Four-Year Universities Offering Associate Degrees

In recent years, there has been much talk about the California community colleges offering baccalaureate degrees. Amidst the buzz, little attention has been brought to the fact that certain private four-year universities are now offering associate degrees. Currently, two such programs are operating in the United States: Arrupe College, associated with Loyola University of Chicago, and Dougherty Family College, associated with University of St. Thomas. Come To Believe Network, an organization based in New York, is driving the development of  these programs in partnership with four-year universities. Their goal is to offer associate degrees at ten more four-year universities within the next five years.  This year, they provided grants to University of San Diego, University of the Pacific, Canisius University, Holy Cross College, University of Portland, and Xavier University to establish affiliated two-year colleges.

With a password-protected Board of Directors webpage and limited information about their origin, not much is clear about Come To Believe Network – other than the fact that they firmly believe that the community colleges are unable to accomplish their mission to serve students who can benefit from associate degrees. Their website is rife with damning statistics about community colleges, spotlighting their low transfer rates in comparison to the outcomes of students who have completed associate degrees at the private colleges they funded. The message is wrapped in a bow of equity, proclaiming that the privatization of associate degrees and community college educations are the key to inclusive, accessible, and successful two-year programs.

I was disappointed by the way this organization disparages community colleges and diminishes the positive impact of these institutions, their faculty, and students. However, given that they have so boldly claimed the superiority of their two-year programs, I wanted to investigate their operation and whether they  were actually comparable to what the community colleges do and who we serve. Here are my findings:

I focused on Arrupe College, the two-year associate degree program offered by Loyola University of Chicago. Come To Believe Network touts that while nationally only 13% of community college students graduate in two years, 50% of Arrupe College students are able to do so.  They also state that only 27% of low-income transfer students who go on to seek bachelor’s degrees will graduate within five years, but the statistic jumps to 80% for Arrupe College graduates.  I found that these discrepancies are accounted for by a variety of significant differences between community colleges and these two-year degrees associated with four-year institutions.  

For one, the population sizes of the institutions are incomparable: the California Community Colleges serve 1.8 million students across 116 campuses, and have 53,000 faculty teaching courses from hundreds of majors. In contrast, Arrupe College serves just 300 students with 20 professors teaching across three degree tracks: liberal arts, social and behavioral sciences, or business administration.  

Naturally, a much smaller, selective institution with 15-1 faculty to student ratio will yield results. Furthermore, the learning environment is more controlled: their preferred candidates are recent high school graduates from the local area– it is no surprise that their statistics are more “impressive”. Students who are fresh out of high school often face less barriers to success than many community college students. They likely do not have dependents, or work more than part-time like over 65% of our student population, and are unlikely to face food and housing insecurity. The California Community Colleges are committed to serving the top 100% of applicants– no matter what challenges they face.  It’s worth noting that all Arrupe College students attend a mandatory summer retreat, receive a free laptop, are fed daily meals, and have access to multiple social workers and counselors.  On the contrary, while they do their best to meet the basic needs of their diverse student population, the California Community Colleges are under-resourced, with community college students receiving less state funding than California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) students.  If the community colleges were provided with the same level of funding and support as Arrupe College, I can only imagine how much our students would thrive.

As for the transfer statistics, if students attend a two-year college affiliated with a four-year college– created with the express purpose of a swift transfer– of course their transfer rates will be higher! Getting into the details, Arrupe College students who intend to transfer to Loyola University of Chicago simply “confirm their enrollment” without any of the traditional barriers to transfer.  They can optionally submit a letter of recommendation or personal essay, and they receive waivers for application, enrollment deposit, and on-campus housing deposit fees– solely  for attending Arrupe College.  As if that wasn’t incentive enough, the university offers many scholarships exclusively available to Arrupe College graduates.  For example, there is an automatic merit award between $12,000 and $23,000 for Arrupe college graduates with GPAs above 2.75.  If four-year institutions were as eager to provide such ample resources to students as a transfer incentive, not only would the community colleges have higher transfer rates, but they would enroll more students who intended to transfer within two years.

Needless to say, comparing community colleges to private four-year universities offering two-year degrees is like comparing apples to oranges– and makes Come To Believe Network’s criticisms of the community colleges even more unwarranted.  More importantly, it demonstrates that these private programs hardly span the wide spectrum of degrees and services offered by the community colleges to an open population.  They neither could, nor would replace us; they cannot execute our mission more effectively than we can.  That being said, their “attempt” to do so reinforces the value of an associate degree.  Even the Come To Believe Network website recognizes associate degrees as “valuable credentials”– something that should be taken seriously in an environment and culture that consistently devalues the worth and importance of associate degrees. Community colleges should take pride in knowing that what they offer is intrinsically valuable and necessary to a thriving higher education environment.

Ultimately, the presence of Come To Believe Network and other organizations who claim that the community colleges are failing at their mission illuminates another truth: two-year transfer is not the only metric of success for community college students. If  we believe that this is the case, we ignore the reality of community colleges being open-access institutions, and minimize the validity of the wide variety of goals our diverse student body would like to achieve.  For one student, the dream may be to transfer in two years to a UC or CSU, but to others, it may be to learn English, complete a certification that doesn’t require further education, explore the arts, engage in career technical education, or be a lifelong learner in pursuit of knowledge. When students accomplish any of these goals at community colleges, they should be recognized as success stories and celebrated as such, regardless of whether they  transfer within two years.  While community colleges should continue to encourage and support students aspiring to transfer, society at large must identify the purpose of community colleges as being less narrow than this.  If we broaden our perspective, we can view these institutions more holistically and shape policies to value every faculty member and support every community college student.


FACCC blog posts are written independently by FACCC members and encompass their experiences and recommendations. FACCC neither condemns nor endorses the recommendations herein.

Share this post:

Comments on "Four-Year Universities Offering Associate Degrees"

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment