Nov. 9, 2021
As of this writing, 24 states authorize at least some community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees. While state legislation, regulation, or other sources of authorization to confer these degrees are relatively simple to track, understanding which institutions are so empowered and what baccalaureate programs they operate is another question entirely.
Until now, no comprehensive data set has been created on community college baccalaureate (CCB) programs across states. While states that have long authorized CCB programs, such as Florida and Washington, offer some publicly available data on state agency websites, these offer limited views of the national count of CCB programs and do not capture the many states with fewer or newer programs. Current and accurate data on the number of programs, types of programs, and institutional characteristics of conferring institutions can help policymakers and institutional leaders see when and how CCB programs are supporting students in other communities and states and whether this type of program could similarly benefit their community.
Our team has researched CCB policies governing student access and outcomes for the last three years, enabling us to answer many important questions about state legislation content and program approval processes. However, we have not been able to answer some of the most basic questions about the state of CCBs, such as how many of these programs exist nationwide, the areas of study, and the forms of baccalaureate degrees they attain. We have undertaken the painstaking process of creating a national data set to begin to answer these questions.
The Data Set
We collected data on CCB conferring states, institutions, and programs between April and October 2021. First, we queried the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to identify colleges that are categorized using the Carnegie Basic Classification as public, degree-granting (Title IV) baccalaureate; associate-dominant (14); or baccalaureate, mixed-mission (23). We reviewed these lists to confirm a pool of institutions that may be identified as CCB conferring by state higher education and/or community college agencies. Contacts in state agencies helped confirm institutions authorized to confer bachelor’s degrees that continue to be associate-dominant, open-, or mixed-mission institutions. State agency personnel pointed out associate-dominant institutions not identified through IPEDS as baccalaureate conferring in cases where recent authorization meant CCB programs were under development and not yet offered.
Using this updated list of institutions, we gathered information on authorized programs of study from state agency public records, websites, and telephone interviews, as well as scans of institutional websites. Data included in this inventory address all authorized, approved, and/or actively implemented CCB programs in the 50 states, including field of study, type of bachelor’s degree (bachelor of arts versus bachelor of science, for example), and concentrations or tracks within each program.
This data set offers insight into the breadth and depth of CCBs across the country. The following sections use data visualization to highlight various facets of CCBs. Previous research has illuminated trends in state authorization and identified the sources of institutional authority to confer bachelor’s degrees. This work adds to the literature on CCBs by going beyond state policy to highlight institutional and program characteristics.
The Community College Baccalaureate Landscape
This map depicts key facts for each CCB authorizing state. Some level of CCB authorization is found in all regions of the country, across regional accreditation bodies, with a wide-ranging number of conferring institutions and number of programs. The map does suggest the heaviest concentration of states authorizing CCB degrees is in the West; 15 of the 24 CCB-authorizing states are located west of the Mississippi River.
Community College Baccalaureate Authorization over Time
CCB authorization in the past 30 years has accelerated in the past decade, even the past five years. Following the first authorizing state, West Virginia, in 1989, CCB authorization has grown to nearly half of the states. Seven of 24 CCB states have been authorized between 2017 and 2021. This growth in a relatively short time span may indicate a growing perception that the CCB program is an important access point for students who might not otherwise pursue a bachelor’s degree. To view this change over time watch the short clip below.
States by Share of Institutions with Approved CCB Programs
This map indicates the share of public, predominantly associate-granting or mixed-mission institutions with at least one approved bachelor’s degree program in a given state. Here, we include institutions with programs that have been approved but have not yet launched. Some states authorize all public, predominantly associate-granting or mixed-mission institutions to offer bachelor’s degree programs. Others limit this authority to only one or a few institutions. In all authorizing states, colleges wishing to offer a bachelor’s degree must propose the program and undergo approval involving a state, system, or local entity. The college may need to change its regional accreditation to be able to offer a bachelor’s degree. With these steps between proposing and offering a bachelor’s program, it is clear that careful deliberation is needed. Consequently, even when all associate-dominant institutions are authorized to confer bachelor’s degrees, not all choose to do so. For example, the state legislature in Florida approved baccalaureate degree conferral by community colleges in 2001 but it was not until 2021—20 years later—than all 28 colleges had at least one approved bachelor’s degree program.
States by Number of Active CCB Programs
Since CCB authorization has just reached seven of 24 states within the last five years, many states have not had sufficient time to scale up CCB programs. This map depicting the number of active CCB programs in each state largely reflects the length of time the state has authorized such programs. Early adopters like Georgia, Washington, and Florida have the most active programs. However, new states like Ohio (2017) and Wyoming (2019) have quickly built new programs since authorization, using labor market demand data to document the case for programs in such fields as business management, engineering technology, and health care.
CCB Programs by 2-Digit Classification of Instructional Program Code
This chart indicates the most common broad fields of study using the first two digits of each CCB program’s Classification of Instructional Programs (CIP) code across all states. Most CCB authorizing legislation limits these programs to those that demonstrate local labor market need. Often, this legislation also places parameters around duplicating program offerings at public universities in the same service area. CCBs most often exist in technical fields, frequently those in which the college already operates an associate degree program.
Key Areas of Study, Nationally and in States with the Most CCB Programs
The chart illustrates common fields of study that are preparing graduates for employment opportunities in local and regional labor markets, likely with strong wages. The states included here, along with national data, are the five states with the highest number of active CCB programs. These five states have all authorized CCB programs for a relatively long time; the latest state among these five to authorize was Washington in 2005. The areas of study shown in this chart are common across these states, though the proportions vary, indicating how the need for CCB programs in a particular field may vary among regions.
