Looking to close workforce gaps, address education deserts, and boost attainment, a growing number of community colleges are offering four-year degree programs, Education Dive reports. In 2000, community colleges awarded just 1,700 bachelor’s degrees. That number had grown to more than 17,000 as of 2014, according to researchers from the University of Florida. Twenty-four states now allow two-year institutions to offer bachelor’s degrees, and 121 schools have seized the opportunity, according to data from the University of Washington.
Experts debate quality and enrollment risks vs. access and affordability upsides
This momentum has sparked both critiques of and enthusiasm for four-year degrees at community colleges. Officials at four-year institutions near to community colleges awarding bachelor’s degrees have voiced concerns about competition for students, while other critics have questioned the quality of four-year degrees earned at community colleges.
Proponents, however, note that many community colleges focus their bachelor’s degree offerings on skills that nearby four-year institutions don’t teach and say the increased access can boost economic mobility. The bachelor’s degree program offered by Indian River State College in Fort Pierce, Florida, a two-year institution, allows area residents to “come back, take advantage of the local four-year degrees, avoiding the drive to and from (a far away university), and then become eligible for promotion in their existing job,” says Edwin Massey, the college’s president.
Others say the offerings provide community college students with a lower-cost, more direct path to four-year degrees, noting that just one-third of community college students ever transfer to a four-year institution. “When (students) are successful at their community college, the idea of them having to transfer to another institution can be really discouraging,” Mary Alice McCarthy, director of the Center on Education and Skills at the think tank New America, told Education Dive. “They like to continue on in the place where they have been successful (and) they feel a lot of strong attachment.”