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EU – US ATLANTIS PROGRAMME Short-Cycle Higher Education in Europe and the United States: Addressing Social and Economic Needs ATLANTIS PROJECT PRESENTATION. June 15-16, 2009 1 st International Conference: Recognition and Quality Assurance of Short-Cycle Higher Education

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Short-Cycle Higher Education

in Europe and the United States:

Addressing Social and Economic Needs


June 15-16, 2009

1st International Conference: Recognition and Quality Assurance of Short-Cycle Higher Education

Golden Sands, Bulgaria


The Project – an Opportunity to Collaborate in a Transatlantic Consortium of 4 Institutions:

University of Toledo, Toledo, Ohio, USA

Owens Community College, Toledo, Ohio, USA

International University College, Dobrich, Bulgaria

LEIDO, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Two critical factors made our partnership possible:



ATLANTIS Programme

EU-US Cooperation in Higher Education and Vocational Training

Result of an agreement on higher education and vocational training between the European Union and the United States of America signed in June 2006 for the period 2006-2013. The program is designed and funded jointly by the European Commission and by the US Department of Education.

It aims at promoting understanding between the peoples of the European Union and the United States of America and improving the quality of their human resource development.


ATLANTIS Programme: Main Actions

  • Transatlantic Degree action,supports partnerships towards setting up joint study programs - including joint/double degrees;
  • Excellence Mobility Projects, supports student mobility within successful consortia;
  • Policy-oriented measures, addresses comparative higher education and vocational training issues, and promotes dialogue on recognition of qualifications and accreditations; collaboration, dissemination of information, and exchange of best practices


  • Growing Importance of Short-Cycle Higher Education Programs and Qualifications
  • Short-Cycle Higher Education
  • Tertiary Short Cycle
  • Sub-degree Higher Education

OECD’s definition of SCHE: - “…a level or stage of studies beyond secondary education which can lead to a qualification recognized on the labor market” (Kirsch et al., 2003)


Main Functions of Short-Cycle Systems

To respond to increasing demand for higher education;

To contribute toward greater equality of educational opportunity;

To respond to the growing need for a diversified range of qualified manpower;

To generate and facilitate innovational practices not often accepted by universities;

To decentralize and regionalize higher education.

(Kintzer, 1980)


In Europe:

  • The importance of SCHE - recognized in the Bologna Process
    • A collective effort of public authorities, universities, teachers, students, stakeholder associations, employers, quality assurance agencies, international organizations
    • Crosses EU borders but is closely connected with EU policies
    • For the EU - part of a broader effort in the drive for a Europe of knowledge which includes:
      • lifelong learning and development,
      • the Lisbon Agenda for Growth and Jobs and Social Inclusion,
      • the Copenhagen Process for enhanced European co-operation in VET;
      • initiatives under the European Research Area.

In Europe:

  • The 2003 Berlin Conference of European Ministers Responsible for Higher Education invited:
    • “the Follow-up Group to explore whether and how shorter higher education may be linked to the first cycle of a qualifications framework for the European Higher Education Area.”

The European Qualifications Framework, adopted by the European Parliament and Council on April 23, 2008, placed SCHE at Level 5 (as programs that can be offered WITHIN the first level of higher education (bachelor’s).


In the United States:

  • The importance of 2-year institutions, mostly community colleges, has grown tremendously in the last several years in light of:
  • Economic crisis and the need for skilled professionals in a knowledge-based economy;
  • Need to raise educational attainment nation-wide in order to remain globally competitive;
  • Needs for regional initiatives and community invigoration.

Each of the project partners identified a critical issue related to SCHE to focus on:

      • US partners: partnerships between SCHE, HE institutions and industry;
      • Dutch partner: the contribution of SCHE to life-long and life-wide learning systems;
      • Bulgarian partner: recognition and quality assurance of SCHE programs and qualifications.

These issues are at the core of our THREE project objectives:

Objective 1:

To stimulate discussions and exchange of best practices and experience in these three critical policy areas concerning SCHE


Objective 2:

To provide a forum for international exchange of ideas and best practices through the organization of three international conferences in those critical policy areas:


1st International Conference: June 15-16, 2009 – Bulgaria

Recognition and Accreditation of Short-Cycle Higher Education Programs in Europe and the US

2nd International Conference: October 15-16, 2009 – Toledo, USA

Educational Partnerships for Economic and Community Development: Emerging Trends from the US and Europe

3rd International Conference: June, 2010–Amsterdam, the Netherlands

The Contribution of SCHE to Life-Long and Life-Wide Learning Systems


Objective 3:

To lay the grounds of a feasibility study on transatlantic collaboration in the development of dual/joint SCHE degrees in business and tourism and hospitality management amongst participating institutions.


