MIDDLETOWN, Ohio — Cincinnati State Technical & Community College wants to be at the forefront of a movement that’s taking place in nearly two dozen states: confer four-year degrees.
But it won’t be easy, as the premise is just an idea in Ohio.
Monica Posey, Cincinnati State’s academic vice president, said there needs to be more discussions on the topic, both internally and with their collegiate partners, Miami University and the University of Cincinnati.
“Our goal is not to take anything away but do more together, to serve the community more,” she told WCPO news partner Journal-News. “Our first step is more discussion and to hear what kinds of things and kinds of questions community leaders, political leaders and other intuitions would have.”
Posey told the Journal-News the trend of community colleges in other states being able to confer four-year degrees is “a great opportunity for Cincinnati State.”
“The community college bachelor’s degree is less expensive, it’s more convenient, and many of our students, of course, are adults who are working and have families so they certainly more interested in something that would be convenient,” she said.
Beth Hagan, executive director for the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA), told reporter Michael Pitman that such programs are designed to “fill a workforce need.”
“The degrees are applied baccalaureate degrees. They’re not English or math. They’re all workforce,” she said, adding that the trend began in the 1970s but heated up in the ‘90s.
Ohio Association of Community Colleges spokesman Jeff Ortega said the trend “is a response to workforce demands in new emerging fields that call for deeper applied skills than associate degrees currently offer.”
“These credentials usually fall in skilled professional areas where very often there is not a bachelor’s degree available, and where applied contextual learning is necessary for businesses to be competitive,” he said.
Posey believes her institution is better set up than some other schools when it comes to preparing students to get jobs – and conferring degrees would help with that.
“And there are more fields growing that require a bachelor’s degree to move forward, and some of these universities are just not oriented towards workforce-type programs. And some do not have the capacity or the interest in these programs.”
Posey said some potential four-year degrees Cincinnati State could confer include food sciences and land surveying, but emphasized those are just ideas at this point.
“We feel the timing is right for Cincinnati State to be a leader in Ohio in moving this forward,” she said. “But we want to focus on the needs of students, the need of business and industry that will help Ohio move forward."
Posey said internal discussions still need to happen before any type of proposal could be developed.
However, there’s a catch. Ohio law does not permit community colleges to confer four-year degree programs.
Not many states do.
The CCBA lists 19 states that have changed laws to allow community colleges to confer four-year degrees. Indiana is one of those states.
Other reports indicate 21 states, but Idaho community colleges confer four-year degrees but state law never changed to permit that, and Arkansas community colleges folded into the university system, according to the Journal-News report.
Hagan also said of the 60 to 70 community colleges that offer four-year degrees, only 1 to 2 percent of their students are in a four-year degree program.
While they may be few in numbers at this point, students seem to be excited about the new form of higher education, Posey said.
“We see the students in these states are responding with enthusiasm. They like it. It’s a new market, a new opportunity,” said Posey. “The number enrolling in Florida has nearly quadrupled to nearly 30,000 in the five years.”
But there are issues with the system.
“You’ll find when people start the process without finding out about the pitfalls of what could happen they have not been successful because they really did not understand the bigger picture,” Hagan said.
Rep. Tim Derickson (R-Hanover Twp.) said he is “not totally sold” yet on the idea — mainly because there are other ways for students to easily obtain four-year degrees.
“The concern I’ve heard with community colleges offering a four-year degree is it could create a competitive atmosphere in a local community that may not exist,” said Derickson. “There’s a lot of money that goes into a lot of schools — not only from the state but from families and taxpayers.”
There are also articulation agreements that typically surround the ability to transfer credits between community colleges and four-year colleges and universities.
Hagan said that’s not the case. She said four-year degrees are not going to compete with traditional colleges and university “because they’re not the same degree.”
However, she did say education and nursing programs could potentially overlap but there is a “capacity” issues since these are in-demand positions.
The Ohio Association of Community Colleges does not have an official stance on the trend, Ortega said, “although our colleges have had discussions on particular majors that business and industry desires to see in their workers.”
The Ohio Board of Regents is not looking into the trend at this time.