Meeting the Need for Bachelors Degrees

A few weeks ago, I attended the Community College Baccalaureate Association’s 12thAnnual International Conference in Philadelphia. As I listened to some of the presentations, I couldn’t help but think that if we are to reach the ambitious goals set by President Obama for 2020 Graduation Rates, then the community colleges will need to be empowered.

However, that empowerment, in the area of offering and awarding baccalaureate degrees, is moving very deliberately. It is a state by state decision and the roadblocks have been many. From concerns about mission creep to accreditation issues to the higher costs to the duplication of services, community college baccalaureates are on a slow moving train. They will eventually get to their final destinations because I believe the consumer will demand it.

But, time is not on our side, if we are to meet the 2020 goals for 25-34 year olds, which is to have the best educated populace in the world. Currently, our rate of graduates is at 38%, which ranks 14th in the world.

In September in an article that appeared in The Chronicle, Duke’s Independent Daily, James Kaval, deputy undersecretary at the US Department of Education stated the following, “Getting there is not going to be easy.  Is it feasible to think we’re going to get to 60 percent within a decade? It’s an ambitious goal.”

According to US Department of Education, this fall, the majority of high school graduates enrolled in community colleges rather than 4 year institutions. This doesn’t take into account the large number of non-traditional students and adult learners whom are also making the decision for community college. Therefore, the pool of students that are already at the community college is, in most cases growing, and growing substantially.

This is a trend that should continue with students and their families continuing to look for the most economical route to a baccalaureate degree.  Rising costs in college tuition and fees has been identified as one of the major obstacles of students not completing. However, with cutbacks at the state level and money tight at the federal level, more of the cost will be taken on by students and their families. Therefore, the least expensive path to a bachelor’s degree will become more and more attractive and chosen.

With the average community college tuition and fees at $2,963.00, the savings from taking your first two years at a community college are substantial and a huge decision influencer. (Compare that to the four year public cost of $8,244 in-state and $12,526 out of state and the four year private cost of $28,500.00).

There is no doubt that the community college pool of bachelor’s degree seekers will be burgeoning for the foreseeable future.

Community College Week, in its March 5, 2012 edition, listed a 2010 Cohort, Survey of Entering Student Engagement and found that 73% had the goal of transferring to a 4 year college.

However, in July 2011, Richard Kahlenberg pointed to research in the Chronicle of Higher Education that showed only 10% of community college graduates end up attaining a bachelor’s degree.

This leaves an extremely large population of students with an unfulfilled goal.

Currently, if a community college doesn’t have baccalaureate authority, then it can provide a seamless matriculation for their students through articulation, transfer, 2 plus 2 and partnership agreements. This means that the four year institutions that are parties to the agreement can allow enrollment to happen organically or they can maximize their position.

This can be done by either offering courses at the community college campus or at a geographically convenient off campus site or at the college or university campus or online.  The question is not where to educate, as much as, how many to educate. That is a function of marketing and recruitment. The students are present and ready. Their initial goal is to attain a bachelor’s degree. Now, it is up to the four year institutions to develop the strategies to motivate and meet this demand.

This is a fertile area for an entrepreneurial college or university to sow but it will need a well thought out plan and committed implementation. That’s where Greenwood Hall can help.  We can bring our experience and expertise of being a leader in enrollment management and student success to the table to help develop the necessary plan and best practices so that a university or college can reach its true potential in this area.