In this still-uncertain economy that remains rife with unemployment, hundreds of thousands of out-of-work blue- and white-collar professionals, competing for scarce available jobs, find themselves faced with the need to further their training, expand their skill sets, or in some cases change career paths altogether. Many are going back to school, some to obtain their first college degree, others to get an additional or more advanced degree that could give their résumé a much-needed competitive edge in a crowded marketplace.
Demand for the Convenience of Online College Degrees …
In recent years, many “non-traditional” students who aren’t able to attend classes on the conventional resident college student’s full-time schedule – working parents, returning older students, students holding down a part-time or full-time job – have gravitated toward online degree programs that allow students to work toward their college degrees from home (or anywhere with a computer and an Internet connection) and at their own hours. As accredited online colleges and programs have proliferated, so have the number of students pursuing online college degrees.
These online college degrees, however, can often be pricey, requiring many students to take out a significant amount of money in student loans and private student loans. And some online universities have continued to offer only associate degrees and certificate programs, no bachelor’s or advanced degrees. As competition for jobs has intensified in a shrinking economy, many job-seeking professionals have found that their two-year college degree is going up against four-year and professional college degrees.
… and Demand for the Lower Costs of Community College Programs
Community colleges have traditionally offered lower-income and non-traditional students a lower-priced, commuter-friendly, and part-time alternative to pricier online college degrees and full-time four-year colleges and universities. But the two-year community college degree has posed the same drawbacks as two-year online college degrees: When going up against four-year degrees in a job search, two-year degrees simply aren’t as competitive.
Four-Year Community Colleges Offer a Cost-Convenience Solution
Now, however, students are finding a growing number of four-year degree options at community colleges. As more community colleges respond to increased student demand for affordable higher education, expanding their programs to include four-year bachelor’s degrees and applied baccalaureate degrees, new and returning students are increasingly able to obtain the academic pedigree of a four-year degree with much of the flexibility offered by online college degree programs but at the lower cost of a community college education.
Bachelor’s Degree Programs at Community Colleges Expanding
Florida currently leads the nation with 14 community colleges authorized to award bachelor’s degrees, reports The New York Times, with 12 schools already having done so, in fields including fire safety management and veterinary technology (“Community Colleges Challenge Hierarchy With 4-Year Degrees,” May 2, 2009). Nationwide, 17 states, including Nevada, Texas, and Washington, have granted community colleges the authority to award associate and bachelor’s degrees.
In some states, community colleges have even become four-year institutions in order to facilitate their new longer programs. At Miami Dade College in Florida – formerly known as Miami Dade Community College – more than 1,000 students are currently enrolled in the school’s bachelor degree programs. The average age of these students is 33.
LaKisha Coleman, a Miami Dade student who will graduate with a college degree in public safety management this spring, recommends the school to family members for its advantages over a traditional four-year degree program at a state or private university.
“It’s much cheaper, the teachers are good, you can do it in the evening while you work, and everyone’s very helpful,” Coleman told The New York Times.
Applied Baccalaureate Degrees Another Burgeoning Community College Offering
In the current economy, at a time when students have fewer financial resources to cover their college costs and job prospects are uncertain, the applied baccalaureate degree is becoming a popular option for students, says Debra Bragg, the director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Usually focusing on applied academics or applied sciences and technologies, an applied baccalaureate degree is a four-year bachelor’s degree that may be earned at both two- and four-year institutions, including technical colleges and community colleges. Unlike bachelor’s degrees at some conventional four-year universities, however, the applied baccalaureate degree counts technical and associate degree-level courses as degree credits, allowing community college students to keep their course costs low and minimize their need for student loans or other financial aid.
“Applied baccalaureate degree programs at community colleges can be used by students looking for a career that is emerging, or for adults who have earned college credits in the past and are looking to re-enter college, often to advance their careers to a supervisory level,” Bragg explains.