What’s working in community college baccalaureate degree programs


A growing number of community colleges are offering baccalaureate degree programs.

According to a national inventory published in 2021 by the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) and New America, there are nearly 570 community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs in the United States, operating at 148 community and technical colleges across 25 states. Most of the programs focus on healthcare or business, though newer programs also are being offered in computer and information sciences, and other STEM fields, as well as education.

“While CCB degrees can be offered in a wide range of fields, they are typically focused on programs of study that are critical to local and regional economies where community college students live and work,” say the authors of a new e-book from CCBA, published with support from Bragg & Associates and funding from the ECMC Foundation. CCBA is an affiliate council of the American Association of Community Colleges.

The book captures 20 promising practices from CCB programs, specifically “practices that contribute to more equitable education and employment outcomes for students,” according to a CCBA press release. CCBA member colleges nominated their practices for inclusion.

“From my own experience running baccalaureate programs, I know that hearing what others are doing successfully helps to inform practice and enhance our baccalaureate degrees,” said CCBA President Angela Kersenbrock.

The practices align with six dimensions of high-value CCB degree programs:

  • leadership and organizational support
  • access, equity, and outcomes
  • pathway design
  • curriculum and instruction
  • student supports
  • employer partnerships

Extensive engagement

Implementation for West Los Angeles College’s (WLAC’s) dental hygiene bachelor of science (BS) program, which launched in 2016, began with a workshop for college-wide constituents. It’s evolved into an internal problem-solving team supporting the program.

The work group was brought together to ensure the voices of individuals across essential departments in the college were heard, to plan the implementation process and to reduce potential barriers in implementing the program. They worked backward from the end-goal (conferring BS degrees) to better identify steps along the away that needed to involve key players. That also helped them identify who the key players would be along the way.

“For example, because the BS degree requires higher tuition for upper division courses, it was necessary to engage the business office to identify a way to accept higher payments,” the book notes. “Another issue involved recognizing different degree templates for the bachelor’s degree and getting the governor’s signature on those templates, something never done before.”

More than 200 college personnel were involved in the program planning and implementation process. A lesson WLAC learned during the process is that students should be included in a work group to have an opportunity to provide feedback.

The dental hygiene program accepts 70 students annually and has a success rate of 90% to 100%.

Removing bias in admissions

Another promising practice featured in CCBA’s book came from Highline College in Washington, which has several bachelor of applied science (BAS) programs. Students can apply for admission into a BAS program once they are within 30 credits of receiving an associate degree.

To improve access to BAS programs, Highline removed admission criteria such as essays and recommendation letters. These subjective criteria have “traditionally been used to ‘gatekeep’ marginalized student populations from admissions to competitive programs,” the book notes.

The application process now takes about five to 10 minutes to complete, which helps students gain admission and enroll more quickly, too.

Changing the admission process – which included moving from a paper application to an online application – involved collaboration and clear communication. According to the research, students have found the updated process to be “clear and simple.”

In the academic years of 2019-2020 and 2020-2021, at the height of the pandemic, the college admitted an average of 233 students into BAS programs. The college attributes the new admissions process, which de-emphasizes criteria potentially biasing admissions for underserved student populations, to helping to sustain enrollments in these programs. 

Tracking graduates

Another Washington college – Centralia College – is using a Google Maps tracker to show where graduates of the BAS in Teacher Education (BASTE) program are teaching in the district.

The college had originally used a physical map with pins to show the locations of the first cohort of BASTE graduates. In 2021, the information was integrated into a Google Maps format. It captures the teaching locations of 85 graduates from the program’s first three cohorts.

The BASTE program director designed the Google Tracker. The director also is a pro-rata faculty member and advisor for the program and has created lasting relationships with students, which helps with the collection of post-graduation information.

“The Google Map Tracker is a visual representation showing that the majority of graduates are employed in local communities, confirming Centralia College’s belief that this program is a significant contributor to addressing the teacher shortage in its rural area,” the book says.

It helps stakeholders – including potential students – see how the college’s BASTE graduates are meeting the workforce needs in K-12 education in the county. According to the book, about 62% of graduates are working in the college’s service district.

This practice doesn’t take a lot of resources, but, as the book notes, “the impact can be extensive in terms of providing compelling visual evidence of graduate employment in teaching positions in the district.”

About the Author

Tabitha Whissemore
Tabitha Whissemore is a contributor to Community College Daily and managing editor of AACC's Community College Journal.
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