Closing the Degree DivideFor a large number of students in higher education today, there is much more than a digital divide. There is also a “degree divide” — the lack of access to a bachelor’s degree for place-bound students and students who are training for skilled-work positions. Thousands of employers want workers with certified skills beyond those they can get in their first two years of college, but many students are prevented from earning a bachelor’s degree because it is not available in their professional specialty or where they happen to live.
This problem is similar to the famous dilemma described by Dr. Dale Parnell in his book The Neglected Majority. The problem Parnell laid out for us — that many people do not go on to college from high school — is the same situation we face today. Eighty percent of adult Americans do not possess a bachelor’s degree. This would not be as great a concern if we had no strong economic competition around the globe, but we face growing challenges. In a world thick with multinational financial organizations and free-trade zones, money has become international, and our educational system must be world-class.
The community college baccalaureate has a bright future as the primary vehicle to add strength to the U.S. economy and to expand professional and career development opportunities for people throughout the United States. America can be a more competitive international market in this new century with highly skilled workers in a worldwide entrepreneurial environment. Globalization creates the need for a new kind of bachelor’s degree.
It is now a proven certainty that community colleges can offer excellent bachelor’s degrees. Colleges in Arkansas, Florida, Nevada, Utah and other states are already offering community college bachelor’s degree programs. These are work-force degrees with support from public and private employers. State, regional and national organizations have shown interest in this new career baccalaureate, and private sector businesses are interested in its development for local and international manufacturing, information technology and trade.
The community college baccalaureate is an idea whose time has come. It is recognized by experts who address cutting-edge issues in technology management, business, teacher education and other professional and career development areas. Employers have called it a reasonable pathway for meeting the work-force development needs of people who want to succeed in today’s tough employment market.
The American Association of Community Colleges has recognized this new type of baccalaureate as an emerging development in higher education. As education moves into the 21st century, fast and cost-efficient solutions for competitive companies are more important than ever. Globalization has arrived, and it is here to stay. Issues of quality and value loom large in the thinking of employers. They want the best graduates they can get, people with technical skills and work experience. They don’t prefer employees with traditional liberal arts degrees that do not provide special work-place knowledge and skills.
Senior colleges and universities do not offer bachelor’s degrees in specialized vocational fields or do not choose to allocate resources for such degrees. If community colleges are not permitted to take up the slack, there will be a limited number of opportunities for two-year students to achieve the ideal workforce degree of our new century.
As a new force in higher education, the community college baccalaureate can expand learning options and help close the “degree divide.”
— Dr. John Garmon is president of Vista Community College
in Berkeley, Calif.
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