Ask an Expert About: Associate of Applied Science Degrees

Meet the Applied Science Degree Program Expert, David Batts

David Batts is the Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology (BSIT) Program Coordinator at East Carolina University (ECU), College of Engineering and Technology

For many students, an associate degree is a great starting point on the way to a career, but a four-year degree is the ultimate goal. This is especially true for students in the applied sciences, where stronger academic credentials can translate to greater professional opportunities, not to mention the development of important practical skills. This is the premise behind AAS Transfer Programs. Also known as Degree Completion programs, these courses of study are specifically designed to facilitate the transition from earning your Associate in Applied Science degree to studying for your Bachelor of Science degree.

This transition is also the basis for the East Carolina University’s Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology (BSIT) Transfer Program. The BSIT Program is a degree completion curriculum designed for students who have been awarded a qualified Associate in Applied Science (AAS) degree in an industrial or technical related field. As the Program Coordinator, David Batts offers expert insight into the transfer experience and the opportunities for degree completion that await associate degree holders in the sciences.

He begins by pointing out that two-year students in the sciences are feeling increasingly compelled to pursue more advanced degrees, prompted both by industry demands and the proliferation of online technical education opportunities like the one made possible by ECU.

If you’re thinking about earning a bachelor’s degree online, check out The Best Online Colleges.

If you’re considering transitioning from an AAS program to a bachelor’s degree program in the sciences, or if you are particularly interested in earning your bachelor’s of science degree online, read on and hear it from an expert!

Answers to Our Applied Sciences Degree Questions

 What advantages do online students enjoy over traditional students? And, can you tell us a bit more about ECU’s AAS transfer/BSIT completion program?

David Batts: The Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology (BSIT) is a degree completion program for graduates of an industrial or technical Associate in Applied Science (AAS). The Associate in Applied Science degree was once considered to be a terminal degree due to lack of pathways to baccalaureate degrees. AAS degree holders who desired four-year degrees essentially had to start over due to lack of transferability of credits.

The BSIT degree program at East Carolina University (ECU) has changed the landscape enumerated above. We designed the BSIT transfer program specifically for students who have been awarded qualified AAS degrees in industrial or related technical fields to transfer to ECU and complete their baccalaureate degrees. Students transferring with AAS degrees are awarded approximately half of the credits needed to complete the baccalaureate degree and may elect to do so face-to-face or completely online. The online option is especially helpful to working professionals because they can earn their degrees while maintaining their employment and income.

Traditional college transfer programs such as the Associate of Science and Associate of Arts were designed for students to transfer to four-year institutions to complete their degree. The AAS, on the other hand, equips students with practical skills and knowledge that allow them to secure gainful jobs. These AAS graduates are highly sought after by business and industry and often find jobs upon graduation. The tradeoff, as noted earlier, is that most AAS degrees do not transfer seamlessly into four-year degree programs. Our BSIT program does allow that, and our BSIT students typically hold full-time jobs, with a majority of them having the employer paying their education.

There are some schools that have degree completion programs similar to the BSIT, but they are usually narrowly focused and only offer face-to-face programs. The BSIT accepts a broad number of AAS degrees (currently 70 North Carolina Community College AAS degrees) and students can choose from six online concentrations focusing in Distribution and Logistics, Information & Computer Technology, Industrial Management, Industrial Engineering Technology, Bioprocess Manufacturing, and Health Information Technology.

 What is the average student experience in your online degree completion programs?

David Batts: Most of our online students are working professionals holding full-time jobs, and, in some cases, balancing that with family obligations. Students usually work full day (shifts) and complete their studies after work and/or over the weekends. Faculty use both synchronous and asynchronous techniques for interacting with the students.

Students have the option of participating in live lectures or lab demonstrations delivered over WebEx, SabaMeeting, or other interactive applications. They may also watch recordings from the live sessions, and/or pre-recorded lectures that are streamed via MediaSite or similar technology. Students can interact with other students, as well as the professors through discussion boards, live meetings, electronic mail, and other available technologies.

