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Less Traditional College Degrees Jump in WA During Pandemic

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Monday, November 14, 2022   

Enrollment in Washington state's community and technical colleges has suffered during the pandemic, but there has been one bright spot. Programs known as applied baccalaureate degrees actually saw gains from before COVID-19.

Applied baccalaureate degrees are not like traditional bachelor's degrees. Ranging in fields from health care to manufacturing to cybersecurity, they are designed for older, working students. They're also set up according to local job needs.

Valerie Sundby, director of transfer education at the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, explained the connection to jobs is key.

"Those really strong ties directly to employment is what we think is driving that enrollment to remain consistent," Sundby pointed out. "Even when other enrollment is kind of seeing a bit of a decline."

While enrollment in community and technical colleges fell by nearly a quarter between 2019 and 2021, enrollment in applied baccalaureate degrees rose 16%, according to the State Board. Students in the programs often have two-year technical degrees and the degrees can help them get promotions at their current jobs.

Sundby also noted the programs are highly localized. For instance, she said some folks in teacher education programs start teaching in the districts where their children are students. Sundby argued it is a plus for communities.

"That community connection means that they understand the students that they're going to teach," Sundby contended. "They're invested in what's happening there and in the education there. So that highly local experience, we think, is really great for our students and also really great for those communities."

Sundby added because approval of new applied baccalaureate degrees is tied directly to the local job market, the demand for technology degrees is skyrocketing in Washington state.

"We really see this as an amazing opportunity both to meet that workforce demand in our state, but also as a pathway to really lucrative careers for our students," Sundby concluded.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.


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