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Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

March 11, 2014 at 2:45 PM

Guest: Applied bachelor’s degrees help local employers fill skills gap

Marty Brown

Marty Brown

Consider this scenario: A radiology technician with an associate degree does top-notch work, but can’t get promoted without a bachelor’s degree. Starting over at a four-year institution doesn’t make sense. She’s working at a hospital, has practical experience, and can’t start over as a traditional four-year college student. The hospital, meanwhile, is eager to hire a manager with a bachelor’s degree. The employee faces a glass ceiling; the employer faces a void.

This scenario plays out across Washington in high-demand fields with a shortage of bachelor’s degree graduates. And it is the very reason community and technical colleges offer bachelor of applied science degrees.

Applied bachelor’s degrees are practical, career-oriented degrees that meet employers’ needs in high-demand fields. They add junior and senior levels to two-year professional-technical degrees that would otherwise not transfer and count toward bachelor’s degrees at universities. The degrees vary from a two-year management track on top of a two-year technical education, or a continuation of a technical degree.

These degrees offer the best of both worlds: hands-on training in a career embedded within a four-year degree. Employers seek graduates because they have technical expertise combined with communication, computation, critical thinking, and people-management skills. A report from the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges found 82 percent of applied bachelor’s graduates in 2010 and 2011 were employed seven quarters after graduating. Students’ earnings increased by an average of 26 percent after graduation.

The applied bachelor’s degree at North Seattle Community College is a good example of the job connection. The Puget Sound area is a hotbed for international trade, logistics and transportation. Yet employers report difficulty finding people with the right credentials. North Seattle has created a new Bachelor of Applied Science Degree in International Business. Now, current workers with an associate of applied science degree in business, an international trade certificate or another applicable credential can round out their education with the bachelor’s program at North Seattle. The degree provides a broad business skill set for work in the international arena in sales, logistics, finance, manufacturing, marketing or freight.

For colleges, getting permission to offer applied bachelor’s degrees is a rigorous process. It requires approval from the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges and new accreditation as a baccalaureate-granting institution from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.  The proposed degree must align with the college’s mission and fill a need unmet by other colleges in the region. Eleven of our 34 community and technical colleges now offer applied bachelor degrees in fields such as radiation and imaging sciences, cyber security, nursing and information systems and technology: Bellevue, Centralia, Columbia Basin, Green River, Highline, Lake Washington Institute of Technology, North Seattle, Olympic, Peninsula, Seattle Central and South Seattle.

Applied bachelor’s degrees build on the strengths of the two-year college system and fill the local skills gap. Businesses, employees and students should take advantage of this growing area of our higher education system. As the workforce changes with lightning speed and job demands outpace employees’ credentials, the timing couldn’t be better.

Marty Brown is executive director of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.

Comments | More in Guest opinion, Opinion | Topics: applied bachelor's, Community colleges, guest opinion

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