Some Ohio Community Colleges Could Soon Offer Bachelor’s Degrees

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Twenty-year-old Carter Makiewicz spent a year studying theater at the University of Toledo before he decided to move back to his hometown of Dayton and choose a different path.

Makiewicz is now in his second semester at Sinclair Community College where he’s studying UAS, unmanned aerial systems, or drone technology.

“It is very exciting to know that within the next few years I could be in a field that a lot of people are going to want to be in, but I’ll already be there,” he said as he looked through the large glass windows that enclose a computer lab on the small campus.

In that lab, his fellow classmates were studying drone operations, using a computer program to simulate flights.

Makiewicz is working on an associate’s degree, but that could soon change thanks to a provision in Ohio’s most recent budget bill.

“It started legislatively probably about four years ago,” Vice Chancellor Stephanie Davidson said, “a couple budgets ago.”

Davidson was referring to the process to allow Ohio community colleges to create and offer Bachelor of Applied Science degrees on their campuses. She’s overseeing the approval process that began in the fall for the Ohio Department of Higher Education.

ODHE predicts 64 percent of the jobs available in the state by 2020 will require post-secondary education, whether that’s a college degree or an industry credential. The statistic is at least part of the reason Gov. John Kasich has pushed programs that aim to create a more educated workforce, including offering some applied bachelor’s degrees at community colleges.

Six schools have submitted proposals to create nine degrees, including Sinclair, where faculty are working to create a bachelor’s degree in UAS, which will build off of their already existing associate degree. 

Dr. Andrew Shepherd, executive director and chief scientist of UAS at Sinclair, said the extra two years of study will allow students to progress beyond the basic operations, programming and safety they are currently learning into more advanced work, like planning, programming and seeing a mission to its end.

“So, the students will go off not just knowing how to fly the aircraft, but then applying the aircraft more specifically in real world scenarios,” he said.

Those real world scenarios could include hands on experience inspecting bridges, conducting ecological health surveys, or piloting emergency rescue operations during a natural disaster, like a flood.

Sinclair’s UAS proposal seems to meet all of the requirements of the Ohio law governing it.

It isn’t offered by any other four-year institution in the state. It’s financially viable for the college to not just create, but operate into the future. There’s a demonstrated workforce need—the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates 100,000 jobs will be created in the field over the next 10 years. And it has the support of local businesses, like Unmanned Solutions Technology.

“I’m always in search of good people,” UST’s founder and CEO Kent Tiffany said.

Tiffany submitted a letter of support for the Sinclair program and agreed to work with the school to place students in internships.

His company conducts drone missions, but designs and builds the technology too.

Tiffany said at any given moment, a new contract could double, triple, even quadruple his staff of 6 overnight, and he needs highly educated people ready to come on board.

“Will a two-year student work? The answer is yes,” he said. “Will a four-year student give me more capability? Very much so. If there’s more of that background knowledge, that helps us go pursue work.”

But not everyone in Ohio is as excited about the expansion of bachelor’s offerings.

“The concept, I mean, it sounds good,” Dr. Martin Abraham, provost of Youngstown State University said. “Tuition is lower; it’s going to save students money. The challenge is that there’s a reason that tuition is lower.”

Tuition is higher at four-year institutions because they provide more services for students, Abraham said, but they also challenge students with a greater level of thinking, broadening their base of knowledge in a number of subject areas and creating students that are prepared for future shifts in their careers.

“The workforce that we have today does not look like the workforce we had 50 years ago, doesn’t look like the workforce we had even 10 years ago,” he said, “and so as you move through a career, you’re looking at what’s going to be the future.”

“What are the opportunities you’re going to have to have in order to remain viable as an employee 5 years, 10 years, 20 years down the road? If our focus is workforce training, that’s not necessarily a transferrable skill from the job you’re learning today to the job you need to be doing in 10 years,” Abraham added.

But beyond being prepared for future career shifts, Abraham said a number of the degrees being considered are already offered in the state.

Maybe there’s not another UAS degree, but North Central State College wants to create one in Mechanical Engineering Technology, and Abraham said Youngstown State offers a very similar program less than two hours away from the community college.

It’s repetitive, he said, in a state where the resources to support higher education are hard to come by.

“So we’re creating this internal competition that’s probably not healthy for the state and certainly not healthy for the state budget,” he said.

And Abraham isn’t alone in his hesitations. The University of Akron, Kent State University, the University of Cincinnati and other four-year institutions have all publicly opposed the creation of the four-year programs.

Several of the universities already offer some four-year degrees on the campuses of community colleges through partnerships, helping to increase access and drive down costs, Abraham said, including Youngstown State.

Davidson said the Ohio Department of Higher Education is still reviewing the submitted proposals, but those that are approved will go through the standard accreditation process-- a review of the degree’s quality by an outside organization.

Shepherd said the soonest Sinclair could get its bachelor’s degree off the ground is the Fall of 2019. The school has most of the equipment, but will need to create additional courses.

Makiewicz will have completed his associate degree by then, but said he’d come back for the four-year program. He wants to work in agriculture, tracking soil levels or monitoring crops, but knows in an up and coming industry, he has the opportunity to do almost anything.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story summarized Dr. Martin Abraham’s thoughts to reflect that the lower cost of community colleges is based on quality. The story has been updated to reflect Abraham’s belief that a four-year institution costs more because of the additional services they provide.

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