Community Colleges Now Offering Bachelor’s Degrees

Posted By Eliana Osborn on March 24, 2016 at 1:24 pm
Community Colleges Now Offering Bachelor’s Degrees

Earn an associate’s degree at the community college, then transfer to a four-year school. That’s been the typical path for earning a bachelor’s degree using the community college system. Now, there’s change afoot with some states exploring expansion of mission and scope.

The Community College Baccalaureate Association “strives to promote better access to the baccalaureate degree on community college campuses, and to serve as a resource for information on various models for accomplishing this purpose.” Their aim is one of access, recognizing that community colleges are available in most areas of the country where four-year institutions are not. They also serve as a clearinghouse for research and policy about community college bachelor’s degree offerings as well as best practices.

Often, getting a BA at a CC works by having university centers on community college campuses.  Arizona Western College in Yuma, Arizona, has long shared space with the University of Arizona Yuma. Only recently have degrees been available from the University of Arizona, with students able to take all needed classes at the AWC location.

Seventeen states currently offer some bachelor’s degrees through community colleges. Texas legislators are debating a proposal to expand a pilot program where three schools have been awarding BA diplomas. Cost savings for potential students are one of the big reasons for utilizing community colleges as well as the access issues. A RAND report in 2014 examined Texas specifically to see the potential and pitfalls of bachelor’s degree offerings. RAND found the biggest benefits of such a change to be in workforce development, addressing specific needs of local businesses.

There are significant hurdles for a community college wanting to add bachelor’s degrees to their profile. Accreditation is necessary, with the same requirements as any other university. Schools also have to be given permission by state education agencies.

For high-need fields like nursing, high demands from students and industry push schools to take the leap. California decided in 2015 to move forward on letting specific community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in targeted areas.  For example, Cyprus College will offer a BA in Mortuary Science and nothing else. In a press release announcing the state’s plans, California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris said, “Students will have a range of programs from which to choose to earn high quality, affordable and in-demand degrees. California employers win too, as they will have improved access to highly qualified candidates in these fields.”

As of 2014, St. Petersburg College in Florida offered the largest number of bachelor’s degrees for a community college, with 25 separate programs. Schools in Florida even dropped the word ‘community’ from their names, according to Hechinger Report, with so many of them adding four-year degrees to their scope.

Not everyone is happy about the idea of more schools offering more degrees. Universities are concerned about their enrollment numbers, as well as the quality of instruction available at community colleges. Some mention ‘scope creep,’ where schools are going beyond their initial mission and perhaps losing focus.

Eliana Osborn
Eliana Osborn is an associate English professor at Arizona Western College, with degrees from Brigham Young University and Northern Arizona University. She’s published widely in forums such as The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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