Community colleges moving further into baccalaureate territory
Fifteen California community colleges received initial approval in January to offer four-year degrees in a limited number of specialties as soon as next year.
If approved, the plan could—at a fraction of the cost of four-year schools—produce thousands of new workers in a state that needs more employees in areas such as healthcare and the automotive industries.
The catch, if it can be considered one, is that the schools can’t offer degrees that compete with nearby four-year schools. This would include four-year degrees in nursing, a field that is projected to face increasing shortages nationwide over the next decade.
California would join 21 other states whose community colleges are permitted to offer baccalaureate degrees in a variety of fields. These programs are becoming popular because two-year institutions are typically able to respond to increased workforce needs more quickly than four-year institutions.
Likewise, Illinois has a proposal in the works to allow community colleges to grant four-year degrees, but not everyone is on board. Speaking to The Pantagraph, Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn said the plan could take the focus away from the core mission of community colleges.
“From a competition standpoint, it has a potential to weaken the overall higher education system in the state,” Dunn said. One solution would be to give four-year institutions the right of first refusal when it comes to offering four-year degrees at community colleges, he added.
Opponents also wonder how the plan—and the perceived value of a four-year degree—would be impacted by President Barack Obama’s proposal to make community college tuition-free.