CC bachelor’s programs grow in Florida

Florida’s community colleges now offer 111 bachelor’s degree programs, reports Inside Higher Ed. A new law will make it easier for colleges to add new programs.

In 2008, “Gov. Charlie Crist signed a controversial bill rebranding the state’s community college system” to meet the demand for four-year degrees in nursing, education and applied sciences careers. Programs now include homeland security, fire science management, interior design and international business.

None of Miami Dade College’s 12 baccalaureate programs generated a competing proposal from a neighboring four-year institution, says Pamela Menke, vice provost for education at Miami Dade.

By and large, Menke explained, it is less expensive for a community college to add the remaining two years for a program they already offer at the associate degree level than for a nearby four-year institution to create a baccalaureate program from scratch. This, she added, is the case with the college’s new four-year degree in film, television and digital production, as the college already has a studio and all of the high-tech equipment in place.

Community colleges’ four-year degree programs are attracting older students and minority students, making them less of a threat to four-year institutions.

For instance, whereas three-fourths of the students in the state’s public four-year institutions are between the ages of 18 and 25, more than three-fourths of students in community college baccalaureate programs are older than 26 (with most of those being older than 35).

Valencia Community College had no plans to add four-year degrees until nearby University of Central Florida asked Valencia to take over engineering technology and radiology imaging programs.

Some community college leaders fear “mission creep.” That’s a legitimate concern, says Linda Serra Hagedorn, professor and director of the Research Institute for Studies in Higher Education at Iowa State University.

“There are a lot of different types of students who knock at the door of community colleges,” said Hagedorn, who before moving to Iowa State was a longtime educational policy researcher at the University of Florida. “I just worry that they’re not going to be able to serve all those different types if they’re bringing in more four-year program students. There will be less room for remediation and truly vocational programs. Some are not going to be as well-served as others. We have to remember the reason community colleges were established in the first place.”

Kenneth Walker, president of Edison State College in Fort Myers, is eager to expand the college’s mission. This fall, Edison State is opening a charter high school to serve as a feeder to the community college. The next step is Edison University, a “spinoff” private institution offering community college graduates an array of baccalaureate and master’s degrees. Walker’s long-term goal is a seamless K-16 system serving low-income and minority students.