Community colleges can now offer bachelor’s degrees

Ohio’s community colleges will be able to offer four-year degrees thanks to a provision in the state budget bill that Gov. John Kasich signed Friday into law.

INITIAL REPORT: State poised to approve 4-year degrees for community colleges

Sinclair Community College has been out front on the issue and officials there have already targeted multiple fields of study for four-year degree offerings. Clark State Community College also has expressed interest in offering them.

Both schools have argued there is a need for bachelor’s degrees at community colleges in order to fill a workforce demand.

“Our policy and legislative leaders are understanding that community colleges are so much closer…to workforce needs in the state,” said Madeline Iseli, Sinclair senior vice president for advancement. “To grow this economy we need to have more highly skilled technical people and that’s really where cc bring value.”

The idea for Ohio community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees was introduced in 2015 but didn’t gain enough traction to pass until this summer. The governor’s signature makes Ohio the 24th state to offer four-year degrees at community colleges.

Sinclair has three bachelor’s degrees they’ll seek to offer as soon as possible, though officials acknowledged they may not be able to offer them until a state approval process is determined in a year or two.

Sinclair will start with four year degrees in unmanned aerial systems, aviation and industrial automation. Clark State this week announced that it will offer the area’s first four-year degree in manufacturing technology management.

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“Since receiving a Department of Labor grant in 2014, Clark State has kept a laser-focus on training and manufacturing,” Clark State president Jo Alice Blondin said in a prepared statement. “This industry is the key to our region’s growth.”

Community colleges are set to be able to offer “applied bachelor’s degrees,” according to the most recent version of the state budget bill. They will be able to follow one of two “pathways” to begin offering bachelor’s degrees.

The chancellor of the Ohio Department of Higher Education will be able to approve a four-year degree at a community college if the school is able to demonstrate a workforce need or a growing long-term need, so long as that degree is not already offered at a same. The chancellor can also approve a program if it “clearly demonstrates a unique approach,” according to the bill.

But, not everyone was pleased with the decision to allow historically two-year schools to start offering four-year degrees.

The Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio, whose members include private colleges such as the University of Dayton and Wittenberg University, criticized the policy change. AICUO president C. Todd Jones said the policy is too broad and may end up causing programs to overlap with offerings at universities, something Sinclair officials insisted is not the case.

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“I think they’re setting up the state for failure in the long run,” Jones said. “We think it encourages community colleges to change who they are.”

The state budget made several changes to the state’s higher education system, while keeping funding levels relatively the same, said state Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miami Twp., vice chairman of the higher education and workforce development committee.

Along with offering four-year degrees, community colleges came close to being able to immediately increase their tuition by $10 per credit hour but Kasich vetoed the proposal.

Instead community colleges won’t be able to increase it until the 2018-2019 school year, according to the veto. Both Sinclair and Clark State approved increases.

Universities will not be able to raise tuition unless they start a tuition guarantee program, such as the ones Miami University and Ohio University already have in place. The program guarantees that a student will pay the same amount each year for their education.

RELATED: Sinclair increases tuition by $10 for students

Schools that start offering a guarantee will be able to increase tuition one time by 8 percent on their first class under the program, according to the bill.

The budget also aims to address a few other higher education issues, including college credit and substance abuse prevention.

Students with college credit earned more than five years ago will be allowed to take a competency test and if they pass they will be excused from completing a course. The state could also require future teachers to take courses in opioid abuse prevention.

“This is a great budget,” Antani said. “I think this is a historic bill for higher education in Ohio.”

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