Student opinion on community college baccalaureate degrees
This study addresses the question of community college baccalaureate degrees and whether such degrees would, or would not, preferentially benefit minority, two-year college students. A survey was developed to identify student attitudes concerning the offering of a baccalaureate degree by the two-year college they presently attend. Minority student’s responses indicate that offering a four-year degree at their community college is an option that would encourage them to complete a degree.
The origin of the American community college movement, in its present form, generally has been attributed to William Rainey Harper of the University of Chicago (Monroe, 1972). During the 1890s, President Harper was successful in separating the first two years of his institution into the Academic College and the last two into the University College. These divisions evolved into the Junior College and the Senior College of the University of Chicago in 1896. By 1907, California had authorized a statewide network of community colleges (Fields, 1962), and in 1921, the American Association of Junior Colleges was founded (Vaughn, 1998). In 1944, the United States Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, which became known as the GI Bill, providing financial assistance to American veterans who wished to pursue a college education.
Historically, these colleges offered two broad areas of study, occupational and academic. However, the 1947 President’s Commission on Higher Education added five additional purposes to these two areas of study: general education, adult and continuing education, developmental and remedial education, student personnel services, and community services (Tunnell, 1987). By 1990, approximately five million students attended community colleges nationwide (Cohen, 1990). Today, the community college is an accredited educational institution that awards an associate degree. Less costly, more numerous, and less restrictive in their admissions, these colleges seek to make higher education available to virtually everyone (Lucas, 1996).
The present study addresses the question of community college baccalaureate degrees and whether such degrees would, or would not, preferentially benefit minority, two-year college students. A number of recent articles consider the advisability of two-year college baccalaureate degrees (Evelyn, 2000; Garmon, 2001; Manzo, 2001; Walker, 2000; Walker & Zeiss, 2001; Walker, 2001). Walker (2001) reports that eight states have already authorized community college baccalaureate degrees. He contends that “this vision calls for the further democratization of higher education by making access to the baccalaureate degree available through the open-door colleges of the world.” Manzo (2001) observes, “To some, it is the next logical step in the 100-year-old community college movement. To others, it is a path leading away from the movement’s core mission and longstanding values.” Indeed, some of the most vocal critics of the community college baccalaureate degree come from the ranks of the community college movement itself. Manzo quotes Dr. James L. Wattenbarger, professor emeritus, University of Florida-Gainesville, as saying “The authorization of community colleges to offer baccalaureate degrees is not a new idea – just a bad one.” The focus of this study, however, is not whether community college baccalaureate degrees are a good idea, but whether or not such degrees would preferentially benefit minority community college students.
Although Tyler Junior College has a fairly high number of minority students, they transfer to four-year institutions in lower numbers than their non-minority counterparts. The study was designed to ascertain whether or not those students would consider their chances of earning a baccalaureate degree enhanced if it were possible for them to stay at Tyler Junior College. The conclusions do not necessarily generalize the to other institutions. The phases of the investigation included the development of a survey, the dissemination of the survey to a random sample of community college students most likely to pursue a baccalaureate degree, and the collection and analysis of the data.
Development of the survey
The researchers developed a survey to identify student attitudes toward a baccalaureate degree if offered by the two-year college they presently attend (see Appendix A). In addition, the survey elicited detailed information about student minority status. Validity of the survey instrument follows the use of the method by other researchers in similar areas of education (Donaldson, 1999; Dorsey, 1995; Glenn, 2001; Wellbrock, 1997). The survey includes both forced-choice and open-ended questions, addressing the most important factors in student institutional choice for a baccalaureate degree.
Sample selection and collection of data
The student sample was identified through a random selection of course offerings among the total courses available in required core courses offered by the University Studies division of the college. Data collected from sophomore courses during the spring semester assured the highest proportion of students with several semesters experience at their present two-year college. Such students would already be in the process of selecting baccalaureate degree granting institutions for their junior and senior years. The total number of respondents was 548. Courses were randomly selected in English (N = 70), Psychology (N = 47), Sociology (N = 89), History (N = 49), Government (N = 76), Physical Science (N=168), and Mathematics (N = 49). Instructors in each of the courses administered the survey without the involvement of the researchers.
Analysis and discussion of data
A much larger number of students than was anticipated stated they have realistic opportunities for gaining a baccalaureate degree. Although the students may not necessarily be correct, the question is whether they feel they have other alternatives. The existence of a University of Texas branch campus and of a private, historically black college in the same city may give students the feeling of other options – whether or not such options actually exist.
To the question “Would a baccalaureate degree offered by this institution be your only realistic opportunity to gain a four-year college education?” students overwhelmingly answered no. The responses, by race and sex, can be found in Table 1 below.
White males and females rated their chances of other options at about the same rates and overwhelmingly felt they had other options from which to choose. Minority females, however, responded that they had other options in higher rates than did males. Somewhat more black females than black males responded that they had other options. However, Hispanic females responded 72.7% of the time that they had other options while only 57.1% of Hispanic males responded the same.
