PASCO -- Community colleges traditionally award associate's degrees, program certificates or just transcripts of credits that students take to a four-year university.
But Columbia Basin College just became one of only seven community colleges in Washington accredited to award a four-year degree -- the bachelor of applied science, or BAS.
The college received a confirmation letter from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities Monday. It will graduate its first class of BAS students in June, said CBC President Rich Cummins.
The first class in the program started in 2009. The state Legislature in 2007 authorized CBC to be part of a pilot program to increase the number of bachelor's degrees awarded in the state.
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The seven colleges offer bachelor's degrees that are tailored to the needs of their respective local work forces, Cummins said.
South Seattle Community College, for example, offers a BAS in hospitality and Bellevue Community College one in radiology.
When CBC got the green light to develop a bachelor's program, it looked at what's needed around the Tri-Cities.
"We saw about 80 or 90 job opportunities in Benton and Franklin counties for graduates with a BAS in applied management," Cummins said.
The degree offered at CBC is basically a business degree that's geared toward skills needed on the job, as opposed to theory of economics or finance.
Students take courses such as marketing, business finance and how to manage a work force, Cummins said. The CBC program is unique in that it also focuses on business ethics and project management.
An associate's degree in applied science is a prerequisite to be accepted into the selective program, Cummins said.
Typically, students have been working in a career and have found they can't advance further without a bachelor's degree.
The average student in the program is 38 and works at least part-time. Classes are offered in the evening.
The BAS prepares students to be supervisors at large firms, become human-resource specialists or open up their own businesses, to name a few examples.
Offering the degree adds to the college's mission of work force development, Cummins said.
"We're not competing with four-year institutions," he said. "We'll never offer a bachelor's in English or physics."
The graduation ceremony in June will mark the first time the college hands out four-year degrees.
But it will be a bittersweet day for the graduates.
Dave Lemak, director of the applied management program, is battling terminal cancer.
When his students heard the sad news, they decided to make sure future generations would know the man who helped them get their degrees.
They are raising money for a scholarship endowment in Lemak's name. Their goal is to collect $25,000, which will be invested. The interest the money generates would pay for ongoing scholarships.
Anyone wishing to contribute to it can call the CBC Foundation at 509-542-4688.
* Jacques Von Lunen: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org