellectually and intelligently focus on the challenges and contribute to the solutions – and that requires people to be educated.”
For more information about the types of associate degrees offered at OCCC, check out the college catalog, posted at www.occc.edu/career/degrees.html.