Today, Governor John Hickenlooper signed legislation authorizing community colleges to offer four year degrees in career and technical fields. Twenty-one other states now offer four-year degrees at community colleges similar to the degrees in this legislation.
The legislation, Senate Bill 14-004, sponsored by Senator Nancy Todd, Representative Jim Wilson and Representative Jenise May, authorizes community colleges to offer four-year bachelor of applied science degrees (BAS). This type of degree covers a wide array of fields, including dental hygiene, culinary arts, and water quality management.
This legislation was initiated by the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) to address the gap in Colorado higher education whereby students who want to pursue career and technical studies do not have access to a four-year degree in their field.
Many specialized technical jobs increasingly require bachelor degrees for career advancement. However, most career and technical courses are not offered at and/or do not transfer to four-year institutions. This creates situations where students need to take six years of higher education to earn a bachelors’ degree.
By allowing community colleges to offer Bachelors of Applied Science degrees, the cost and time of achieving a four-year degree is significantly lowered. Further, many students cannot leave their communities because of family and job commitments. By offering students opportunities at community colleges enabled in this legislation, students can stay in their communities and get the education employers are now demanding.
Based on a survey of over 1,300 community college students in career and technical education fields, an overwhelming majority (84 percent) want community colleges to offer this degree.
This legislation also offers affordable access to a four-year degree. Community colleges intentionally keep their tuition low so that their students have access to a higher education opportunity without incurring large amounts of debt. Finally, the business community benefits from this legislation. This legislation gives them the ability to find and hire well-qualified employees, which allows them to grow their businesses. If a community has a need for specialized trained worker such as agriculture, degrees can be developed that are tailored to meet that need. Indeed, 94 percent of business surveyed indicated a need for workers with the skills taught through a Bachelor of Applied Science degree.
“This is an important piece of legislation for students and our state,” said Dr. Nancy McCallin, president of the Colorado Community College System. “We are filling a gap in Colorado higher education system. These degrees will allow students more opportunities when they graduate to go into the workforce and earn a higher standard of living. We are seeing more and more industries require some form of further education in a specialized technical field.
“Just as important is that these degrees will allow students to stay in their communities where they live and work. This ability is especially critical in the rural communities where it is next to impossible for students to leave to pursue an education and where there are not any four-year degree granting institutions. This legislation will help resolve the significant gap in higher education attainment between the rural and urban areas in Colorado, which is one of the highest in the nation,” she said.
“I deeply thank Senator Nancy Todd, Representative Jim Wilson, and Representative Jenise May,” McCallin said. “Without their commitment to this idea for the benefit of our students, we would not have this legislation today. I am also very grateful to the students, our board members, our college presidents, and the business community who put a great deal of effort into supporting this legislation.”
The Colorado Community College System comprises the state’s largest system of higher education serving more than 159,000 students annually. It oversees career and academic programs in the 13 state community colleges and career and technical programs in more than 160 school districts and six other post-secondary institutions.