Community Colleges' New Foray

Article excerpt

As more two-year colleges begin to offer bachelor's degrees, higher education officials ponder benifits, possible pitfalls

WASHINGTON

What does two plus two equal? Usually posed in the very early stages of a child's education, the question is being looked at afresh by higher education leaders postulating a new sum: two plus two equals a community college offering a bachelor's degree.

But as this new formula gained popularity over the last decade, it also has created divisions within the ranks of higher education.

Some say community colleges are within their rights to seek approval to offer bachelor's degrees. Others believe that baccalaureate-granting community colleges will eventually leave behind the very students community colleges were created to serve.

Is the community college baccalaureate a step in the right direction or getting off on the wrong foot?

Because the number of American two-year colleges offering bachelor's degrees is still relatively small, few meaningful statistics about the trend exist. No government agency or private interest group has a reliable list of how many erstwhile two-year colleges offer four-year degrees in one form or another.

But the sheer number of community colleges that have sought and won baccalaureate certification in recent years suggests that the phenomenon is gaining momentum.

Just in the last three years, Dixie State College in St. George, Utah, St. Petersburg College in St. Petersburg, Fla., Miami-Dade Community College in Florida and Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Fla., have all launched standalone baccalaureate programs.

As a measure of how interest in the concept of the community college baccalaureate has spread, and how many colleges might one day offer four-year degrees, the number of member colleges in the Community College Baccalaureate Association has jumped from fewer than five in its founding year, 1999, to about 75 today.

The Education Alliance, a Framingham, Mass.-based higher-education consulting group, says its research indicates that two-thirds of the nation's community colleges have considered offering bachelor's degrees in some capacity.

A handful of colleges, such as Miami-Dade Community College, Dixie State College and Great Basin College in Elko, Nev., have acquired approval from their boards of education and regional accreditation bodies to offer four-year degrees independently.

The Florida Board of Education approved Miami-Dade's proposal to offer bachelor's degrees in teacher education last year, and the first students will begin classes in August. The college expects an enrollment of about 500, according to Dr. Jose Vicente, president of Miami-Dade's InterAmerican Campus.

Great Basin has been offering bachelor's degrees in applied science, integrative and professional science, elementary education and nursing since 1999. The first class graduated in the spring of 2001.

About 2 1/2 years ago, Dixie State started offering bachelor's degrees in business administration, computer science and elementary education, and the school's president, Dr. Robert Huddleston, said the school also hopes to obtain permission to grant bachelor's degrees in nursing.

UNMET NEEDS, SLIPPERY SLOPES

While only a smattering of schools have established independent bachelor's degree programs, many colleges offer so-called two-plus-two agreements with area universities. Such programs allow students to take university-level classes with university professors at community college campuses, though the four-year degrees are ultimately conferred by the four-year school.

What's driving this interest? Supply and demand, says Dr. Ronald K. Remington, president of the Community College of Southern Nevada, which is hoping to launch a bachelor's degree program. With universities few and far between in rural communities such as his, Remington said, community colleges must adapt their offerings to fill the void. …