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Research Questions

  1. Are there unmet workforce-development needs for baccalaureate degrees in nursing and four applied science occupational groups in Texas?
  2. Do community colleges provide an appropriate way of meeting unmet workforce-development needs, particularly those requiring greater baccalaureate production in nursing or the applied sciences?
  3. If the state determines community college baccalaureate expansion is an appropriate means to meet unmet workforce-development needs, what process should it use to recommend and approve new programs?

Many workforce-development needs, particularly those requiring baccalaureate degrees, remain unmet in some areas of Texas. Employers and students are calling for additional programs to develop workplace skills and to provide opportunities for career advancement. On May 22, 2013, the Texas Legislature approved a bill mandating a study on whether community college baccalaureate degree programs should be expanded in Texas. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board asked the RAND Corporation to partner with the Texas Higher Education Policy Initiative to conduct the study.

In this report, the authors assess unmet workforce-development needs in nursing and the applied sciences, assess the arguments for and against baccalaureate expansion, and recommend potential activities to support implementation of any new policies undertaken to expand community college baccalaureate programs. They find significant need for more baccalaureate nurses, although rapidly growing distance learning programs may be able to meet this need. The authors find varying needs for the four applied science occupations they examined: computer and information technology, management of fire sciences, management of production/operations technicians, and health information technology. While expanding community college baccalaureate degree programs could help meet unmet needs and increase degree attainment among students, there are concerns about costs, mission creep at community colleges, counterproductive competition between community colleges and universities, and a decline in the overall quality of a Texas baccalaureate. The authors discuss the inherent tradeoffs that policymakers face in this regard.

Key Findings

Issues to Consider in Deciding Whether to Expand Community College Baccalaureate Programs in Texas

  • There is significant need in Texas for some applied science occupations.
  • There is significant need for more baccalaureate nurses, although rapidly growing distance learning programs may be able to meet this need.
  • Potential benefits of community college baccalaureate expansion include the ability to help meet workforce needs, the potential for increased student access and degree attainment, greater experience with applied education, and a small, supportive environment for students.
  • Potential drawbacks of community college baccalaureate expansion include mission creep at community colleges, counterproductive competition between community colleges and universities, and a decline in the overall quality of a Texas baccalaureate.
  • There are already ongoing efforts between community colleges and universities to partner to meet workforce needs.
  • More detailed analysis of the full costs of expansion, including indirect costs, is needed to ensure that expansion of baccalaureate programs occurs at the institutions that can meet workforce needs most efficiently.

Recommendations for Processes and Supporting Activities

  • Clarify the different types of applied baccalaureate degrees currently available in Texas.
  • Clearly define applied science fields.
  • Continue to use the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board criteria for program approval.
  • Coordinate proposals across institutions when demand is limited or resources are constrained.
  • Provide guidance and mentoring to community colleges if expansion of baccalaureates is approved.
  • Conduct more empirical analyses of costs, outcomes, and potential mission creep.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Background

  • Chapter Three

    Research Questions and Methodology

  • Chapter Four

    Identifying Unmet Workforce Needs

  • Chapter Five

    Potential Benefits of Community College Baccalaureate Expansion

  • Chapter Six

    Concerns About Community College Baccalaureate Expansion

  • Chapter Seven

    Other Provision Options, Costs, and Funding

  • Chapter Eight

    Policy Options for Community College Baccalaureate Expansion

  • Chapter Nine

    Recommendations for Process and Supporting Activities

  • Chapter Ten

    Conclusion

  • Appendix

    Interview Protocols and Survey

Research conducted by

The research in this report was produced for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board by RAND Education, a unit of the RAND Corporation, and the Texas Higher Education Policy Initiative (HEPI).

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