Should Community Colleges Grant Bachelors Degrees: a global perspective

There are community colleges in 21 states that have begun granting bachelors degrees. This is a major shift. Traditionally, community colleges provided certificates and associates degrees and left bachelors degrees to 4-year schools. For students, there are many benefits to this arrangement. For example, they can be closer to family. Nevertheless, it would be disingenuous to not come out and say the primary motivation for most students: the lower price tag. This change is not without its controversy as each student staying at community college is potentially a monetary loss for a 4-year school. Secondly, some fields may require resources that community colleges have more trouble allocating such as labs. Overall, I believe this trend is desirable within common sense limits as it reduces student poverty and social inequalities without strongly affecting most 4-year schools.

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The current tertiary education system is on the verge of becoming untenable for many students. Taking out $30,000 or more in financial aid is not a solution. The world community under UNESCO committed to the Education for All (EFA) goals in Dakar, Senegal in 2000. These six goals mostly refer to primary and secondary education; however, the general theme are the same for higher education. One of the biggest is that countries must work to reduce poverty and social inequalities:

Access: Community colleges are often nearer to underprivileged students than than comparative elite publics. University of Illinois’s flagship institution is 100 miles from poverty in Chicago and its suburbs. For students working part-time to keep their families afloat, such a school is no more than a pipe dream. Same goes for the University of Florida and University of Michigan. While there are alternatives in less prestigious publics, as well as non-profit and for-profits, we should give our students the option of continuing their study close to home at the institution of THEIR choosing.

Cost: The price tag is much less at community colleges – we truly do more with less than 4-year schools. If you want to avoid intergenerational poverty, why ask these students to take out 10000s of dollars of debt? No other country in the world charges its students so much for the privilege of receiving education necessary to achieve vocational success. A legitimate concern is that upper level classes might cost more and thus increase community college tuitions. This would need to be creatively mediated through more business sponsorships and individual donations. I suspect government funding will continue to make up less of all college budgets over the next decades.

There are both legitimate and illegitimate concerns regarding this expansion. A legitimate reason to place limits on potential Bachelors are resources and trained faculty. Community colleges would need to prove that their students would have lab resources directly or through a corporate partner at the level of a 4-year college. Faculty is another legitimate concern as 4-year degrees generally required doctorates of faculty – schools would need to divide classes appropriately between Masters and Doctoral faculty members. But within those limits, the process for applying to deliver Bachelors degrees should be facile and transparent. Lobbyists for 4-year schools should not have undue access or sway. Mechanisms should be voted in to make non-partisan review the one and only step for credentialing a Bachelors.

As for an illegitimate concern, a mass exodus of 4-year colleges is highly unlikely. The traditional “college” image remains ingrained in the American psyche. This is unlikely to change for a long time to come. Rather, those most in need would be given another resource in their arsenal to escape poverty and do so close to home.


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