Partner Institutions and Background on Choice of Objectives:

US Partners

Dutch Partner

Bulgarian Partner


Short-Cycle Higher Education in the United States

2-year Associate’s degree – the first post-secondary degree

Most common abbreviations:

AA – Associate of Arts

AS – Associate of Sciences

AAS – Associate of Applied Sciences

Short-cycle certificates and licenses


Community Colleges - a Major Player in Short-Cycle Higher Education in the United States

Factors underlining the growing importance of community colleges in powering state and national knowledge-based economy and society:

  • economic
  • social
  • financial

Economic Factors:

  • Severe economic crisis and erosion of manufacturing base – need for re-training the workforce
  • Competitive global knowledge-based economies require:
    • shortening of the “degree gap” (difference in the rate of degree production between the USA and its top competitors)
      • 16 million more Americans are needed to earn degrees by 2025 (37% increase in production per year) to stay competitive with leading developed nations (NCHEMS)
    • raising of educational levels of the population:
      • only 48% of adults meet adult literacy minimum standards (National Adult Literacy Survey, 2007)
      • as many as 50% of entering college students must complete at least one developmental course

Social Factors:

  • Need to provide equality of educational opportunity
    • 63% of the 18.9 million new jobs that will be created by 2014 will require some postsecondary education (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005) – underserved populations are key to filling these jobs.
  • Need to serve adult and non-traditional students – “the new majority”
  • Offer opportunities for life-long learning

Financial Factors:

Rising tuition and constrained financial support threaten college affordability for majority of the population

Tuition and Fees (The College Board, 2008)


Why Community Colleges:

Well-developed network: 1,202 public community colleges

    • A campus is within driving distance of 90% of the population
  • Enrollment Capacity: 11.6 million students (46% of all undergrads)
    • 6.6 million students for-credit
    • 5 million students non-credit
    • 40% full-time students
      • 27% employed full time
      • 50% employed part time
    • Average age is 29
  • Open-door Policies
  • Low costs
  • Multi-function Institutions

Federal Level:

President Obama’s administration embraced the ambition to renew America's status as the world leader in college attainment.

His request to every American:

“to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship… But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma” (President’s speech to the February 25th Joint Session of Congress)

  • State Level:
  • From Ohio: The emerging University System of Ohio

Short-Cycle Higher Education in the Netherlands

The New Associate’s Degree

  • Phasing out “kort HBO” ISCED 5B programs by 2007
  • Piloting Associate degree programs, offered through 20 hogescholen and two private institutions
  • Current evaluations of the results are in progress – final decision to be made in 2010
  • Critical role of the business sector in the introduction of this new degree
  • The place of the new degree in the LLL and RPL systems

Short-Cycle Higher Education in Bulgaria

Replacing the “Specialist in…” (ISCED 5B) Degree with a Professional Bachelor (ISCED 5B)

ISCED Level 5A: Tertiary programs “that are largely theoretically based” and provide “sufficient qualifications” for moving on to “advanced research programs” and professions “with high skills requirements.” These programs are a minimum of three years of “full-time equivalent duration,” and assume the completion of secondary education. Master’s degree programs are included here along with Bachelor’s.

ISCED Level 5B: Shorter Tertiary programs than those covered in 5A, and that “focus on occupationally specific skills geared for entry into the labor market, although some theoretical foundations may be covered.” Level 5B programs are of two to three years duration, and do not provide access to advanced research.


ISCED Classification as a Guide

ISCED-1997: Learning Pathways

Post secondary, non tertiary education

Practical/technical/occupationally specific programmes, 2 to 3 years long, focus on the labor market


ISCED-1997: Learning Pathways, BULGARIA (NSI)

Vocational Colleges, 2 years, Class IV Professional Qualification

Colleges, 3 years, Professional Bachelor


A study (Slantcheva et al.) commissioned by the Ministry of Education in 2005 studied the college sector and documented a number of challenges:

  • - majority: part-time; many travelling (often long-distances) from universities just to teach a course or two

Most students enrolled in economic and technical studies;

  • Low graduation rates;
  • Narrow program silos in continuing in a higher level;
  • Where continuation possible, length of studies prolonged;
  • The labor market did not recognize the degree “specialist in…”

Graduates and the Labor Market

Survey of 454 college graduates (2005)


Currently, the following degrees and colleges have accreditation (Ministry of Education and Science):

  • Plovdiv University – 3 technical degrees
  • Veliko Turnovo University – 2 teacher training degrees (in their two branch teacher training colleges in Vratsa and Pleven)
  • SouthWest University – 1 technical degree
  • Russe University – 1 transportation degree
  • Trakiiski University – 2 food technology degrees, medical degrees
  • Burgas University – 3 technical degrees, 1 in tourism
  • Varna Economic University – 1 tourist degree
  • Svishtov Economic Academy – 2 economic degrees
  • Technical University Sofia – more than 10 technical degrees
  • Technical University Varna – 4 technical degrees
  • Technical University Gabrovo – 2 technical degrees
  • Sofia University of Chemistry – 1 technical and 1 biotechnologies
  • Medical University in Sofia – 8 medical degrees
  • Medical University in Varna – 1 medical degree
  • Higher School of Transportation – 1 technical degree
  • 8 independent colleges

Challenges before the Bulgarian SCHE sector:

  • Program silos remain – only few institutions offer master degrees for professional bachelors;
  • Professional bachelors as a new degree still to find its social and labor market recognition (the “small” bachelor)
  • Many institutions and programs have been placed on hold, either unable or unwilling to undergo accreditation;
  • Accreditation standards are geared for a bachelor’s degree, although professional;
  • Length of study remained (3 years);
  • Still no information on how the labor market sees this new degree;
  • No information on how students and parents see it.

Thank you!

Snejana Slantcheva-Durst, Asst. Prof.

Judith Herb College of Education

University of Toledo

Toledo, Ohio, 43606