The Community College bachelor’s degree continues to grow. Where will it lead?
This week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey passed legislation Senate Bill 1453, which will allow community colleges in Arizona to offer four-year university degrees. When the new law comes into effect this fall, Arizona will become the 24th state where community colleges can grant bachelor’s degrees under certain conditions.
Under the new law, community colleges outside of the states two largest counties – Maricopa and Pima – will be allowed to offer an unlimited number of bachelor’s degrees. In Maricopa and Pima counties, which are home to Arizona State University and the University of Arizona, respectively, there will be limits on the number of four-year degrees that can be granted and the amount of tuition that can be paid. charged (tuition per credit hour for the third and fourth years of a bachelor’s program is capped at 150% of tuition for other community college courses)
“Arizona Community Colleges play a vital role in helping students of all ages and in equipping our workforce with skills and resources,” said Governor Ducey. “Arizona is a state of school choice, and today’s action is choosing a school for higher education. It’s “Opportunity for All” in action. This will give students even more opportunities as they strengthen their education and expand their employment opportunities. “
Arizona’s decision to allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees follows a debate similar to that heard in other states. Here, according to a 2020 in short of State Education Commission, are the main arguments – for and against – for politics.
Advocates generally point to three factors favoring such expansion:
- Community colleges are generally more agile than four-year institutions and therefore can better develop degree programs that meet the changing needs of the workforce, especially in high-demand fields.
- Community colleges may offer bachelor’s degrees to more diverse student populations, especially in areas with no four-year institution nearby. They are often designed to serve non-traditional groups such as low-income, first-generation and older students, as well as students of color.
- A bachelor’s degree from a community college is generally much less expensive than the tuition and fees charged by four-year institutions. As a result, the policy helps alleviate lingering concerns about the affordability and indebtedness of student loans.
Opponents cite these objections to expanding community college degrees:
- Community college bachelor’s degrees introduce a mission drift that will distract institutions from their core expertise by offering associate’s degrees and certificates and preparing students to transfer to four-year campuses.
- The policy encourages duplication of effort and increased competition with four-year schools for students, faculty and state funding.
- Because of the costs of obtaining regional accreditation, adding faculty and staff, and building or upgrading facilities, the costs of AA programs in community colleges will eventually increase ( because they subsidize new BA programs), or those baccalaureate degrees will be of inferior quality. quality to those offered in four-year establishments. Concerns about historically low community college graduation rates are also often raised.
Because of these arguments, most states, such as Arizona, have imposed various conditions on two-year schools offering four-year degrees. Common constraints are as follows: prove that there will be no duplication of programs, limit the number of institutions authorized to offer degrees, specify the study programs that will be authorized, cap the tuition fees that may be billed and establish an economic / labor need by employers, communities or regions before giving the green light to a new program.
Nonetheless, the dynamics of community college bachelor’s degrees are evident. Here are the 24 states that now allow them at a certain level: Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon , South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
And with the Biden administration’s enthusiasm for the role of community colleges in improving the country’s educational attainment and economic recovery, the outlook for the trend to continue is favorable. Executives of four-year universities can see the writing on the wall. Although Larry Penley, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, which governs the state’s four-year public universities, opposed the law, the presidents of two of the state universities – Michael Crow of Arizona State and Rita Cheng of the University of Northern Arizona – did not express any opposition.
Perhaps the best course of action for leaders of four-year universities is not to oppose bachelor’s degrees at two-year colleges, but rather to increase their own degree possibilities. An example is rreverse transfer, a process for awarding an AA degree to students who move from a two-year institution to a four-year institution before completing the AA requirements at the two-year institution. Through the reverse transfer, students combine the credits they earn at their four-year school with those they previously earned at the community college and retroactively receive an associate’s degree from the community college. It’s a second chance in the first degree.
At least seven states (Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, and Texas) have passed laws implementing reverse transfer policies, often as part of a strategic plan that sets an ambitious target for the number of incumbent citizens. a university degree.
Another option would be for four-year institutions to award AA degrees to students who are about to complete bachelor’s degree programs. According to an estimate provided to me by Dr. Martha M. Parham, senior vice president of public relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, at least a third of universities can already offer AA degrees. But typically, these degrees are in specific, professionally oriented fields such as healthcare, hospitality, technology, or manufacturing.
What if four-year schools started offering associate degrees along the way to the baccalaureate? This is a proposition championed by temple professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, who tweeted the idea earlier this year. It’s not that far-fetched. Master’s degrees are often awarded to students in doctoral programs, sometimes as a planned milestone, often as a consolation degree for those who will not complete their doctorate.
Goldrick-Rab, who also founded and is director of the Hope Center for Colleges, Community and Justice, explained it to me this way in an email. “There are at least 36 million Americans who have graduated from college but don’t have a degree. Many took the courses associated with an associate’s degree, but did not receive any because they did the work at a four-year college. There is ample evidence that having the degree is more valuable than just taking the courses – there is a ‘flagging’ effect used by employers, and a corresponding increase in job and earnings chances, as well as a reduced chance that a person will default on their student loans. People should be recognized for the work they have done and not be penalized for outdated structures. “
There would still be a long way to go before implementing a wide availability of “integrated” AA degrees. For example, should they require a new 60-hour program or simply be awarded after the completion of an institution’s basic general education and overtime to achieve 60 credits. And objections similar to those voiced by four-year schools against bachelor’s degrees in community colleges would be raised by the two-year industry opposing the integration of AA degrees into four-year colleges.
Ultimately, however, the real question should not be which degree policies best suit the interests of the institution, but rather which degree options best meet the needs of students. Although it deserves more debate, greater permeability between sectors of higher education appears to be a policy that puts students first. Where they belong.