Local legislators are considering proposals that could bring four-year degrees to community colleges.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, chair of the Senate Early Learning, K-12 and Higher Education committee, would like to learn more about all of the options to expand higher education.
“We want to be assured that the community college system is accessible,” McAuliffe said. “We want to keep all options open.”
McAuliffe said she is interested in learning more about the state community colleges’ proposal to allow some baccalaureate degrees to be earned at the schools that now offer mostly two-year and technical degrees.
“We have wonderful institutions, and they all offer different opportunities,” McAuliffe said.
Rep. Mary Helen Roberts, D-Edmonds, is on the House Higher Education committee. She believes it is important to expand access to education through current programs and show flexibility before making changes to community colleges.
“There’s just so much we’re capable of doing now,” Roberts said.
She supports expanding the relationship between community colleges and branch campuses of universities, such as the partnership between Edmonds Community College and Central Washington University. Relationships like this are part of the 2+2 program, in which students complete two years at a community college before completing their degrees in two years at a branch campus for a university.
“I’m a pretty strong supporter of community colleges and the 2+2 program,” Roberts said.
The demand for access to four-year degrees in Washington is rising, said Suzy Ames, the public information officer for the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
In order for the piloting program to move forward, the Legislature would have to amend a current statute that limits community and technical colleges to only offering transfer degrees and certificates and worker-retraining and adult-education programs, Ames said.
Shoreline Community College President Holly Moore said her campus doesn’t have room to physically expand into a “university center,” as campuses with community college and university branch campuses are sometimes called. However, the thought of providing baccalaureate degrees in subject areas that are already strong at SCC is appealing, she said.
Since Shoreline already has secure programs in nursing, automotive and biotechnology, which are growing fields, there could be a need for it to offer bachelor’s degrees in these areas and others.
“These would fill a need that’s necessary in the work force and not duplicate other (universities’) efforts,” Moore said.
She said Shoreline equalizes the playing field for many adults seeking an education, and that will remain the goal of the institution even if they are able to pilot baccalaureate degrees.
“I think Shoreline is in a very good position to at least explore these kinds of things,” Moore said.
She plans on continuing talks with the delegation in Olympia about accessibility to bachelor’s degrees.
“We have to look at the whole issue of increasing baccalaureate production in this state,” she said.
At Edmonds Community College, the partnership with Central Washington University has proven successful, and administrators there hope to build upon that, said Susan Kostick, vice president for college relations and advancement.
“We’re hoping we can continue working with the universities to give our students opportunities to receive baccalaureate degrees,” Kostick said.
The college sees these partnerships as the best solution to the enrollment problems, she said.
Donnie Kristof-Nelson, an accounting teacher and adviser to many EdCC students who transfer, has seen the Lynnwood branch of Central Washington double in enrollment since the completion of EdCC and CWU’s shared building in 2002.
“University centers are cost effective for the students and the state,” she said. Shared facilities and services, like the library, food services, bookstore and computer labs, cut costs, she said.
Kristof-Nelson sees community colleges as an important beginning for many people who need flexibility and options close to home.
“More than 40 percent of bachelor’s degrees in Washington are earned by students who started at a community or technical college,” Kristof-Nelson said.