‘Dual mission education’ may help broaden access, advocates say

Looking to increase postsecondary access and reap the cost savings associated with consolidation, some states are merging their two- and four-year college systems, Education Dive reports. Less than one-third of community college students go on to attend four-year degree programs within six years—indicating that pathway “is not working as well as people expect,” according to Ann Milner, a Utah state senator and former president of Utah’s Weber State University.

Weber State in 1962 “pioneered” the idea of “dual mission education,” in which a single institution fulfills both the community college and baccalaureate roles. Now 74 percent of Weber State students who earn associate degrees go on to four-year programs at that institution or another of Utah’s state colleges and universities. Education Dive reports that Georgia also has been “a national leader in consolidations” and references Wisconsin’s current effort to merge its two- and four-year systems.

Advocates of dual mission education say that beyond the obvious cost-efficiencies, the model facilitates access by helping institutions get past “the desire for prestige” to instead focus on a mission to “serve the greatest number of people” and enroll students from underrepresented backgrounds. They also note the potential benefits of exposing students pursuing technical certificates and associate’s degrees to students earning bachelor’s degrees—and of giving a wide range of students “a sense of ‘you can do it’.” To succeed, however, dual mission educational models must take care to support both the two- and four-year missions equally, says Utah Valley University’s president, noting that there’s a natural gravitational pull toward “elitism and selectivity.”

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