Community College Baccalaureate Degrees (CCB)

Overview

New forms of baccalaureate degrees—applied baccalaureates (AB) and community college baccalaureates (CCB)—have emerged throughout the United States. Many of these degrees are offered in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), career-technical education (CTE), and other fields of study. While many universities confer these degrees, increasingly they are being conferred by community colleges, which have historically awarded the associate degree as their highest credential.

With half the states (see map) providing authorization for community colleges to award baccalaureate degrees, the CCB has become an increasingly common feature of the landscape of American higher education. In 2024, New research from the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) and Bragg & Associates, Inc. documented the growth of CCB degrees, provided new insights into CCB degrees nationwide, and suggested that more CCB degrees are coming — with the potential to provide access and opportunity for more students to attain a bachelor’s degree.

Of the 24 states conferring at least one CCB degree today, 8 states approve the majority of the community colleges to confer CCB degrees. Florida has scaled up CCBs the most, with all 28 colleges conferring at least one degree. Washington is one short of all 34 community and technical colleges conferring a CCB. Added to these, many community colleges in California and Texas confer bachelor’s degrees, showing the potential to surpass Florida and Washington soon because of the size of their community college systems (116 community colleges in California, and more than 60 community colleges in Texas). Today, about one-third of the community colleges in each of these states are approved to offer CCB degrees, with an announcement of more CCB-degree approvals coming soon in California.

Scaling Community College Baccalaureates

7 ways to scale up community college baccalaureates - Community College Daily (ccdaily.com) offers seven takeaways on how these degrees may be able to scale up in the U.S.:

  1. Understand the current state of CCB degrees in the U.S.
  2. Know how state laws impact the scale-up of CCB degrees.
  3. Ensure CCB degrees expand access to baccalaureate attainment.
  4. Model what equitable baccalaureate attainment looks like.
  5. Demystify CCB degrees to normalize their acceptance and growth.
  6. Couple CCB degrees to inclusive community and economic development.
  7. Answer hard questions to promote high-value CCB degrees.

History

Since Washington’s state legislature approved a pilot program within four colleges in 2005, growth of the CCB has taken off. From fall 2019 to 2021, enrollment in the state’s community and technical colleges dropped by 24 percent; at the same time, enrollment in community college four-year technical degree programs grew by 16 percent—and over 5,100 students were enrolled in one of these programs across the state in fall 2021.

In all authorizing states, community colleges that wish to offer a bachelor’s degree must propose the program and undergo an approval process. This involves a state, a system of higher education, or a local entity. The college may need to change its regional (institutional) accreditation to be able to offer a bachelor’s degree.

Key areas of study in community college baccalaureate programs are business, education, health care, and nursing.

Established in 1999, the Community College Baccalaureate Association (CCBA) promotes access to community college baccalaureate degrees as a convenient, accessible, and affordable way to help close the nation’s racial, ethnic, and economic gaps. The CCBA is a membership association that provides research data, publications, best practices, state legislation, and experienced consultants that guide and advise member institutions on their baccalaureate programs. The CCBA has grown substantially—from 33 member colleges in 2019 to 124 institutions in 2022, an increase of nearly 350 percent. 

The CCBA believes that the community college baccalaureate degree improves the structure of higher education. It gives access to those who would otherwise go unserved, offers an environment that fosters student growth and honors students’ personal stories, responds to employer needs, ensures that opportunity is grounded in social justice and equity, and safeguards the vibrancy of communities.

Examples

  • The CCBA, in partnership with Bragg & Associates, published an eBook that highlights 20 promising practices implemented by baccalaureate-conferring community colleges across the nation. The eBook focuses on a central question: What practices make CCB programs valuable to students? It features practices that contribute to more equitable education and employment outcomes for students, including those in historically underserved groups.
  • Webinars aimed at improving and promoting access to community college baccalaureate programs are available at the CCBA YouTube channel: Lessons from the field: Scaling up student-centered CCB programs and California’s CCB journey: A panel discussion.
  • The CCBA publishes research on topics such as surveying the pathways to postsecondary credentials, highlighting specific CCB programs (e.g., school-specific or field-specific), sharing the benefits and opportunities of CCB programs, and providing insights on other postsecondary credential-related topics. Some notable research studies include:
  • Pioneering the community college baccalaureate in California: The experience of West Los Angeles College.
  • A comparative perspective on the community college baccalaureate focusing on the scale of the degree.
  • Improving the local nursing workforce through creation of an RN-BSN program.
  • Beginning in early 2021, the CCBA began developing a national inventory of community college baccalaureate degree programs. Altogether, the national inventory shows nearly 570 CCB programs (not counting approved specializations as separate programs) operating in 148 community and technical colleges across 25 states.
  • New America studied outcomes of the State of Washington’s community college baccalaureate programs. The analysis suggests that expanding baccalaureate programs at community colleges could go a long way toward increasing the share of Americans with bachelor’s degrees. Programs, enrollments, and graduations—all are growing in number. Baccalaureate programs in community colleges can help address racial and socioeconomic disparities in bachelor’s degree attainment by reaching more Americans who have historically been underrepresented among bachelor’s degree holders.

Relationship to the Ecosystem

The CCB is an increasingly common credential in the learn-and-work ecosystem, offering opportunities to learners to complete baccalaureates that may be more convenient, accessible, and affordable. Many state governments and the CCBA view the credential as a bridge from learning to working. The CCBA works with community colleges to provide baccalaureate degrees in the belief that such a credential serves as a gateway to advanced career opportunities and economic mobility.

References

Bragg, D. (2024). Tracking the growth of CCB degrees in the U.S. New results and important perspectives. Community College Baccalaureate Association

Bragg, D.’ Harmon, T; Napiontek, T; Wassserman, E.; and  Kersenbrock, A. (2022, June 30).  20 Promising Practices to Advance Quality, Equity, and Success in Community College Baccalaureate (CCB) Degree Programs.

Community College Baccalaureate Association. (n.d.). https://www.accbd.org/. 

Love, I.; Bragg, D.; and Harmon, T. (2021, Nov. 9). Mapping the Community College Baccalaureate: An Inventory of the Institutions and Programs Comprising the Current Landscape. New America.

Meza, E. (2019, September 19). Who are Community College Baccalaureate Students? New America

Meza, E., and Love, I. (2022, March 3). Community College Baccalaureate Programs as an Equity Strategy: Student Access and Outcomes Data. New America

Retka, J. 2022, Oct. 13). Why WA has seen a big increase in these community college degreesSeattle Times.

The University of Washington: New Baccalaureates | Community College Research Initiatives (washington.edu)

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