WSCC hopes to offer four-year degrees

Washington State Community College will investigate offering baccalaureate degrees.

Board of trustees chairman Randy Barengo and college president Vicky Wood told a board meeting Monday night that they had attended the First National Baccalaureate Summit in Las Vegas, Nev., at the end of September. The summit, organized by the Community College Baccalaureate Association and the Association of Community College Trustees, offered a wide view of higher degree programs being offered by community colleges across the country, what challenges and successes they have met, and what’s coming up.

Offering bachelor degree programs is no light undertaking, Barengo told the board.

“This is not something we can stand up and do in six months,” he said. “The more I learned, the more I realized there is a lot of work for the board to make this right.”

At the summit, he said, the examples of states that have allowed community colleges to offer such degrees were encouraging.

Wood said the state of Washington probably has the most advanced experience, and its students show an 87 percent completion rate and a 24 percent growth in programs since they were opened up to community colleges.

The programs are now being offered in 19 states, with another five being authorized, and Ohio is one of those, she said. It makes a bachelor’s degree more affordable for students, she said, and 80 percent of students who enroll at WSCC have a four-year degree as their education objective.

Barengo noted that states differ in their approaches. California and Michigan, for example, have competitive processes, and Florida, which has had the program for 11 years, won’t offer a baccalaureate in studies that won’t get the student a job in a field that doesn’t pay at least $55,000 per year.

He also noted the college’s obligation to students.

“We can’t have students making life-altering decisions if the college won’t sustain them,” he said.

One challenge will be the providers who are already in the market, he said.

“The four-year colleges are much more organized, they’re financially strong,” he said, and they oppose the entry of community colleges into their turf. It will require the board to actively engage with legislators, he said.

Wood said the Ohio Association of Community Colleges is conducting a survey and has sent out a request for information. The first round survey was sent out at the beginning of October and is due back at the end of the month, she said, but a second round is expected in the spring.

Barengo said WSCC should consider a survey response for the second round.

Community colleges and baccalaureate degrees

States available: 19

States under authorization, including Ohio: 5

First round deadline to reply to OACC request for information: Oct. 31

Second round expected: Spring 2018