Columbia Basin College tops in state for 4-year community college program enrollment

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldMay 3, 2013 

When Jeff Keane returned to Columbia Basin College in 2010 to finish his associate degree, he said the plan was eventually to transfer and get a bachelor's degree.

That didn't end up being necessary. After this summer, he'll have a Bachelor of Applied Science, or BAS, in applied management from the community college.

"This program has allowed me to open up more doors," the Pasco resident said.

Four-year universities aren't the only game in town for a bachelor's degree anymore. CBC has the most students of any community college in the state enrolled in a four-year degree program, according to a recent report. That's despite other community colleges having larger student populations or offering more programs.

CBC officials said they aren't likely to replace the need for four-year universities, but they are filling a demand in higher education by residents wanting to advance their careers and businesses needing highly trained workers.

"We just tapped into a need in the community," said Jason Schlegel, assistant director for the college's BAS program.

CBC is one of seven Washington community colleges authorized to offer a four-year bachelor's degree program, but the only one east of the Cascades. The programs generally are focused either in health care or management.

Seventy-four students are enrolled in the college's BAS in management program. By comparison, Bellevue College has three four-year programs and more than double the total enrollment of CBC but has only 66 students pursuing those degrees.

Schlegel said he was surprised when he learned the college was beating out Bellevue and a few of the other community colleges. However, he said the degrees are something local employers have called for.

"When this was conceived, our region needed 47 graduates a year," he said. "We haven't graduated that many a year; we're not even meeting that."

While it takes four years of post-secondary education to earn the degree, CBC officials said it does have its benefits over a similar program at a four-year school. Students who already have earned an associate degree only need two more years of academic work to earn the BAS.

Community college tuition also costs less than attending a traditional university, and it provides another option to students who aren't able to move to one, whether because of a job or family.

"It offers an opportunity for individuals who hadn't planned for a management degree to get those upper-level skills," said Deborah Meadows, dean of CBC's business department.

That's one of the main reasons Keane said he stayed at CBC rather than transferring. In addition to wanting to stay in the Tri-Cities and not uproot his family, the expense of a four-year school would have put a bachelor's degree out of reach.

"It would have cost me two times to three times more," he said.

Despite the expansion of degree offerings, there are limits to what the college can offer now and in the future. Meadows said it's unlikely CBC will begin offering the same type of degrees as a university in areas such as the liberal arts. That's largely because community colleges are bound to meet specific workforce needs in their areas.

"We want to use (taxpayer) funds very carefully and cautiously," Meadows said.

The college has been preparing to offer two more four-year degrees as early as next fall, one in cybersecurity and another in project management. Students already are enrolled at the college and pursuing their associate degrees with plans to pursue one of the new BAS tracks.

That could mean more properly trained workers for local business and industry, college officials said. It also could mean more people pursuing higher education without breaking their bank.

"I'm actually going to graduate without owing a dime," Keane said.

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