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November 21, 2005


SPRINGFIELD - A report recommending that community colleges preserve their mission as two-year institutions without authority to offer bachelor's degrees tops the agenda for the Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE). The report, prepared by the Baccalaureate Access Task Force, has been endorsed by the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), which created the study group to explore the issue of community colleges offering four-year degrees.

The Board of Higher Education will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday, December 6, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The Board will discuss the Task Force report but not act on its recommendations until its February meeting in Springfield.

The issue of baccalaureate degrees at community colleges arose more than a year ago when the Harper College Board of Trustees in Palatine voted to seek legislative permission for the college to offer bachelor's degrees in limited fields and under prescribed circumstances. Both the IBHE and ICCB supported resolutions last fall urging that no legislation be enacted to change the mission of community colleges until a study could examine its cost and policy ramifications.

The Task Force found that only about 16,000 students transfer from the state's 48 community colleges to four-year institutions, a little more than half of whom have earned an associate's degree in a baccalaureate-transfer program. The panel, which included administrators, faculty, and students from several community colleges, ICCB staff, and representatives of public universities and the IBHE, noted that there are several existing mechanisms for community college students to complete bachelor's degrees, including off-campus university degree-completion programs; online degree completion; and dual admission/dual enrollment agreements between community colleges and universities.

The Task Force reported that fourteen states give community colleges authority to grant bachelor's degrees, mostly in technical fields without a strong university presence or geographical areas remote from university programs.

Advantages of this approach, the report stated, include:

  • enabling a community college to leverage existing programmatic and capital resources;
  • permitting a community college to fulfill its mission through addressing a documented workforce need; and
  • making the transfer from lower to upper division coursework seamless for students.

However, the Task Force also enumerated disadvantages to expanding the role of community colleges, including:

  • the need for additional state dollars;
  • long-term impact on mission and structure of the colleges;
  • diversion of resources from existing programs and services to baccalaureate programs; and
  • potential adverse effects on the relationships between community colleges and senior institutions.

On balance, the Task Force concluded that "community colleges in Illinois should not be given the authority to award baccalaureate degrees at this time." If such an approach is considered in the future, the Task Force added, it should only be "where it would meet a clearly identified workforce need which cannot be met through affordable cooperative approaches with baccalaureate-degree granting institutions."

The Task Force recommended that existing efforts to provide opportunities for community college students to pursue bachelor's degrees be expanded. Among its suggestions are: strengthening articulation and transfer programs, broadening dual admission initiatives, offering baccalaureate degrees cooperatively or jointly by universities and community colleges through off-campus and online arrangements, providing financial incentives such as grants or differential tuition rates to promote bachelor-completion programs, initiating a "quick response" baccalaureate access needs analysis and new program approval system, and creating an extended-credit cooperative articulation model for selected programs to allow credits beyond an associate's degree to count toward a bachelor's degree.

The report urges that a baccalaureate completion grant be established to fund cooperative efforts between universities and community colleges to broaden opportunities for students to obtain bachelor's degrees.

Board members also will receive the 2005 Statewide Performance Report, a statistical and evaluative snapshot of Illinois higher education assessing progress on meeting the policy goals of The Illinois Commitment, the state's strategic plan for higher education. The report, the second annual, examines progress and challenges facing the state and its colleges and universities in a variety of policy areas. For example, the report notes that the state is producing an increasing number of graduates at all levels and across a broad array of programs, thus strengthening the pool of college-educated individuals to meet workforce needs. But it also points out that degree production in engineering has been flat, and baccalaureate degrees in health sciences have been declining. Similarly, the report reveals that while the proportion of students receiving grant aid continues to rise, there is a growing gap between the maximum award under the Monetary Award Program and tuition and fees for all sectors of higher education.

The Performance Report follows a related report detailing more than 200 programs, initiatives, and approaches at colleges and universities that were compiled in the Compendium of Institutional Effective Practices, which Board members received in October. Four institutions will highlight practices selected from the Compendium in special presentations to the Board, including:

  • Northern Illinois University's effort to ensure freshmen and transfer students get a full schedule of core-competency and general-education courses.
  • Argosy University-Schaumburg's internship program offering correctional psychology training through the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at state correctional facilities.
  • Wabash Valley College's Parenting University, in partnership with a local school district, that offers adult basic education classes with a focus on parenting skills for educationally underserved individuals.
  • Dominican University's Providing Access to Campus Life is a strategy to increase the number and diversity of students entering higher education.

Board members also will hear a presentation by Carol A. Twigg, President and CEO of The National Center for Academic Transformation, on ways the National Center helps colleges and universities use information technology to redesign learning environments to produce better student outcomes at a reduced cost to the institution.


Don Sevener



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