How an Associate of Engineering Science degree can help you earn your bachelor’s degree for less.
Interested in studying engineering, but concerned about the cost of a bachelor’s degree? FRCC now offers three engineering associate degrees that help students save time and money on their four-year engineering degree.
“Earning my associate degree in engineering is going to take at least a semester—maybe two—off how long it will take to finish my bachelor’s degree at CU Boulder,” says FRCC student Jennifer Love. When she found out about the new degree option, she says she was “super excited” to learn how much time and money she would save.
By completing the first two years of a bachelor’s degree at FRCC, students can save more than $16,500 (when compared to taking all four years at one of Colorado’s universities). And whether they want to study mechanical or civil engineering—or haven’t decided on a specialty yet—there’s an Associate of Engineering Science (AES) option for almost any budding engineer.
How Does It Work?
FRCC’s associate degrees in engineering allow students to complete the first two years of a bachelor’s degree, then seamlessly transfer to one of the public four-year engineering programs in Colorado:
- Colorado School of Mines (Golden)
- Colorado State University (Fort Collins)
- University of Colorado (Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs)
Students who earn an Associate of Engineering Science degree complete the first half of a bachelor’s degree at their community college, then transfer to a university to complete the second half. They graduate with a degree from the university—just like the students who started there—but with a lot less debt.
“The classes in the AES degree path are 100% applicable for a bachelor’s degree in engineering,” Jennifer says. “I’m so happy that Front Range is now offering this.”
Since tuition at a community college in Colorado is less than half what you pay at a university, students who choose this route can save, on average, around $16,500 over the course of two years.
“I applied for financial aid at FRCC and was pleasantly surprised to find out that all of my classes would be covered by grants,” says Jennifer. “Being at Front Range allowed me to focus on my studies rather than spending more time working to pay for school.”
“If I had gone straight to the university, only a part of my tuition would have been covered. I would have had to work more while in school—and it would have taken longer to get this far,” she says. “In the end, it would have taken me way longer to earn my degree.”
“Plus, I would have had substantially more out of pocket expense,” she adds.
“By starting at FRCC, I’ll be able to graduate with a bachelor’s degree and no student loans.”
A Great Education
Saving money isn’t the only reason to start a bachelor’s degree at a community college. This path can help students succeed in several other ways.
“Students who start at FRCC have the same educational experience as students at the universities,” says Christy Wallert, FRCC’s engineering coordinator. “They’re taking the same classes and get to have similar extracurricular activities.”
“They’re literally on same degree path,” she adds. “Our students don’t have to take any courses they don’t need—and they finish the associate degree ready to transfer to the university as a junior. But our students get to complete those first two years in an environment that has smaller classes and offers a lot more support.”
In fact, Christy says, it’s very common for students from the University of Colorado or Colorado State to choose to take some of their classes at FRCC in order to access this kind of individualized assistance.
Smaller Classes, More Support
“The biggest class I had at Front Range was 24 students,” says Jennifer Love. “You can’t put a number on that. I’ve come out of these classes with way more knowledge than if I had taken them in a huge lecture hall.”
She returned to college after many years out of school, and says she got a ton of support at FRCC. “I’ve used the tutoring program and the student success center, both of which were fantastic.”
Jennifer adds that the professors at Front Range are very available. “When I was in college when I was younger, I don’t know that I ever reached out to a professor—it was kind of frightening. But at Front Range, they encourage you to ask for help—and whenever I have, I’ve been met with great support.”
“I got great assistance outside of the classroom. Every professor I had gave that extra level of support.”
A Welcoming Environment
Jennifer says the environment at a community college feels more inclusive and welcoming for all students, including adult learners like herself who have families. She also points out that some students start at a university but find it overwhelming.
“I didn’t see myself being successful there,” she says. “At FRCC, students feel they can succeed, that they belong, and they can get what they need make it to graduation.”
Hands-On, Active Learning
The college also connects students with industry mentors for its engineering projects class. Groups of three or four students have approximately 10 weeks to develop a project together—their task is to design something that will help solve one of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
They meet with an industry mentor at least three times throughout the project to share progress, ask questions and get feedback. “These meetings almost always result in the students altering/improving the project in some way,” says Math and Engineering Instructor Anne Wrobetz. “It’s a critical component of the class, since one of the learning outcomes is to engage stakeholders.”
When projects are complete, students present their prototypes in an end-of-semester Engineering Design Expo. A panel of judges—from industry and FRCC’s transfer partners—ranks the projects based on their creativity, usefulness and execution. Winners of the judge’s choice award receive a $500 FRCC scholarship—but in reality, everyone wins because they learn a lot from working on these projects with real-world applications.
Engineering-Focused Extracurricular Activities
The college also has an engineering club at each campus that students can join to work on projects they choose as a group. In recent years, the clubs tackled projects like how to automate the campus greenhouse for humidity and temperature control or how to design robotic hands. The groups also take tours of facilities like CSU’s Powerhouse Energy Institute, where students learned about research opportunities in renewable energy and other clean technologies.
