Community colleges provide pathway to low-cost degree

Whether it’s President Barack Obama’s “America’s College Promise” proposal, Gov. John Kasich’s focus on college affordability and efficiency, or Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise,” the transformational opportunities presented by a community college education are front and center in our national conversation about higher education.

The explicit message in this conversation is very clear: Community colleges are the providers of high-quality, affordable education and training that is responsive to regional workforce needs and ensures student success. As Walter Bumphus, the president of the American Association of Community Colleges, has stated, “This is the Camelot moment for community colleges.”

Gov. Kasich understands the importance of community colleges’ role in affordability and workforce training. The governor’s recently released 2016 Mid-Biennium Review (MBR), entitled “Driving Down the Cost of a College Degree,” continues to prioritize the affordability of a college education in Ohio. To that end, the MBR presents the following initiatives to drive down the costs of a college degree to students and families, with a focus on “pathways to a low-cost degree.”

Community colleges play the critical role in these pathways. These pathways include a focus on college-readiness through collaborations between secondary and post-secondary educational partners, an increase in agreements between community colleges and universities that maximize community college credit (sometimes referred to as “3+1” agreements), an expansion of prior learning assessments and competency-based learning, and “jobs-focused” bachelor’s degrees at community colleges.

Ohio universities have been collaborative partners in creating articulation agreements that result in our students completing three years of coursework with Clark State, and transferring to a university for one more year of coursework to attain their baccalaureate degrees in specific career fields where programs align.

Clark State is proud of the agreements we have with institutions such as Wittenberg University and Ohio University in programs like Criminal Justice, Nursing and Organizational Leadership. In these agreements, faculty and staff at each institution work very closely to ensure alignment and quality of curriculum. The net benefit is, of course, to our students, who pay community college tuition ($2,100/semester at Clark State for a full load of 15 credit hours) for three years and university tuition for one.

Another initiative presented in the MBR is the “jobs-focused” bachelor’s degree offered by a community college in targeted workforce areas.

Historically, community colleges adapt academic and training programs quickly and nimbly to meet workforce needs, and, as our businesses and industries require increased credentials and skills, some businesses are asking for specialized baccalaureate degrees that build on skills offered in certificate and two-year degree programs. Clark State is willing to explore this possibility in our region, as we want to ensure that we are training the workforce that grows our regional economy. We do not, however, wish to duplicate existing degree programs, but will consider high-growth and skill positions that may require skills above and beyond the associate degree.

The MBR will provide an opportunity to build on the mission of community colleges to provide educational opportunity and ensure cost savings to our students and families. By providing a high-quality education at about one-third the cost of a public four-year university, community colleges will continue the good work of saving students and families from the burden of student loan debt.

This MBR is a strong statement in support of more education and opportunity for students at a lower cost, and Gov. Kasich is to be commended for his recognition of the lower-cost and high-quality education that community colleges provide.

Jo Alice Blondin, Ph.D., is president of Clark State Community College.

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