A recent Hechinger Report article, entitled “Community Colleges Increasingly Adding Bachelor’s Degrees,” notes that nearly half of all states have allowed community colleges to confer Bachelor’s Degrees. Washington state is among them. In effort to dramatically increase the number of bachelor’s degree holders in Washington state, the legislature passed E2SHB 1794 in 2005 allowing for pilots of Bachelor’s of Applied Science degrees (BAS) in targeted workforce areas. In 2010, the status “pilot” was changed to “regular” status, and, currently, 13 of 34 state community and technical colleges are offering or will offer BAS program as of fall 2014. (See the SBCTC link for more information on the colleges involved and programs being offered.)
Nationally, this trend toward bachelor’s degree offerings has been spurred on by the national completion initiative, which is pushing colleges, especially two-year colleges, to produce more graduates. Thus far, these degrees programs offered through two-year colleges have generally been well received by students who appreciate the lower cost and convenience.
However, there are critics and skeptics, too. Nationally, a major issue is the fear of “mission creep.” Open admissions two-year colleges fill a role in the community that four-year colleges typically can’t, and some of the bachelor’s of applied science offerings overlap with similar degrees typically offered at four-year colleges and universities (e.g. Nursing, Construction Management, Business, Environmental Science, and Education).
Accompanying the shift in degree offerings in Washington state, already many of the community colleges involved are also dropping the “community” from their names. It’s too early to know whether this name change will also change these colleges’ commitment to open access (and to providing access through developmental course work) in the future. Some other lingering questions include implications for faculty involved (hiring practices/qualifications and workload/research expectations) in these new applied science bachelor’s degree programs and the extent to which these new programs may compete with current offerings at the state’s four-year colleges and universities (in terms of enrollments and funding).
In an online perusal of current program offerings at various colleges in state, for some programs, the prerequisite to enroll in a BAS program appears to be an AAS degree, but the websites do not specify that the AAS degree is in the same major as the prospective BAS degree, which may call into question whether students have appropriate or sufficient preparation for the degree they are pursuing.