Of the racial and gender groups surveyed, only two groups – Black males and Hispanic males – responded in any large percentages that they believe their options are limited. Almost 30% of Black males responded that they had no other realistic option. A little over 33% of Hispanic males responded the same.
The question “Would a baccalaureate degree offered by this institution be your only realistic opportunity to gain a four-year college education?” was also asked of students claiming to be on financial aid and those claiming to have a physical or learning disability (see Table 2).
Clearly, financial aid recipients and disabled students feel that they have other realistic opportunities to gain a four-year degree. Though rather small percentages of all groups felt that staying at Tyler Junior College for a four-year degree, were one available, is their only option, what percentages of the respondents would stay at Tyler Junior College for their baccalaureate degrees if they had the chance?
The survey asked students: “If this institution offered a four-year baccalaureate degree in your chosen field would you pursue your degree here?” For the responses divided by race, sex, and financial aid and disability status, see Table 3 below.
Looking only at the yes responses among male students, a respectable number of each would consider staying at the institution. With the yes and maybe responses combined, 80.9% of White males would consider staying. Among Black males, the percent of those who would consider staying-82.6%-is even higher. All Hispanics males responded that they would stay or consider staying. For minority males, offering a four-year degree at the community college presents an option that would encourage them to complete a degree.
For female respondents, the survey yielded similar results about choosing a four-year baccalaureate degree at the community college. Even larger numbers of Black females and Hispanic females answered yes than did their male counterparts. With the yes and maybe responses combined, 89.5% of White females, 90.1% of Black females, and 81.8% of Hispanic females, fell into positive categories. Among Whites and Blacks, the responses are higher than those of their male counterparts. Only Hispanic females answered at a lower rate than their male counterparts.
Among students who claimed financial aid or disability over half of each group responded yes they would pursue their degree at Tyler Junior College. When combined with a maybe response, they answered in percentages that are comparable to the racial/sexual categories-89.5% for financial aid recipients and 76.4% for those claiming disability.
The very high number in all categories responding that they would stay or consider staying to pursue their baccalaureate degree at Tyler Junior College surprised the researchers. Why does TJC offer such an attractive option for students who believe they have other options? The survey asks students to choose from a list of 8 options the two most important reasons for considering staying. The two most frequent responses appear in Table 4 below.
Location and cost are most often cited. Location is a strong choice in all groups except those claiming disability. A number of reasons, beyond the scope of this survey, might be hypothesized. Familiarity with the school and its various support offices and personnel might be a positive for students who don’t really want to go through orientation to a new school. The existence of family, jobs, or dependents might make a school close to home more attractive. However, as has been noted earlier, there are two four-year institutions in the same town as Tyler Junior College, as well as a number of others within easy driving distance.
Other choices that might also be explained by personal factors-helpful instructors/counselors, family reasons, friends attend-were not chosen by the respondents. Academic reputation and small classes are also not high on the list of importance to the respondents. Emphatically, location and cost were chosen as the two main reasons for staying at Tyler junior College to pursue a baccalaureate degree.
The researchers do not intend to imply that if community colleges were allowed to offer baccalaureate degrees all students would stop attending universities. Furthermore, many of the respondents’ future actions would depend to a large extent on which institutions accepted them and on their financial circumstances. The study hoped to ascertain whether minority studentsthose who traditionally transfer in smaller numbers-would be helped by the option of staying at their current institution. The answer is clearly affirmative. Eighty-two percent of Black males would stay or consider staying. all Hispanics males responded that they would stay or consider staying. The results are equally clear for females: 90.1% of Black females and 81.8% of Hispanic females responded that they would stay or consider staying. For minority students at TJC, offering a four-year degree presents an option that would encourage them to complete a degree.
Useful information could come from additional research. First, if other community colleges undertake surveys the will find out if their students respond in a similar fashion. Second, more sophisticated data will help explain what it is about community colleges that make them attractive to students. Being more open to and more personal with students are commonly accepted characteristics of community colleges. These characteristics may indeed be the very qualities that attract students to stay. It is also possible that community colleges might lose those characteristics by establishing a four-year status. Those students who wish to specialize will likely continue to attend research universities. Most students, however, want a baccalaureate degree that allows them to get a job in the marketplace. Perhaps the time for a new type of baccalaureate-granting institution has arrived.
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Walker, K. P. (2001). An open door to the bachelor’s degree. Leadership Abstracts. 4 (2), 1-2
Walker, K. P., & Zeiss, A. (2000). Designs for change: Degrees and skills. Community College Journal. 71 (3), 8-11.
Wellbrock, R. D. (1997), The retention of black male students in the community college system of New Jersey. Dissertation Abstracts International. 58 (08), 2978A.
Dr. Amy Clenn is the chair of the education department at Tyler junior College in Tyler, Texas.
Dr. Frank Glenn is an adjunct professor of education and psychology at Tyler Junior College in Tyler, Texas.
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