Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, center, signs Senate Bill 14-004 into law, allowing community colleges in the state to offer four-year bachelor of applied science degrees.

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, center, signs Senate Bill 14-004 into law, allowing community colleges in the state to offer four-year bachelor of applied science degrees.

CNCC hopes to offer four-year degree programs

New state bill allows community colleges to expand

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Recent legislation could have considerable benefits for certain educational institutions across Colorado, including those within Moffat and Rio Blanco Counties.

On Feb. 27, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law Senate Bill 14-004, which authorizes community colleges in the state to offer bachelor of applied science degrees. This would allow schools to feature four-year career technical programs in many fields.

That’s good news for the Colorado Community College System — consisting of 13 community college organizations in the state — said Colorado Northwestern Community College President Russell George, who oversees CNCC’s Craig and Rangely campuses. The new legislation will let community colleges provide educational programs at a bachelor-level degree without infringing on larger colleges and universities in the state, he said.

Previous attempts to make the BAS a reality statewide failed in past years. George credited Colorado Mountain College’s previous work at offering a four-year degree as opening the door for the current legislation.

The unique situation of CNCC is its isolation in Northwest Colorado, making it the only higher education spot in the region, he said.

“Folks who are tied here for whatever reason, community college provides that opening to trade certificates at home and two-year degree work at home,” he said. “The body of knowledge is growing and the necessity of more study to do everything is growing.”

CNCC officials are currently analyzing what the costs would be to expand programs to the four-year structure.

“We want to make sure they’ll be worth our effort,” said Donna Theimer, dean of instruction for the Craig campus.

The school will be bound by a lot of conditions, George said. Any programs put together as a BAS will need to go through an extensive approval and accreditation process.

“The state system is the chief administrating body for us, and just as soon as it was clear the bill was going to pass, they began the technical work internal to the system determining what kind of rules and regulations there would be and what kind of procedure there would be for schools who want to do this.”

The most likely programs to see this change will be nursing in Craig and dental hygiene in Rangely. Aviation is a possibility, too, George said.

The CNCC administration does not currently have a timeline for when will be the soonest students seeking a BAS would be able to enroll in a program through their school. George will be attending an upcoming meeting with heads of other community colleges.

“I’d be surprised if any of the colleges have their first four-year programs ready for fall,” he said.

Though CNCC’s fall 2014 semester is very unlikely for a four-year program to begin, next year is a possibility.

Scrutinizing the financial part of the BAS would mean determining if any additional staff should be hired and what kind of student numbers CNCC might expect.

George said he believes the school has “the potential to grow” and that having a four-year program would motivate people to move to Craig or Rangely for their education, which would also bring more money to the area.

“It’s economic development as much as anything, and it’s an exciting opportunity we can provide to the folks that want to study with us,” he said.

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.

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