Community colleges have gotten quite a bit of attention lately as legislators and even President Obama himself have billed the schools as an important bridge in improving higher education across the country. The traditionally two-year schools have also seen an influx of students as both a result of those efforts and the economy, with more adult students returning to college to pick up new skills and make themselves more competitive on the job market.
But it isn’t just associate’s degrees being awarded at community colleges anymore. As some of the schools have begun offering accelerated options, others are going the other way, expanding their four-year offerings with baccalaureate degrees in disciplines that had been typically found only at four-year universities.
A recent article in Inside Higher Ed took a look at Florida, where the trend is most obvious. The state’s community colleges now offer more than 100 four-year degrees, and are on track to offer more. In 2008, 10 out of 28 community colleges offered 70 four-year degrees; today, 18 of the schools offer 111 of the degrees, according to the article. While many of the degrees cover nursing and education, the two disciplines even neighboring four-year colleges said they needed help with due to high demand, community colleges are also expanding into other fields of study, such as international business and interior design.
Some four-year colleges have been concerned that the trend will affect their own programs and enrollment at their campuses, as it is typically much less expensive to attend a community college over a traditional four-year school. But supporters say the two student populations remain very different. Those attending the community colleges are typically older, with many from those student groups who may be wary about doing well academically at a four-year campus. The demand is there, then, as it is at traditional four-year colleges, and the community colleges must receive state approval before adding any new baccalaureate programs as a further safeguard.
No matter where you go, make sure you choose your college based on what you feel would be the best fit for you across all areas—socially, financially, and academically, to start. Community colleges offer cost-savings and flexible schedules, but you may feel like you need more of a campus life at a larger state university. Or your chosen field of study may be better known at a local private college. Consider all of your options during the college search so that you're confident in your choice.