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Students Who Left College During COVID Can Still Earn Associate’s Degree

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Thursday, July 15, 2021   

DENVER - A new Colorado law will offer a pathway for thousands of students who have completed significant course work at public colleges and universities to receive an associate's degree.

Chris Rasmussen, senior director of academic pathways and innovation at the Colorado Department of Higher Education, said many students have spent a lot of time and, in many cases thousands of dollars in pursuit of a four-year degree.

But due to a host of factors - changes in family circumstances, relocation or medical reasons - they had to withdraw from school.

"And it's a way to at least provide some recognition of the time that they've spent, the learning that they've accumulated," said Rasmussen, "and to provide a recognition of that that has some value in the marketplace."

Roughly 13,000 students who left college in the past three years are projected to be eligible to get an associate's degree under House Bill 1330, recently signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis.

Critics of the measure say employers won't be interested in hiring people who stopped after their sophomore year, and argue students who complete degrees through community college transfer programs are better prepared to enter the workforce.

Rasmussen acknowledged that an associate's degree would have more value if a student returns to complete a bachelor's degree. But he said students who get degrees through the new law will be better prepared than people without an associate's degree.

"They've completed a general education core, they've developed writing skills, oral communication skills, all the various things that are associated with general education," said Rasmussen. "And they've also done some beginning study in the major."

More than 700,000 people in Colorado have some college education, but do not have a degree to show for their work. Rasmussen said good-paying jobs in growing industries with staying power increasingly require a degree, a trend he expects to continue in the future.

"Data from our own talent pipeline report in Colorado demonstrates that over 90% of what we consider the top jobs, those that pay above a living wage, will require some form of post-secondary credential."

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation





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