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Community Colleges Adding Science/Technology Bachelors Degrees

In Miami, aspiring CSI technicians can now get bachelors degrees at Miami-Dade College, one of 10 formerly 2-year institutions in Florida that now offer 4-year degrees. The New York Times on Saturday described how a handful of schools like Miami-Dade College (which used to be called Miami-Dade Community College) are challenging the traditional 4-year colleges,  many offering science- and technology-based curricula leading to bachelor’s degrees.

According to an online index provided by the Community College Baccalaureate Association, 34 community colleges in the United States and 23 community colleges in Canada are now offering 4-year degrees. The Times article says that these community colleges are training candidates for high-skilled positions, including positions in science and technology, that the traditional 4-year colleges don’t fill, or at least not quickly.

For example, in Florida, all 10 community colleges offering bachelors degrees have programs to train math and science teachers for middle schools or secondary schools. Six of the 10 also offer degrees in health-related fields such as nursing and veterinary technologies.  Forensics courses are offered by four Florida schools with degrees in public-safety or fire-science management.

Other examples: Great Basin College in Nevada offers bachelors degrees in digital information technology, instrumentation, land surveying/geomatics, and management in technology. Bellevue Community College in Washington State has bachelors degrees in radiologic and imaging sciences.   

According to the Times, some 4-year colleges aren’t happy. Lobbying by the four-year colleges has stalled legislation in Michigan, for example.  The Times quotes Mike Boulus, an executive of the State Universities of Michigan organization, who called these degrees “a solution in search of a problem.” Boulus adds, “Community colleges should stick with the important work they do extremely well, offering 2-year degrees and preparing students for transfer to 4-year schools.”

But community college officials say they’re helping to fill gaps in needed
skills, and offering access to college to students seeking a more
vocational approach, or who can’t afford to attend traditional, 4-year
institutions, which are typically more expensive. Eduardo J. Padrón, president of Miami-Dade, tells the Times that community colleges are complementing, not competing with, 4-year colleges. “You won’t see us starting a B.A. in sociology,” says Padrón. “We’re offering degrees in things the universities don’t want to do.”

Besides, Padrón says, Miami-Dade serves a population that the 4-year schools ignore. He notes that 80% of its students work, and that 58% come from low-income households. “The universities that handpick their students based on SATs and grades get three times the funding we do,” says  Padrón. “We are the underfunded overachiever.”