Community college bachelor’s degree programs: A new national overview

Community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs are now present in every U.S. region and appear to be an increasingly popular way to help address local workforce shortages, according to a new report from the think tank New America. The first-of-its-kind national data set offers fresh insight into the growing breadth and depth of CCB programs, including their location, type, and growth trajectory.

‘An important access point’

For the report, New America collected data between April and October 2021, finding that 24 states now allow some community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. West Virginia authorized the first such program in 1989, and the model’s spread to other states has accelerated in recent years: seven states authorized CCB programs in the past five years alone.

“This growth in a relatively short time span may indicate a growing perception that the CCB program is an important access point for students who might not otherwise pursue a bachelor’s degree,” the report says.

Related link: 24 states now allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees >

According to the Community College Research Center, most community college students say they want to earn a bachelor’s degree, but less than 20 percent actually do so within six years. The University of Washington says its CCB programs offer accessibility to students that ”had limited ability to transfer and apply credits toward a baccalaureate.”

Program proliferation still uneven

Recent CCB program adoption has been especially strong in western states, New America observes. States that authorized CCB years ago generally have the most fully developed programs, including Florida, Washington, and Georgia—all early adopters.

Looking at areas of study and degree types among CCB offerings, New America found that STEM; business; health professions, including nursing; and education were most common. Many of these build on existing applied associate degree programs at community colleges, and thus most BBC programs award bachelor of applied science and bachelor of applied technology degrees; bachelor of arts programs are scarce at two-year colleges. Authorization for CCB programs often limits them to fields with a demonstrated local labor market need—one that can’t be met by nearby public universities.

According to Higher Ed Dive, the creation of CCB programs has been “a hotly contested issue,” with some critics questioning whether the offerings could dampen enrollment at four-year schools or award lower-quality degrees—but has ultimately “picked up steam in recent years.” New America says it hopes the new national data set will help policy and college leaders “see when and how CCB programs are supporting students in other communities and states and whether this type of program could similarly benefit their community.”

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