FRCC is also a partner in the Colorado Space Grant Consortium, which gives Colorado students a chance to interact with interact with engineers and scientists from NASA and aerospace companies to develop, test and fly new space technologies. Through FRCC’s Robotics and Demosat Teams, students get to work on real-world hands-on learning projects.
Interested students can join the college’s Robotics Team each fall. They then work together throughout the schoolyear to build an autonomous robot that can navigate obstacles in a Mars-like environment.
FRCC Faculty advisor Stephanie Beck says it’s a great opportunity for students to learn complex systems, coding, 3D printing, electrical systems and more. The team gets to work with industry mentors from companies like Ball Aerospace and Boom Supersonic. Mentors attend weekly meetings with the students throughout the year to help with the design process and consult on technical issues.
In the spring, the team gets to participate in a final challenge at Great Sand Dunes National Park. Then they present their project to industry judges at the Space Grant Consortium research symposium.
Demonstration Satellite (DemoSat)
Also in connection with the Space Grant, FRCC’s Demosat Team is challenged to design, build and launch a balloon payload to the edge of space—conducting experiments of their own design. The teams get to work with an industry mentor who gives them advice and guidance, and helps the students understand the real-life applications of their work.
“We generally make it up to 100,000 feet—that’s 19 miles up—before the balloon pops, the payloads fall, and then the parachute drifts down,” says the team’s faculty advisor Anthony Riley. The teams follow their balloon in a convoy and collect their payloads from the landing site; then they analyze the data their instruments collected from the Earth’s atmosphere.
“After the spring flight, the students only have a short window to analyze their data and write a research paper before presenting it at the Space Grant Symposium where they compete against other students from around the state,” he says. “It’s a challenging and fun learning experience.”
Seamless Transfer to a University
For years, community colleges have offered an engineering pathway for students who want to get started on a bachelor’s degree in the field and then transfer to a four-year school. “But before, they were just taking math and science classes,” Christy Wallert says.
“Now they can take all their freshman and sophomore engineering classes at FRCC and complete their bachelor’s degree faster.”
“After we help them build a strong academic foundation at FRCC, they leave us with a two-year engineering degree,” she says. “And they know they’re well prepared to complete the second half of their bachelor’s.”
The new associate degrees in engineering provide students a seamless transfer experience to their four-year university. “This way is much smoother,” says student Jennifer Love.
“Since the classes are guaranteed to transfer, you don’t have to fuss with the possibility of your transfer school not accepting your credits.”
What Kind of Engineering Can You Study?
In 2021, FRCC’s very first articulation agreement with a local university allowed students to complete an associate degree in general engineering at the prestigious Colorado School of Mines. That degree also works well for students who plan to transfer to a university but haven’t decided on a specific field of engineering yet.
“The majority of the coursework in general engineering will transfer to any university in Colorado,” says Christy.
More recently, FRCC has added associate degrees in civil and mechanical engineering, both of which transfer to CU and CSU. And more engineering degrees will be coming soon.
FRCC is currently working on two new AES degrees—in electrical engineering and computer engineering—both of which will transfer to CU and CSU. After that, Christy is hoping aerospace might be next. “We’re working on that for the future,” she says.
An Option to Go Straight to Work
Students who aren’t ready to pursue a bachelor’s degree can also use FRCC’s engineering associate degrees to go straight into the workforce. The AES degrees can get them a job as an engineering tech straight out of community college.
And there are many engineering firms in Colorado that offer tuition reimbursement for employees who want to pursue a bachelor’s degree. Lockheed Martin even has a pathways-to-aerospace program that is designed specifically for community college students.
FRCC engineering student Jennifer Love is finishing the last two classes for her AES degree at FRCC this summer. She plans to transfer to CU to major in biomedical engineering. With her associate degree complete, Jennifer will only have two years left to earn a bachelor’s degree.
But first, she plans to work for a little while. “The AES gives me a foot in the door for a lot of tech jobs,” Jennifer says. “I can work and save up money for finishing my bachelor’s. I’m looking at several local employers that give tuition assistance to help their employees complete a bachelor’s degree.”
Diversifying the Engineering Workforce
Engineering associate degrees are a great way to get non-traditional students into the workforce, according to Christy Wallert. “They may be supporting their family and need an income while in school,” she points out.
“So, this is an effective way to diversify the engineering workforce, which is desperately needed. It’s an alternate pathway to becoming an engineer that provides the financial support many people need.”
“This degree option is a huge boon to people who can’t afford to go to a four-year university,” adds student Jennifer Love. “It’s the ideal way to do it.”
“This puts a bachelor’s degree in engineering within reach for a lot of people it might not otherwise be accessible for.”
Making a Difference for Colorado
This important pathway gives community college students a way to seamlessly pursue a four-year degree in engineering—preparing them for rewarding, in-demand careers. “We’re giving them a strong academic foundation in engineering and supporting them every step of the way,” says FRCC President Colleen Simpson, EdD.
“By simplifying the transfer process, FRCC will also help deliver a skilled and more diverse engineering workforce to our communities in Colorado. Everybody wins.”