Bellevue Community College to seek OK to offer more 4-year degrees

The increasing need for additional four-year degree programs in Washington state has prompted Bellevue Community College to take the next step in expanding its baccalaureate programs.

BCC is petitioning Legislature to expand the college's portfolio of four-year degree offerings. According to Jean Floaten, president of BCC since 1989, Sen. Fred Jarrett and Rep. Marcie Maxwell of the 41st District are introducing companion bills to the Senate and the House to expand the authority of BCC to offer four-year degrees in coming years.

Floaten discussed the issue before the Bellevue Rotary Club during a Tuesday, Jan. 20 luncheon.

The Bellevue Rotary Club, allies of BCC and higher education, recently awarded Floaten with the Certificate of Appreciation for Community Leadership and Development. The club aided in the founding of BCC roughly 42 years ago and has been key in building some of the colleges special programs such as the National Workforce Center for Emerging Technologies and the installation of the Digistar 3 system, a digital star planetarium system.

Over the past several years, BCC has offered students a bachelor's degree from a four-year institution while attending classes at the community college. The college offers a Bachelor of Applied Science degree (BAS) in the field of radiation and imaging sciences. Additional online programs allow students to earn a bachelor's degree online through BCC's Distance Education program. The college also offers a growing number of certificate programs for specified industry training in the fields of technology, web design and business management.

Despite the current offerings, many community college students are still coming up short.

“We hear it all the time,” Floaten said. “Students want to continue on with their education, but the opportunities aren't out there. A two-year degree just doesn't pull its weight anymore.”

The community college caters to more than 3,000 students in more than 90 different programs, primarily focused on skills and training to fuel the local economy. The school offers both continuing education and contract training, but about two-thirds of the students are in transfer degree studies. In the past few years, BCC has seen enrollment nearly double in the fields of science, technology, and mathematics.

“We are the largest source of transfer students funneling into the University of Washington,” Floaten explained. “About 30 percent of community college students are part of incoming classes for universities throughout the state and they routinely comprise 36 percent of University graduates. There is definitely a need out there, but not enough seats in the classroom.”

University of Washington recently announced an enrollment freeze to new students who anticipated starting classes this spring at the Seattle UW campus. More than 300 students who would have been accepted for enrollment in spring quarter are being turned away due to budget shortfalls. UW admissions director Philip Ballinger said almost all spring applicants are transfer students from community colleges or other four-year colleges.

Floaten feels the challenge is not so much getting access to education, thanks to programs such as education grants created by the Legislature, but the challenge comes in the form of finding space for everyone.

“To make full use of the human potential of our community, we must address a wide and troubling gap in our states education system,” she explained, adding, “There's a lack of opportunities for our students to go on and get four year degrees and the problem isn't going away.”

The state's funding crisis is likely to hit community colleges hard with many anticipating a 20 percent funding cut. The lack of funding could result in widespread layoffs among faculty and staff, and an enrollment cap.

In the midst of the cutbacks, the Higher Education Coordinating Board's estimates that 5,600 additional baccalaureate enrollment slots will be needed statewide by 2010.

“Washington is falling further behind other states in the number of bachelor degree holding students that we graduate, especially compared to the states that we compete with in international trade,” Floaten explained. “We simply need to catch up.”

According to Higher Education Coordinating Board, even if Washington state universities fully completed their most ideal expansion plans over the next decade, it wont be enough to meet the state's needs.

All options must be considered, even non-traditional ones to fill the void, Floten said.

Despite a gloomy outlook in terms of funding for community colleges and the rest of higher education, Floaten said BCC will continue to press forward with its plan for expanding its four-year degree programs, which requires authorization, but not immediate funding, from the Legislature.

“The bottom line for our college is human capital and human potential - two sides of the same coin,” Floten said. “Businesses need human capital to succeed and students need opportunities to require knowledge and skills for well paying jobs. “We'll continue to fight for our students and the future of our community.”

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@bellevuenews.us or at 425.453.4602.