State Update

Community Colleges to Offer Four-Year Degrees in Colorado

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On February 27, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) signed S.B. 4. The new law permits the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE) to establish technical, career and workforce development bachelor of applied science degree programs at state-supported community colleges. The new law provides that the SBCCOE may not establish bachelor of arts or bachelor of science degree programs. Additionally, all new bachelor of applied science degree programs must be approved by the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE).

Prior to approving new degree programs, the CCHE must consider whether:

  • The SBCCOE can provide data demonstrating workforce and student demand for the degree;
  • The accreditation requirements for the new program can be met by the college;
  • The new degree program is cost-effective for the student and the community college system; and
  • The new degree program can be provided through an existing statewide transfer agreement with an accredited four-year institution in the community college’s geographical service area, or with a four-year institution that has a statewide service area.

In addition, the CCHE must determine if the degree program requested by the SBCCOE is sufficiently distinguishable from:

  • An existing degree program at a state four-year institution of higher education, or
  • A degree program that has been successfully offered previously in conjunction with a state four-year university and which will be reinstated sooner than the newly proposed degree program can be offered by the community college.

Dental hygiene and culinary arts are the two programs farthest along in the development process, according to a senior official at the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). CCCS hopes that, within the next two or three years, a four-year dental hygiene program will be established. Under current Colorado law, a dental hygienist licensed to practice in the state may be the proprietor of a dental hygiene practice. CCCS staff believes that S.B. 4 will allow more dental hygienists to practice independently in the state.

Offering bachelor of applied science degrees in high-demand fields is important to meeting local economic development needs and critical to reducing the educational attainment gap between urban and rural areas, according to the legislative declaration linked to the new law. Additionally, the new degrees will provide an opportunity for underserved and first-generation students to continue their educational pathways in a familiar community college setting, thus making it more likely these students will persist and complete their degrees.