Community colleges seek four-year degreesTexas is one of 17 states including California and Colorado that authorizes bachelor’s degree programs for at least some community colleges. However, only three of the many Texas community colleges have such programs.

State officials have again taken an interest in the possibility of allowing junior colleges to offer four-year degrees statewide. Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill 3348 in June—effective immediately—which establishes a pilot program to test the feasibility of offering a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene at Tyler Community colleges seek four-year degreesJunior College. The pilot program is scheduled to end in 2019 unless the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommends continuing the degree program.

The bill is the first since 2003 to experiment with the idea of four-year community college degrees, but some higher education leaders say it is not enough.

Collin College President Neil Matkin said the community college district has advocated for bachelor’s degrees for years and wonders why the dental hygiene program is the only one that advanced through the Legislature this year.

Matkin said other fields like nursing are in desperate need of greater access to more degree programs.

“[Collin County] is growing dramatically,” he said. “Our hospitals are all going for higher standards in terms of their certifications.”

Matkin said 80 percent of Collin County hospital nurses have a Bachelor of Science degree.

A report published by the THECB last year also suggests fields, such as nursing and information technology, could benefit from degree programs being offered at the junior college level. THECB Commissioner Raymund Paredes said opposition from universities and fear of duplicating programs has kept the Legislature from fully implementing four-year degrees at community colleges.

“And I think a lot of people just have trouble imagining that community colleges could offer high-quality baccalaureate degrees,” he said.

One consensus found among proponents and opponents of a community college baccalaureate degree is the need to provide skilled workers in high-demand fields in Texas, according to the THECB report.

Collin College has worked to provide more degree options for its students, Matkin said. The college partners with several universities to offer guaranteed university admission to students who begin taking courses at the community college and meet certain transfer requirements.

Matkin said until the next legislative session, he will continue reaching out to legislators to advocate for four-year degrees at Collin College and at community colleges across the state.

In 2010, Collin College also opened the Collin Higher Education Center. The facility allows students to take junior-, senior- and graduate-level courses from partner universities.

“We don’t want to be anything other than a community college,” Matkin said. “We embrace our mission. We love our mission. We’re not asking to be a full-fledged university. What we are asking to do is to fill unmet needs at a price point that our students can afford here in Collin County.”