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How Stackable Credentials Will Change the Way Bachelor’s Degree Programs Operate

Promoting a new, innovate effort may encounter roadblocks, or doubters, but the payoff for students and teachers alike results in better classroom experiences and better careers after graduation.
Promoting a new, innovate effort may encounter roadblocks, or doubters, but the payoff for students and teachers alike results in better classroom experiences and better careers after graduation.

Stackable credentials are paving the way for better more accessible programming. Students are no longer required to commit to a four-year program to get a top notch education. In this interview, Tom Keegan shares his thoughts on stackable credentials, where colleges can benefit from Bachelor’s programs, and how schools can better serve their communities.

The EvoLLLution (Evo) Why did Skagit Valley initially explore offering bachelor’s degree programming?

Tom Keegan (TK): It’s part of our regular operational planning process, where we’re assessing community needs for education, co-curricular activities and everything compared to our mission as a community college. And part of that need was additional baccalaureate-level degrees in our region.

There are questions, both internally and externally, about whether it’s part of our mission. And to me, it’s an easy yes. If you think about our mission of transfer education, workforce training education, basic education for adults and community education, offering bachelor’s degrees is really an extension of the workforce part of our mission.

Many IT programs at community colleges across the country are two-year degrees. We know that career advancement and fields that used to require a two-year degree or even a high school diploma now require a baccalaureate degree.

We wanted to make sure we’re offering that access to education that leads to family-wage jobs. And career advancement through lifelong education fits in beautifully.

Evo: How aligned are the bachelor’s degree program models with stackable programming models to create more learner-oriented pathways to progressive education?

TK: At Skagit, we have a pretty ambitious plan to start stacking them onto each other within the next five years. Our two-year environmental conservation program is a wonderful example of that, producing a significant number of graduates.

For all our two-year programs, we work with local business and industry through advisory committees to assess our graduates’ work readiness and adjust the curriculum accordingly. That program now has really developed the pathway right into the BAS degree.

As we continue to broaden ourselves, we’re creating a map for where our 24 technical programs are heading in the future. We’ll see which ones best serve our region and which ones provide our employers and graduates with the best opportunity for a four-year degree.

Evo: What were some of the roadblocks you and the team had to overcome to get that program from concept to reality?

TK: When you’re talking about innovation and risk-taking to truly serve students and our communities, you really have to start with creating a sense of community around why we exist. Once you really get that culture instilled, it becomes a foundation for innovation. And in this case, the BAS is a major innovation at a community college. The culture at Skagit is there.

We went through a very conscious shift to develop that culture on a deeper level, moving from a culture of students having the right to fail to the college having a responsibility to help students succeed. Rather than asking, are students ready for our college, we ask whether the college is ready for the diverse students we’re serving.

We do what we need to do to meet that philosophy and meet students where they are today. So, that set the stage to turn the place upside down and looking at a student’s pathway. We know that we’re meeting adults, 18-year-old kids and 15-year professionals who want to make a change.

Evo: How has the college benefited from offering the baccalaureate program since its launch?

TK: One way is bringing in new faculty with new ideas and innovative ways of approaching their work, who then share that with their colleague, leading to faculty and departmental self-reflection.

You can see this through enrollment in those programs. We have a bachelor of applied science degree in applied management with strong enrollment. Those graduates are going out into the community and obtaining visible positions, which raises the overall institutional esteem. We feel good about it. We’re proud because we are offering programs that are clearly serving our community.

Evo: What impact has the program had on the college’s capacity to serve its mission and community?

TK: There’s a deep understanding of why you’re doing this and a strong commitment to doing it. You’re not changing your college’s mission of your college; you are extending your professional technical mission.

If you’re trying to promote this innovative new effort, you’re automatically going to have people that are doubters or laggards or blockers. The easiest way for someone to block it or make it difficult is to go after the mission.

We also work closely with our regional universities to make sure we’re not duplicating. We have articulation agreements with them, so students can go on to get a master’s degree without having to take classes over.

Finally, you get the internal community understanding and excited that this is part of the mission. You work with your local community to identify the greatest needs and go after those first. And then you work with your regional universities to make sure that you’re not competing with them but working with them. And that has served Skagit Valley College very well.

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