Here we combine several CIP code areas to create a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) category, given longstanding policy interest in STEM education and an existing body of research looking at STEM CCB programs.
Likewise, a range of programs and concentrations exist in CCB business programs. Because knowledge and skills from a bachelor’s program in business can support initial employment, career advancement, and entrepreneurship, these programs are common among CCBs. In Florida, the state with the most programs and longest history of CCBs, organizational management programs comprised the highest share of graduates of any CCB program in 2018-19, the most recent year for which data was available.
CCB programs in education, which support local residents’ preparation for the teaching profession, fit well with the community college mission to support the education and training of those in nearby communities. Early childhood education programs that build on associate degrees are common among CCB teacher preparation pathways States like Florida have many teacher preparation programs across a range of student ages and subject matter.
Credential requirements and employer expectations are rising in several allied health fields. In respiratory therapy, for example, existing associate degree programs continue to prepare people for occupational licensure. However, the program accreditation body is no longer accrediting new associate programs, only programs at the bachelor’s level. Given these shifts in the health care sector, CCB programs in allied health that build on existing associate degree programs make sense for many institutions.
Nursing is a very popular program, and there are so many CCBs in nursing that combining them with other health care programs in one category would obscure their prevalence. Furthermore, several states have passed legislation specifically authorizing CCBs in nursing, giving further reason to consider nursing separately from other health care CCBs.
CCB Programs by Bachelor’s Degree Type
Some state legislation limits CCB to a certain type of credential. For example, Washington, Oregon, Ohio, and other state legislation limits authorization of CCBs to some form of applied bachelor’s degree. Whereas some programs are considered applied based on the field of study, in other cases, the bachelor’s degree itself must be a bachelor of applied science (BAS) or bachelor of applied technology (BAT). Since some of the most common CCB areas of study build on applied associate degrees, it makes sense that the BAS and BAT are common among CCB programs. Bachelor of arts (BA) degrees are fairly rare among CCB programs and tend to be offered by a handful of CCB-conferring institutions that offer a larger array of bachelor’s degrees.
The bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) is a common CCB program, and interest in increasing these programs nationwide appears to be high. Of the many possible fields that CCB degrees might be offered, we hear the loudest and most vociferous calls for more community colleges to confer BSN degrees. Historically, associate degree programs have served as the most common pathway into a career as a registered nurse. Yet many registered nurses who entered the profession with an associate degree wish to earn a bachelor’s degree after licensure to increase their salary, access management opportunities, or follow an employer push. Colorado and Texas stand out as states authorizing BSN degree programs and seeing sizeable scale-up in community colleges in recent years. Meanwhile, Ohio is the most recent state to pass legislation (2021) specifically authorizing community colleges to confer the BSN.
Questions about the landscape of community college baccalaureate programs require accurate data to begin to find answers. The inventory of CCB institutions and programs we present here offers a first step toward assessing the types of degrees, program areas, and geographic concentration. These data make possible new analysis on CCBs and how states and colleges are using these programs to address student demand and community and labor market needs.
We are so grateful to the Ascendium Education Group and the Joyce Foundation for their generous support of our work.
Each state higher education agency, association, and institutional representative who spoke with us clarified the landscape of community college baccalaureate programs that we present in this report, and we greatly appreciate the time, context, and expertise that came from each conversation.
The data collection process for this project was painstaking, yet many hands truly made for light work. We are grateful for the steady support and careful work of Rebekah Haigh, Elizabeth Meza, Tammy Napiontek, Stephanie O’Leary, Ellen Wasserman, and Yun Zhao.
New America’s communications team has once again outdone themselves with their exceptional work on the data visualizations included here, for which we offer special thanks to Fabio Murgia. We also thank Riker Pasterkiewicz, Julie Brosnan, and Brandon Hill for their work to disseminate this report and for their support throughout the project process. The editing expertise of Sabrina Detlef made the text clearer and more concise, for which we are very grateful and are confident our readers will be as well.
 We do not include public tribal colleges or public institutions in U.S. Territories in our count of CCB institutions and programs. Furthermore, there are several states and institutions that at one point met our definition of CCB conferring and no longer do. We only include states and institutions that meet criteria described in the main text as of this writing.
 Note that Delaware only has one institution that fits our definition for inclusion, which has an active bachelor’s degree program. We only include Georgia State Colleges and Georgia Military College, not institutions in the Technical College System of Georgia in our count here. For Indiana, we count Ivy Tech as one institution, though Ivy Tech campuses operate in many locations across the state.
 We consider STEM programs to be those in 2-digit CIP code categories including communications technologies/technicians and support services (10); computer and information sciences and support services (11); engineering technologies/technicians (15); biological and biomedical sciences (26); and multi-/interdisciplinary studies (30) as used in Elizabeth Meza’s March 2020 analysis of STEM CCB programs in Washington. Here, the STEM category also includes any programs with 6-digit CIP codes included on the Department of Homeland Security’s STEM Designated Degree Program List. However, we exclude programs classified as health care and allied health as well as business that are included on the DHS list, choosing to depict them as a separate category in this report.
 This category includes all programs with CIP codes beginning with 52.
 This category includes all programs with CIP codes beginning with 51, with the exception of registered nursing.