To provide a standardized interface for distance education classes, ECU utilizes Blackboard Learning Management Systems (LMS). The university also provides a Virtual Computing Lab (VCL) that is equipped with a variety of software for class assignments and projects. In addition, the College of Engineering and Technology has invested in a substantial infrastructure to provide virtualized and remotely-accessible lab environments to support distance education students. These resources give the students access to high quality education while ensuring collaborative, interactive, and engaging learning experiences for all students.

 What are some advantages of the online program?

David Batts: The main advantage for students taking courses online is that they can continue to work and provide for their families. Most students could not complete their bachelor’s degree if they had to come to campus, even if it was at night or on the weekend. We created an environment that allows these working adults to complete our technology-based degree program online. As a military-friendly university, ECU’s online environment allows our BSIT students who are on active duty and deployed across the globe to access all of our resources and earn their degrees while on deployment.

Another advantage of taking the courses online is that students have more time to spend with their families. Rather than traveling back and forth to/from face-to-face classes on campus, they can spend that time with their families and/or meet family obligations.

In addition, our tuition and fee structure is set up to take into account that our online students do not use on campus resources such as the recreation center, health center, or athletic facilities, which makes the education much more affordable.

 What common challenges do students face? Any advice on meeting the challenges of a degree, job, or career?

David Batts: Most of the common challenges faced by typical distance education students have been eliminated. As enumerated above, the AAS was considered a terminal degree and universities usually had extra hurdles and barriers in order to admit these students. We worked with Office of Admissions, the Registrar’s Office, and the Office of Provost to eliminate those barriers.

Some students still face the challenges of balancing work, personal responsibilities, and school which, oftentimes, are due to unplanned events. We have dedicated advisors who work with our students to make sure they do not overextend themselves with the number of classes that they take. However, usually after a student gets through their first semester, they become more confident and continue to go through the program with minimal challenges.

 What kind of practical education or training do your students receive that can apply in real workplace settings?

David Batts: All of our degree programs have Industrial Advisory Boards that provide invaluable inputs that are used to provide current, relevant, and best programming for the students. BSIT students take five core classes that focus on management and leadership. These courses provide the theoretical and practical foundation that they need to help them advance in their careers.

The remaining courses build on their technical background from their AAS degrees and expand to meet current industry demands. Today’s technology changes at a very rapid pace, and academic institutions must respond and adapt in order to meet industry needs. Our curriculum and laboratories are constantly updated to maintain technical currency. We continually invest in current technologies to help provide students with relevant experiences in advanced manufacturing (including Industry 4.0), internetworking, cybersecurity, automatic identification and data capture, ERP systems, and more.

Last year, we invested in creating a testbed to evaluate an emerging area on Internet of Things (IoT). As a result, we are now offering the first course on Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) this semester, and plan to create additional courses to provide students with a new focus area and increase their competitiveness.

 What are some of the most popular career paths for graduates from your program?

David Batts: With the variety of concentrations, it is hard to pinpoint one area; however, the degree gives them career advancement opportunities. Most managerial level positions require a four-year degree and thus a lot of the AAS students are overlooked because they only have a two-year degree. The BSIT degree has opened up new doors for these students with new careers ranging from front line supervisors to the executive level. Here are some examples of job titles held by some of our graduates:

 What steps can students take to improve their chances to land a career in the field after earning their degree?

David Batts: A good percentage of our BSIT students are usually already working in their career fields, and the four-year degree opens new doors for advancement. There are, however, some students who have come back to school to change their career fields. In those cases, students work with our Career Services and faculty members to help them rebrand themselves.

We hold career fairs and career networking events each semester that are attended by dozens of employers and are open to all students. We work with the students on revising their resumes to match the new career fields, as well as practicing interviewing techniques via simulated job interviews. We also encourage them to use professional networking tools, such as LinkedIn, if they are not already using them.

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