Four-Year Degrees at Two-Year Colleges: Why Not?
Its a movement that has been gaining steam nationally with Michigan and Florida among the states now embracing the idea. It is also a trend that could make its way to California and if it does the adage, “as California goes so goes the nation” holds up, then community colleges across the nation may soon begin to offer four-year degrees besides certificate programs and two-year degrees.
State University Systems
California is the latest state considering allowing its community college system to offer bachelor’s degrees, in part to raise overall graduation rates. If the California community college system makes the change, more than 2.4 million students would be affected. Also affected would be both the University of California and California State University systems, four-year systems that receive a significant number of students from the community colleges.
Enabling two-year or junior colleges to expand what they now provide to encompass four-year degrees is not a simple step for California or for other states. Typically, a state’s legislature must authorize the move. And that move would require increased funding, monies that may be in short supply especially as states struggle to balance their budgets. The new healthcare initiative is adding costs to state budgets and those costs are expected to rise in the coming years.
Master Plan for Higher Education
Critics also worry that expanding the purpose of community colleges could harm these schools’ original mission. California adopted a Master Plan for Higher Education in 1960 that assigned community colleges as open enrollment institutions for career and transfer students. That’s different from the mission for the two university systems — to concentrate on research and higher degrees.
California has a 16-member panel examining the proposal. That panel includes representatives from the California State University and University of California systems as well as administrators, faculty, one college trustee and one student.
The Golden State has 112 community colleges and those institutions would potentially compete directly with public and private institutions for students. Thus, political resistance is expected to be strong and previous legislative attempts have already failed.
Education Partnerships Allowed
California allows special partnerships between community colleges and universities to offer some baccalaureate degrees on community college campuses. Its an initiative adopted in 2005 and fairly limited in scope. Just a handful of degrees are offered and the partnerships typically extend to multiple four-year colleges and universities, private and public alike.
Among the costs involved for transitioning to four-year programs is requiring teaching faculty to have doctorate degrees. Fees for four-year programs would also be set higher and laboratories and libraries would have to be upgraded.
Meeting Unmet Needs
Community colleges might be able to overcome political resistance by offering four-year programs not available elsewhere or in areas that are underserved such as automotive, nursing and technology. Otherwise, maintaining and strengthening feeder programs to four-year institutions that work so well in California and in other states may be the most sensible and cost effective solution to preparing students for the future and for raising graduation rates.