Expanding the Role of Community Colleges With Workforce Baccalaureate Programs

Expanding the Role of Community Colleges With Workforce Baccalaureate Programs

Carmen M. Dones
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4123-4.ch002
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Community colleges have been expanding their mission to include the conferring of bachelor's degrees in career education programs for many years, which has been met with consternation over the quality of a bachelor's degree from a community college, as well as with resources in higher education being limited or redirected when there has been cutbacks in funding. Legislators in some states and critics in higher education refer to the phenomenon of community colleges offering baccalaureate degrees as mission creep, opposed to seeing the equity value in higher degree attainment. Thus, the purpose of the study is to analyze state policies through examination of secondary data to determine the purpose of the community college bachelor's degree programs nationwide, the types of programs being offered, as well as what the phenomenon reveals about being a viable pathway to a higher education degree for the typical community college student.
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Although the role of community colleges has been in workforce development, industry has increased the level and scope of skills required by employers. Therefore, community colleges across the United States have recognized a greater need for mission expansion due to the growing need for highly skilled workers in fields of study that are not generally offered in most universities, have a workforce demand, and are high-unit majors. Thus, more and more states are choosing to adopt the practice of conferring bachelor’s degree programs in community colleges. With community college students reported to be mostly low-income, first-generation, from ethnic and minority backgrounds (Engle & Tinto, 2008), non-traditional, immigrant, low income, and students who live at or below the poverty line (Bailey, Jaggars, & Jenkins, 2015), community colleges can serve as a viable option for a higher degree and workforce training.

Approval to confer baccalaureate degrees in community colleges dates back to the mid-1970s with New York’s Fashion Design Institute being the first college to lead the way for many states that would later partake in the trend (Hagan, 2018). Since then, 26 states have been approved to confer bachelor’s degrees in community colleges (McCarthy, 2019). In the early 2000s, Florida experimented with allowing baccalaureate degrees to be conferred in almost all of their community colleges. They began to frame their education challenges around the educational composite of the workforce (Shugart, 2018). The state of Washington, as well as other states, identified a gap in the employers demands of managerial roles and skilled workers at the technician level that the existing baccalaureate institutions were not able to meet (Grothe, Baldwin, & Pan, 2018) and community colleges were. The other states that are currently offering baccalaureate programs in public two-year colleges are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and South Carolina (AASCU, 2004; Povich, 2018; Soler, 2019; Weldon, 2013). More recently, in 2019, Ohio and Wyoming were authorized to confer bachelor degrees in community colleges.

Although many states are authorized to confer baccalaureate degrees, they vary in the types of programs being offered, as well as the types of degrees being conferred. Some community colleges confer bachelor’s of science degrees, while others confer bachelor’s of applied science degrees. According to Moody (2019), a bachelor’s degree is a program of study that requires 120 semester units or 180 quarter units, and generally takes four years of full-time study to complete. The difference between a bachelor of science and a bachelor of applied science is, a bachelor of science degree is centered mainly on science and technical studies, with a heavy emphasis in math and science courses. The bachelor of applied science degree programs is usually career oriented and advanced technical training in science-based fields. The “B.A.S. is offered as a focused approach to give the student real-world skills and applicable concepts geared toward their specific chosen career path. It is often offered to those who already have a two-year Associate Degree and require the technical knowledge and practical skills for advancement in a particular discipline within a chosen field” (Melone, 2019, para 3). Louisa Hunkerstorm, Central Wyoming’s Director of Institutional Effectiveness, is quoted in the Wyoming Community College Commission press release (2019):

community colleges offering four-year degrees is a growing nationwide trend. These offerings allow students to continue their education beyond the Associate’s level at an affordable price while staying in their home communities. Degree offerings can be tailored to suit a community’s specific workforce needs and may be more applied or technical than the focus of typical four-year university degrees. (para. 1)

Which is consistent with the reasoning for the majority of community colleges par-taking in the movement. McCarthy (2019) concurs that “community colleges are well positioned to offer bachelor’s degrees to low-income and place-bound students, and they can help address disparities in degree attainment” (para. 14).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Workforce Shortage: A particular Industry in need of skilled workers that are trained in specific fields of study.

External Accrediting Body: An accrediting body that is an external entity to the college but has oversight of the program standards that must be adhered to.

Degree: A program of study that requires 60 or more credit units and culminates with an associate’s degree, or 120 credit units and culminates with a bachelor’s degree.

Underrepresented Students: Students of ethnic groups that are traditionally the minority in educational institutions and/or lack higher education degrees.

Nontraditional student: Students over the age of 24, and/or with external obligations that create barriers or challenges to attend college.

Professional Organization: An organization that provides standards for competency in a particular program of study.

Disadvantaged Students: Low-income and/or first-generation students at or below the poverty line.

Certificate: A program of study that requires less than 60 credit units and culminates in an industry certification or certificate of achievement.

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