State legislation could expand community college degree offerings

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denver_capitol_educationColorado’s Legislature is not only filled with measures aimed at increasing the flow of funding to all of the state’s higher education institutions, but also to those that prepare to expand the offerings of a select few.

Introduced by Colorado Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, Senate Bill 14-004 concerns “the role and mission of community colleges” — more specifically the degrees they offer to students. If enacted, the bill would open the way to some four-year bachelor’s degrees at schools such as Pikes Peak Community College in Colorado Springs.

“That is a little bit controversial in terms of both Pikes Peak [Community College] and UCCS [to] allow community colleges to offer a limited kind of four-year bachelor’s degrees,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who knows the higher-ed scene first-hand from his years as president of PPCC (2001-06) and Colorado State University-Pueblo (2006-10). “They will be able to offer a bachelor’s in applied science, and some universities in the past, including UCCS, have opposed that bill, but right now it seems they are coming to an agreement.

“That will be a big one for Pikes Peak.”

The bill is written in such a way that it would allow the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education, of which Pikes Peak Community College is a party, to seek approval from the Colorado Commission on Higher Education in order to provide bachelor of applied science degree programs in technical, career and workforce development.

In order to offer such programs, “the state board must show workforce and student demand for the degree program and cost-effectiveness to the student and the system,” according to the language in the bill.

“I am not opposed to the language in the bill as it currently stands,” said UCCS Chancellor Pam Shockley-Zalabak, adding that the bill had been altered several times before parties came to a middle ground that would not provoke competition. “It was a bill that extended much more broadly the possibilities that this current piece of legislation does.”

Other bills related to higher education that are on the table for the Colorado General Assembly’s 2014 session include:

House Bill 14-1048

Introduced by Colorado Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Commerce City, this bill prohibits state higher education systems from denying students from receiving any benefits based on religious/non-religious preference. Such benefits include recognition, registration, facility usage, channels of institutional communication and institutional funding.

Senate Bill 14-006

Introduced by Colorado Sen. Linda Newell, D-Littleton, this bill expands the early childhood educator development scholarship program, which currently provides stipends to help those working in early childhood education obtain associate degrees in the field.

Senate Bill 14-015

Introduced by Colorado Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, the bill would create a grant program that would help fund hospitality career training at the secondary-education level via the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.