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Community college bachelor’s degrees help achieve access and equity


At the turn of this century, labor requirements began to change. More employers sought to hire students who had obtained their bachelor’s degree. Companies were looking for specific accreditations that did not exist in many traditional four-year institutions, such as cybersecurity or professional skills management. There was an increased demand for teachers and nurses.

Community colleges were listening.

“Community colleges are agile. It’s one of their greatest assets, ”said Summer Kennesson, policy research associate at the Washington State Council of Community and Technical Colleges (SBCTC). “They have connections within their community, so they can be very responsive to skills demands or emerging shortages in their areas,” she said.

Summer kenesson

In 2005, the Washington state legislature authorized the creation of a small pilot program specifically for their two-year students: the Applied Baccalaureate. SBCTC has carefully and deliberately planned courses with their local markets and with their state’s four-year institutions. Ultimately, they got the necessary accreditation to offer a bachelor’s degree.

Today, more than fifteen years later, 31 of their 34 colleges offer applied licenses. In May of this year, Arizona became the 24th state to approve similar legislation.

While at first glance, bachelor’s degrees at community colleges may appear to conflict with the educational priorities of a four-year institution, experts in the community college field say a real conflict between these two institutions. is unlikely. The majority of community college bachelor’s degrees are workforce programs, created following strict state legislative guidelines and working closely with local communities to meet specific regional needs. In doing so, these programs have created a pipeline that serves a wide range of students and that has increased access for anyone hoping to earn a bachelor’s degree.

And, according to experts, offering both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees could be the way of the future at community colleges.

Participation in Washington’s applied bachelor’s degree programs has grown steadily since their inception, but the largest percentage of growth has been among students of color.

“A large number of students in our technical programs are first generation students, students of color, students eligible for financial aid,” said Laura McDowell, director of communications at SBTC. The applied baccalaureate opens up these opportunities for students of these programs.

The University of Washington has studied the effects of the applied bachelor’s degree across the state. The study found that, in a comparison of students who graduated with a bachelor’s degree, black students who attended a two-year institution were 26% more likely, and Latinx students were 46% more likely, to graduate. than those attending a four-year facility.

Susan mayer

Susan mayer

Community colleges generally serve the atypical student, those who do not have the time or the financial means to pursue a four-year education. Susan Mayer, head of learning at Achieving the Dream, said that when you look at students attending community colleges nationwide, somewhere “between 50 and 70% are part-time students. More than half of them work and a significant percentage work full time. The average age is in the mid-twenties.

Four-year-old institutions, Mayer said, more generally line up with students Monday through Friday, in the middle of the workday. For atypical students, especially students who are working or raising a family, taking the standard four-year path to a bachelor’s degree is not always an option.

“If you’ve started in community colleges and feel comfortable there, feel out of place, feel familiar to you, and much cheaper. It’s an obvious choice, ”Mayer said.

For some students, a community college is the closest educational option for hundreds of miles.

Dr Thomas Brock

Dr Thomas Brock

“Where most of these programs are located, there usually aren’t many four-year colleges to choose from,” said Dr Thomas Brock, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, noting that Community colleges offering bachelor’s degrees will likely increase access for underserved rural students.

The community college baccalaureate also addresses another major barrier to the baccalaureate: the transfer process. While many public four-year schools have articulation or transfer agreements, students still struggle to keep the credits they’ve earned in their community college. A study by the Government Accountability Office in 2017 found that students lost an average of 43% of credits when transferring to a four-year university.

Brock said that, for students looking to earn a bachelor’s degree in a workforce field, staying within the community college system can avoid the headache of resuming courses that might not have been possible. -be not transferred otherwise.

According to Dr. Martha Parham of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the majority of these programs have been put in place to “provide additional access where there is currently none.” In California, Parham noted, community colleges had to prove that there was no state baccalaureate program nearby that already met the need.

“By design, it’s not competitive. It is to serve those who do not have access to it in any other way.

Dr. Steve Head is the Chancellor of Lone Star Colleges in Houston, Texas, where they have offered bachelor’s degrees since 2017. Lone Star has created these programs in close collaboration with four-year institutions across the state, where many have already articulation and transfer agreements. arranged.

“We made sure they knew we weren’t competing with them, that they were undergraduate degrees for the workforce,” he said. “We signed agreements with them, defined what we will do and what we will not do. If they offered the same course, we wouldn’t open ours.

Head meets with the Chancellor’s Advisory Committees, listening community members in the fields of IT, medicine and hospitals, oil and gas, three industries that are huge in Houston. Lone Star offers bachelor’s degrees in these particular fields, Head said, to meet the changing demands of their local workforce.

Adding a bachelor’s degree, Head said, allows his students to get jobs that earn them between $ 75,000 and $ 90,000.

“We charge $ 100 per credit hour. So if you take 130 hours for a bachelor’s degree, that’s $ 13,000, ”he said. “You tell me where you can get that degree with that cost and earn what you do afterwards.”

When they started their bachelor’s degree program at community colleges, Lone Star opened up 220 places in their programs and received over 2,000 applications. Now Head is working with the Texas Legislature to increase the number of programs they offer from three to five.

Other states will likely follow suit, setting unique rules when legislatures pass laws.

“There’s no one right way to do it,” said Parham of the AACC. “If it is built around the needs of the community, then it has a great chance of success. “

Liann Herder can be contacted at [email protected]