Ohio soon may join 20 states that allow community colleges to offer at least a limited number of four-year degrees.
Gov. John Kasich’s administration on Friday announced the proposal as part of a preview of several higher-education initiatives. His office also called for the partial restoration of state-aid eligibility for community college students, which Ohio’s two-year colleges have pushed for since their students were excluded from the program in 2009. In addition, Kasich wants to encourage the creation of competency-based credentials.
The Republican governor is scheduled to unveil those ideas officially today, as part of his budget plan. Kasich is reportedly seeking a $500 million tax cut.
The four-year degree policy, if approved by Ohio’s Legislature and various higher-education governing boards, would allow two-year colleges to create bachelor’s programs in applied and technical fields. State officials said it includes several checks that are designed to prevent turf wars among public institutions.
“Ohio’s community colleges will be able to offer affordable bachelor's degrees in instances where local job creators express a need for workers with advanced training,” the state’s Board of Regents said in a written statement. “If a university is unable to offer training that meets the need, Ohio’s community colleges would be permitted to step in and do so.”
Similar policy proposals in other states have been controversial. Just across the border in Michigan, tension continues over a law approved in 2013.
Beth Hagan, the executive director of the Community College Baccalaureate Association, has watched such kerfuffles closely. Early ones in Arizona and Utah were a “bloodbath,” she said.
Ohio likely will avoid those problems, Hagan said. One reason is that officials from community colleges and four-year universities have met for some time to hash out the details.
“Our association actually sat down with the university association and worked out a deal,” said Jack Hershey, president and CEO of Ohio Association of Community Colleges.
That approach, said Hagan, is better than when community colleges have gone straight to lawmakers to push for the authority to grant bachelor's degrees.
“They’ve learned from the mistakes of others,” she said of Ohio. “They’re not turning into four-year colleges.”
Likewise, the recent approval for California’s community colleges to offer some four-year degrees has not triggered a serious backlash.
California is one of 20 states Hagan said have made a similar change. That number, however, depends on definitions. For example, Idaho and Minnesota technically allow two-year colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, but none do.
Bruce Johnson, the president and CEO of Ohio's Inter-University Council, confirmed that community college leaders in the state worked on the plan with their peers from public universities. He said the proposal's language, which has yet to emerge, will prevent overlapping programs.
"We negotiated this," he said. "It just comes down to serving students."
Kasich’s administration said Friday that its budget plan would allow community college students to receive state-based aid for their summer programs.
This move would be a partial reversal of the 2009 move by the Board of Regents to kick two-year students out of the aid program. The board justified that decision, which came amid steep postrecession budget cuts, because it said federal Pell Grants should be able to cover tuition and fees at community colleges.
Hershey’s association has long fought back, complaining that it’s unfair to freeze out community college students, who are typically needier than their peers at four-year public institutions. They touted data showing that Ohio's community college students took on more debt after 2009. And the group also noted that students at private colleges and for-profits still can receive some state aid.
Pell Grants are no longer available year-round, thanks to 2012 budget slashing by the U.S. Congress. That means students can’t use the grants to pay for summer courses.
Kasich’s summer aid proposal would be a win for community college students, according to the association. It would also encourage “more students to move more quickly to complete their studies and move into the workforce,” Hershey said in a written statement.
The governor’s budget will include $18.5 million for a fund that seeks to expand the use of Advanced Placement (AP) college courses in high schools. The money would go to schools that have strong records of students participating, according to the Board of Regents. That proposal is also aimed at encouraging more students to graduate college more quickly.
On the competency-based education front, the board said Ohio’s public college presidents would meet to “develop a model in which students can receive competency-based credit for a limited number of courses based on their demonstrated competencies instead of just the amount of time spent in the classroom.”
Kasich also will ask for $500,000 for businesses to develop competency-based training programs for workers.
Hershey called the proposals “common-sense” reforms. And he praised the governor’s attention to helping students complete college faster.
“Time is the single biggest killer of graduation,” said Hershey.
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