Are Four-Year Degrees at Community Colleges Necessary?

Tim Goral's picture
Thursday, March 21, 2013

A bill that would allow community colleges to issue four-year degrees is a good example of what could be good policy arriving before good data.

We have no objection with supporters of Senate Bill 165's stated goal of making higher education more accessible, particularly in rural areas, and providing students with degrees that will be valued by employers and result in higher salaries when they enter the workforce. But backers of the bill have not sufficiently demonstrated a demand for the new degrees — or how that demand stacks up against what the state's four-year institutions already offer.

Supporters argue the bill requires community colleges to show there is demand and to demonstrate that programs wouldn't be duplicative of what a college or university in the same geographic areas is already offering. Ultimately the bill lets the state's higher education commission make the determination.

But the community colleges should be required to demonstrate the demand before this bill becomes law. Otherwise, we run the risk of "mission creep" or of directing scarce dollars for higher education to places where it may not be entirely needed.

The original bill allowed for community colleges to add baccalaureate degrees in as many as 10 programs — though the figure has since been amended to seven programs. But in a recent meeting with The Denver Post's editorial board, backers of the bill had a hard time coming up with more than four programs in which bachelor's degrees might be added.

Will community colleges suddenly rush out and look for three more areas? And have they explored partnerships or online collaborations with four-year schools that might be able to meet current demand?

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