Two-year colleges trending away from ‘community’ name

Community. It’s a word with positive connotations. We hear it, we think of a place where people live together, or of a group’s shared interests.

It’s a good thing. Yet some colleges have decided to rid their names of that word. Does “community college” carry a stigma? Or is something else going on?

It is something else, a way to more aptly describe a school’s offerings.

Colleges in our region that recently dropped community from their names all grant a specific type of bachelor’s degree, a bachelor of applied science. For students who have two-year technical degrees, a bachelor of applied science degree is a fairly new offering from schools that have traditionally been two-year colleges.

They are unlike bachelor’s degrees granted by universities on the Everett Community College and Edmonds Community College campuses.

“It’s a very lively conversation,” said Susan Kostick, interim communications director for the Seattle Colleges District — which until last week was the Seattle Community Colleges District.

On March 13, that district’s board of trustees voted unanimously to rename its schools North Seattle College, Seattle Central College and South Seattle College. All were previously called community colleges.

Those changes, and Bellevue Community College’s 2009 switch to Bellevue College, raise the question of whether EvCC and EdCC will drop “community.” Officials say both schools plan to remain community colleges — in name and in mission.

“We think it’s a pretty accurate reflection of what we do,” said John Olson, EvCC’s vice president of college advancement. “We have no plans to drop it.”

Olson does see a trend away from “community” at schools granting their own bachelor’s degrees.

To get a bachelor’s degree at EvCC, students first earn a two-year associate’s degree — a transfer degree — then a bachelor’s degree from one of eight schools in the University Center of North Puget Sound on the Everett campus. A Washington State University mechanical engineering degree and degrees in education and human services from Western Washington University are a few of many bachelor’s programs at EvCC. The community college itself only offers two-year associate degrees, Olson said.

At Edmonds Community College, bachelor’s degrees are granted by Central Washington University. Stephanie Wiegand, EdCC’s director of communications and marketing, said the college is in the early stages of researching the possibility of offering bachelor of applied science degrees. That would include showing a need for the degree by area employers.

“We would not change our name if we did offer a bachelor of applied science,” Wiegand said. “Our core focus is a two-year degree.”

Laura McDowell, a spokeswoman for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges which oversees 34 schools, said the bachelor of applied science fills a need for those with two-year degrees in technical and vocational fields.

She gave the example of someone trained in radiology. To advance into a management job, they may need a bachelor’s degree. In the past, they would have to start over on a four-year degree. With the bachelor of applied science option, they would add two years of schooling to their radiology degree. Tuition, McDowell said, is higher for the second two years, but not more than fees at the state’s regional universities.

Kostick believes dropping the word “community” is a national trend related to schools’ broader offerings. She mentioned a South Seattle Community College graduate whose employer questioned whether she truly had a bachelor’s degree. “It may be why other colleges changed their names. This new degree is poorly understood,” Kostick said.

Some two-year schools — Wenatchee Valley College and Peninsula College among them — never used “community.” Others, including Skagit Valley College, dropped the word decades ago.

Olson sees a growing pride among graduates of Everett Community College, which opened in 1941 as Everett Junior College. It was then in the former Lincoln Elementary School at 25th Street and Oakes Avenue.

In 1961, the Legislature designated junior colleges as “community” colleges. Their financing was separated from local school districts in 1963. In June 1967, Everett Junior College’s name was changed to conform with the Community College Act of 1967.

With open admission policies and affordable tuition, community colleges have long “given people a chance,” said Kostick, who for a decade was EdCC’s vice president for college relations and advancement. She believes more names will change as colleges expand options.

“We’ll look back 30 years from now and this will just be part of the change,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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