BELLEVUE, WASH. – Three Puget Sound-area community colleges have earned accreditation as baccalaureate colleges from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the body that accredits all Northwest institutions of higher education, public and private.
Baccalaureate accreditation status means that the three colleges – South Seattle Community College (Seattle), Bellevue College (Bellevue), and Olympic College (Bremerton) – meet the standards for performance, integrity, and quality required of all bachelor’s degree-granting colleges and universities.
The standards are set by the Northwest Commission, whose work is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.
A fourth community college – Peninsula College in Port Angeles – is nearing the end of the application and review process for baccalaureate accreditation.
Following statutory authorization by the state legislature in 2005, the four colleges were selected in 2006 by the Higher Education Coordinating Board and the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges to be the first two-year colleges in the state to award four-year bachelor’s degrees.
The colleges launched their baccalaureate programs in Fall 2007: bachelors of applied science in radiation and imaging sciences at Bellevue College, in nu
rsing at Olympic, in hospitality management at South Seattle, and in applied management at Peninsula. All four awarded their first baccalaureate degrees last spring – to a total of 57 graduates — and continue to enroll new students in their programs.
Community college baccalaureate degrees were authorized as a way to address two educational needs across the state: more baccalaureate-level educational opportunities for state residents, and greater breadth and depth of skills in the state’s workforce.
“There is high demand from Washington students to have access to bachelor’s degrees that connect to growing industries,” noted Dr. David Mitchell, president of Olympic College. “These degrees help get students ready for jobs. They also help employers tap into employees with these skills within the state instead of having to import workers with these degrees.
“We’re preparing our own state residents for current and future positions. It’s a win-win for employers and for students,” said Mitchell.
Baccalaureate degrees at community and technical colleges combine two years of traditional freshman and sophomore curriculum — to establish a broad understanding of the arts and sciences, provide a global viewpoint and promote critical thinking — with two years of specialized, in-depth technical training in the skills employers identify as the most urgently needed.
“The state charges community colleges with the responsibility to meet local workforce needs,” said Gary Oertli, interim president of South Seattle Community College. “And right now employers are telling us the workforce is woefully short of baccalaureate-level skills in many fields. We need to fix that if our region is to return to prosperity as swiftly as possible.
“But at the same time, we remain committed to our more traditional community college role. Our open-door associate degree, certificate and adult basic education programs all remain crucial to our communities,” Oertli said.
“Community college baccalaureate programs offer benefits around the table,” said Jean Floten, president of Bellevue College. “They serve employers’ needs; they open up new opportunities to students who are place-bound by family or other obligations; and they conserve state resources by leveraging existing investments in college campuses and staffing. In addition, more education and greater prosperity mean better families and better communities,” Floten added.
Since the first four community college baccalaureate programs were approved in 2006, four more have been added. Bachelors of applied design, behavioral science and management are offered by Lake Washington Technical College, Seattle Central Community College and Columbia Basin College, respectively, and Bellevue College launched a baccalaureate program in Interior Design in January 2010.