‘Get Your Associate Degree’

Lately my college, like many other two-year schools, has been making an effort to encourage students to stay for two years and earn an associate degree before transferring. That can be a hard sell, since we’re primarily a “portal” institution, and many of our students make no bones about the fact that they want to transfer as soon as possible—in many cases, after one year. Even those who stay two years often can’t be bothered to go to the extra “trouble” of applying for graduation, despite the clear advantages of having an actual degree to show for those two years.

Perhaps, though, if the essay below is any indication, the word is starting to get through. This was actually a final exam essay in one of my ENGL 1101 sections this semester. The student wrote it in one hour (per departmental instruction), based on one of three prompts that I provided. The prompt he chose was, “Should students who attend two-year schools like [Georgia Perimeter College] stay and earn their associate degrees, or should they transfer as soon as possible?”

I do realize that this student, who is obviously bright and savvy, might just have been saying what he thought I wanted to hear. I also recognize that he does, at times, tend to somewhat overstate his case. Remember that he’s an 18-year-old responding to a high-pressure, high-stakes writing situation.

Even so, if we take what he says at face value, I believe he does a better job of making the case for earning the associate degree than we professional educators sometimes make—or at least he does so in a way that cuts right to the heart of the matter for students in his position. With his permission, I’ve reprinted his essay below in its entirety, with only very light editing.

Get Your Associate Degree
by Brandon Goltz-Lovelace

Two-year colleges are glorious things. They allow students to get an associate degree in as little as two years, help them raise their GPA so they can transfer to the college of their dreams (granted they have a high enough GPA), and even just help them figure out what they want to do with their lives. Although the majority of students that attend two-year colleges are only there so they can transfer as soon as possible, there are many benefits to staying two years and getting an associate degree before you leave.

The main reason students should get their associate degree before transferring is that it provides them with a college degree right off the bat. Many students who attend large schools like Georgia Tech and [the University of Georgia] can’t even make it through the first year, and what do they come out of college with? Nothing but a worthless GPA and crushed hopes and dreams. By getting an associate degree before transferring, you are setting yourself up for success, proving to employers that you’re knowledgeable in a certain field and that you put the time and effort into getting a degree if you don’t end up earning your bachelor’s.

Another reason why it is important to earn your associate degree prior to transfer is that it guarantees that the majority of your core classes are completed. By earning your associate degree, you get to finish your core classes as well as dabble in the field of your choice. This prevents you from transferring to another college and taking a semester of classes within your major that you might end up hating, leading to a whole semester of wasted time and money. And who’s to say you’ll even pass?

The final reason has to do with money. In this day and age, people are counting pennies in their savings account, just trying to get into college. Many people take out loans they can never pay back, and some people just drop out of school because they can’t afford it. By staying a full two years at a school like GPC, getting your associate degree, and then transferring, you are saving thousands of dollars. On average, a year at a four-year college such as Georgia Tech or UGA can cost over $20,000, including room and board. Multiply that by four and that’s more money than the average American makes in two years. By staying at a two-year college like GPC and getting an associate degree before transferring, you’ll save almost half of that money. How’s that for a great trade?

Overall, the benefits of going to a community college for two years and then transferring with an associate degree far outweigh any other decision. You will save time and money as well as reduce stress and headaches in the long run. So what are you doing? Go out there and get your associate degree.

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