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Smooth start for community college four-year degree bill

A bill allowing state community colleges to offer some four-year degrees sailed out of the Senate Education Committee Thursday on a 6-0 vote after a good-natured hearing at which every witness supported the bill.

The agreeable session was in sharp contrast to last year’s committee review of a similar bill, when top administrators from the University of Colorado and Colorado State University systems showed up to urge defeat of that measure. Senate Ed passed the 2013 bill with only one no vote, but the four-year college lobby managed to get the bill killed later in the House Education Committee.

Discussions over the summer smoothed over differences between two-year and four-year schools, and Senate Bill 14-004 is expected to have untroubled sailing this session.

Community colleges would have to jump through several hoops before offering such degrees, including approval by the state community colleges board and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education. Colleges would have to demonstrate student and workforce demand for such degrees and show that such programs wouldn’t compete with offerings by four-year schools. (See this legislative staff analysis for details on the bill’s provisions.)

Nancy McCallin, president of the community college system, told Chalkbeat Colorado that if the bill passes, the first of the new programs probably wouldn’t launch before the fall of 2015. She said the first bachelor of applied sciences programs likely would be in dental hygiene at community colleges in Denver, Pueblo and Rangely.

McCallin and bill sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, were beaming about the hearing’s outcome. In testimony to the committee, both stressed the importance of the bill in providing access and affordability for community college students.

Both also noted that the majority of the state’s minority college students attend community colleges and that the bill would expand opportunities for rural students who can’t easily move to attend four-year schools.

“We will be closing the achievement gap,” McCallin said.

The bill is supported by the Department of Higher Education and the CCHE, as well as Metropolitan State University, Colorado Mesa University and the University of Northern Colorado. Leaders of other four-year schools have promised to remain neutral on the proposal.

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