Students make Kansas history as recipients of first automatic Associate of Arts degrees at Pittsburg State University 

“You’re making history,” Dean of Students Jon Bartlow told a room full of students at Pittsburg State University’s first celebration to mark the automatic awarding of Associate of Arts degrees Monday afternoon. 

The celebration, attended by more than 250 students at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts, also was a milestone for the state: Pitt State is the first university in Kansas to automatically award the degree as it is earned while a student progresses toward their bachelor's degree.  

More than 1,000 current Pitt State students will receive their AA this semester. 

“It’s a history that is good for you, good for Pitt State, and good for Kansas,” Bartlow said. “You’re well on your way to a four-year degree. Though you’re not done with your time in college, this is an important milestone and it’s important that we mark this occasion.” 

In addition to students, the celebration was attended by faculty, administrators, staff, friends, and family — including three generations who came in support of one of the students. 

“I’m really proud of all of you, and I'm proud that Pitt State is leading the way,” said President Dan Shipp in his formal remarks. “You’ll graduate with two degrees for the price of one. That’s a really great thing. Life sometimes gets in the way...maybe there’s an issue at home that takes you away from your goal for awhile.” 

AA ceremony Shipp

If something were to cause a student to put their college education on pause before the finish line, Shipp explained, having an associate degree will make them more hirable and allow them to one day continue their college education more easily, regardless of which institution they attend. 

“We want you to know we’ve protected the investment of your time and treasure,” he said. “This is proof in our commitment to you.” 

Shipp encouraged students to set their sights on their next goal — their bachelor’s degrees — and consider what it will take to get there. 

“Think about what it’s going to take now to get to the finish line for your bachelor’s degree, and let’s commit to each other that we’re going to get there.” 

Shipp also offered guidance. 

“When you walked in, you received a red and gold cord — keep it close, as you’ll wear it at Commencement,” he said. “You also received a card, and on one side you can track your successes over your 90 years that you’re on this planet. It allows you to begin to think in real time how those accomplishments add up.”  

“We want you to circle this day — the day you earned your first college credential.” 

“On the back, it’s a promise to yourself to get your bachelor’s degree. What’s one thing you can do to ensure you get to that finish line? Make that commitment to yourself and put it in a place you can see it,” Shipp said. 

AA ceremony

Regent Cynthia Lane, a Pitt State graduate from Parsons, thanked university administrators, faculty, and staff for starting the initiative, saying “You truly are making lives better through education." 

She noted that those with even a two-year degree have higher earning potential, better job security, and greater advancement opportunities. 

A recent analysis found that by 2030, Kansas is projected to add 54,000 new jobs requiring a college degree, she said.  

“There are three times more jobs projected for those with an associate degree than those without. Jobs requiring one have risen nearly 10 percent over the last decade,” she said. 

To conclude the formal part of the celebration before enjoying cookies and lemonade in the lobby, Shipp asked students to stand as he officially conferred upon them their degrees. 

Four generations of one family were in attendance:  

Ilene Woebbecke, great grandmother of Elementary Education major Kayla Nickle, made the trip with Kayla’s grandma Carol Woebbecke and Kayla’s mom, Becky Nickle, all from the Shawnee, Kansas area. 

“It means a lot that Pitt State would do this,” Becky said as the four gathered to pose for a photo with Shipp. “She’s loved her time here, and this makes it even more special.”