Community college baccalaureate programs continue to grow


States permitting community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees hasn’t grown since 2021. Still, the number of colleges in the 24 states that do permit them has jumped significantly, according to a new biennial report on the programs.

From fall 2021 to fall 2023, there was a 32% increase in public two-year colleges conferring bachelor’s degrees or approved to do so, from 132 in 2021 to 187 in 2023, says an analysis by the Community College Baccalaureate Association and its research partner Bragg & Associates Inc. ECMC Foundation funded the research.

Source: CCBA and Bragg & Associates, “Watch Them Grow: The Evolution of Community College Baccalaureate Degrees,” May 2024.

Nearly all community colleges in Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Nevada and Washington confer community college baccalaureate (CCB) degrees, reaching 71 public community colleges, the report says. Another 40 colleges in Arizona, Colorado, Ohio and Wyoming are approved to deliver one or more CCB degrees, it says.

California and Texas saw the most significant growth, with large community college systems where 25% to 49% of their community colleges are approved to confer CCBs. In California, 32 of its 116 community colleges are approved to confer bachelor’s degrees, with three more colleges granted approval to confer CCB degrees in March 2024, the report says. In Texas, 21 of its 50 community college districts confer CCBs.

Twelve states have fewer than one-quarter of all community colleges conferring CCB degrees, according to the report, which notes that most of those states have laws that limit or prohibit expansion. But colleges in other states can grow; they just haven’t yet. The researchers cite South Carolina as an example. It can offer a bachelor of applied science degrees in advanced manufacturing in any of the state’s 17 technical colleges, but only one college has adopted a CCB program so far.

Bump in programs, too

Along with the increase in the number of colleges offering the degrees, there was also a growth in the programs culminating in CCB degrees, the report says. The total number of CCB-degree programs jumped from 583 to 678 (a 17% increase) over the two-year period studied. Two-thirds of these programs had received approval but had not yet implemented a CCB degree by the end of 2023, with plans to launch in 2024-25.

Related article: 7 ways to scale up community college baccalaureates

Among the goals of CCB programs is to make bachelor’s degrees accessible and attainable to more students, especially among people of color. The report observes that half of all CCB-conferring colleges are minority-serving institutions (MSIs), with Hispanic-serving institutions comprising three-quarters of those MSIs. Nearly half of CCB graduates are students of color, with 24% graduating CCB students identified as Hispanic/Latino and 13% as Black.

What concerns some states

Researchers also explored why the 26 states are not conferring CCB degrees. Most of those states indicated that they are not considering them, without further explanation, the report says. But four states — which weren’t named — did provide some explanation. Two of the states said they wanted to maintain “good working relationships with in-state universities” and worried that CCBs could disrupt plans to improve transfers, the report says. Another state noted that a drop of associate-degree awards in the wake of the Covid pandemic has cooled interest in CCB degrees until community college enrollments recover. Another reason cited was the potential for CCB degrees to compete with other policy and structural changes being considered for two- and four-year colleges, including their state’s desire to increase short-term and non-degree credentials.

About the Author

Matthew Dembicki
Matthew Dembicki edits Community College Daily and serves as associate vice president of communications for the American Association of Community Colleges.
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