In recent years, community colleges have been experimenting with baccalaureate degree programs. With great success, many states are now encouraging the bachelor’s programs at community colleges, as they promote the acquisition of higher education for the greater public, while also providing degree programs in an increasingly wide range of majors and subject areas.
The Growing Trend
While baccalaureate degrees were traditionally only earned through a university or four year institution, a drastic shift began to occur in the 1990s. At this time, the Community College Baccalaureate Association sought to revise this tradition, and created the mission statement that they intended to: "promote the development and acceptance of the community college baccalaureate degree as a means of addressing the national problems of student access, demand, and cost.” In support, The American Association of Community Colleges has also recognized the community college baccalaureate as, “an emerging development in higher education.”
The main reasons community college baccalaureate degrees have become so popular is due to three primary components. First, community colleges are able to respond to increased workforce needs. Secondly, community colleges have been able to respond to economic pressures facing students and communities. And lastly, community colleges have been increasing the accessibility of higher education by making the degree programs more affordable and manageable than a traditional university.
Responding to Workforce Needs
In responding to increased workforce needs, a growing number of potential employment opportunities now require a bachelor’s degree, which makes the job market more competitive than ever. In a recent study conducted by The Federal Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest paid careers in the nation all require at least a four year-degree. These high paying professions include jobs such as airplane pilots, engineers, physician assistants, and many others.
In addition, the Federal Bureau also predicts that many of the high paying jobs are further listed as “the ten fastest growing occupations from 2002 to 2012.” The highest growing jobs, for example, are listed as careers as medical assistants, network and data analysts, home health aides, and many other careers focusing in health and technology. Since the job market now requires a four year degree for most profitable careers
, community colleges have quickly responded to this trend, and they are working to make the baccalaureate degree more attainable for its students and the community. Also, community colleges are simultaneously responding to the great pressure to provide students with programs that can ensure employment in fields of great need upon graduation.
Traditionally, universities that offer bachelor’s degrees are known to be both highly expensive. Not only are tuition expenses costly, but many universities often require relocation costs, housing costs, and hefty enrollment fees. Added up, traditional baccalaureate programs can economically become inaccessible rather quickly.
Since many students struggle to afford university costs
, some students would complete their prerequisite studies at a community college, and then transfer to a four-year institution
after a year or two. As the California legislature explains, “In some, but not all, geographic regions, baccalaureate degree programs are being delivered successfully at the local community college through agreements between the community college and four-year postsecondary institutions within or outside of the state.”
To respond to this economic and social trend of transferring credits and sharing programs, states are now allowing community colleges to issue bachelor degrees because it further expands “access to baccalaureate degree programs through the use of community colleges,” according to the California Performance Review. Ultimately, instead of forcing students to transfer to juggle costs
, students can now complete programs at their initial college, making the whole undergraduate experience both more affordable and convenient.
Also, since community colleges are growing in popularity, some states, such as California, provided a reduction in enrollment fees at various community colleges. As a result, “more students find receiving a community college education more accessible and affordable, which leads to increased enrollment,” according to the Lompoc Record. Also, many students realized that with the reduction of fees and costs at a community college, compared to a university, a student can take more courses at one time, instead of having to spread out a program to balance the costs of tuition and expenses. As a result, the lower cost, “allows students to take more classes which in turn speeds up the whole college experience,” explained by the Lompoc Record.
Increasing the Accessibility of Four-Year Degrees
As more states are granting community colleges the authority to incorporate baccalaureate programs in their academic offerings, many state legislators are speaking out about the social benefits of such great shifts.
In 2001, the Florida legislature granted a public community college, St. Petersburg, the authority to issue bachelor’s degrees, while providing the explanation, “The Legislature intends to create an innovative means to increase access to baccalaureate degree level education in populous counties that are underserved by public baccalaureate degree granting institutions.” Essentially, because many traditional four year programs are often inaccessible, the state legislator argued that all community members should have the equal opportunity to earn baccalaureate degrees, which in turn would allow community members access to more job opportunities as well.
In addition, since many traditional universities are not only inaccessible for some community members, but also require relocation, community colleges are offering a more convenient and local approach to the earning of a baccalaureate degree. Essentially, according to the California Performance Review, “Establishing new and creative bachelor degree programs at community colleges is a strategy to increase college participation rates for local residents who are unable to relocate because of family or work commitments.” Ultimately, making baccalaureate degrees more affordable, while diminishing the drastic requirements of relocation, baccalaureate programs are growing in popularity.