In early 2000, Florida’s work force wasn’t keeping pace with demand. The state decided that a then-novel credential, a bachelor’s degree from a community college, was the solution. By all accounts, the plan is working.
The new bachelor’s degrees were initially focused on education, health care, and information technology. Even as the job market has shrunk since then, demand has remained high for nurses and teachers in particular fields, including math, science, and special education. The programs have also grown to include public safety and biomedical sciences, to keep up with Florida’s changing work-force needs.
Interviews with colleges, students, and employers show that job-placement rates are strong. Many of the students who earn bachelor’s degrees from community colleges earn higher salaries than their counterparts from public, four-year universities, because the community colleges’ curricula are tailored to well-paying jobs waiting for them upon graduation.
And enrollment continues to grow: Last year more than 13,000 students—most of whom already had earned associate degrees—sought baccalaureate degrees at the state’s community colleges, compared with 2,400 in 2005. With the education level of Florida’s work force still trailing that in many other states, policy makers hope the trend continues.
Nationwide, 17 states now allow community colleges to award baccalaureate degrees, whether bachelor’s of science or bachelor’s of applied science. Some community colleges have become four-year institutions. Other states, like California, are considering community-college baccalaureates.