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Originally published Thursday, February 5, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Bellevue Community College wants more 4-year degrees

Bellevue Community College wants to reinvent itself as a hybrid institution that blends elements of a university with those of a traditional two-year college.

Seattle Times higher education reporter

BellevueCommunity College

Opened: 1966

Size: The state's largest community college, it serves 36,000 full- and part-time students over the course of each year.

Degrees: Primarily grants associate's degrees, but is one of seven community colleges allowed to offer a single four-year degree. In BCC's case, the degree is a bachelor's in radiation and imaging sciences.

In Olympia: Senate Bill 5575 and House Bill 1726 would make fundamental changes to BCC. A public hearing in the Senate Committee on Higher Education & Workforce Development is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Friday.

Bellevue Community College wants to reinvent itself as a hybrid institution that blends elements of a university with those of a traditional two-year college.

But the plan already is running into opposition from the University of Washington and could be derailed by legislators reluctant to back any expansion at a time the state is facing a huge budget deficit.

BCC is backing bills before the state House and Senate that would:

• Rename the institution Bellevue College.

• Allow BCC to issue a range of four-year degrees, including bachelor of arts, bachelor of science, bachelor of arts in education and bachelor of applied science.

• Add BCC to the list of six state universities whose four-year degree programs are overseen by the state Higher Education Coordinating Board.

• And expand the board of trustees from five to eight members, including a student representative. That's a model similar to the one used at the UW.

BCC President Jean Floten said Wednesday the college has mapped out an aggressive schedule that would have it teaching 1,500 juniors and seniors within a decade.

Floten said the degrees, for the most part, would be aimed at specific industries and not overlap much with those offered by the UW.

Examples include interior design, criminal justice and medical technology, she said.

The college currently offers a single four-year degree in radiology as part of a statewide pilot program.

Floten said she expects the new baccalaureate degrees would attract midrange students — those with grade-point averages of 2.5 to 3.75 — who wouldn't readily be accepted at competitive institutions like the UW and couldn't travel to other universities because of jobs or families.

"There's a huge population that is unserved," she said.

In the Puget Sound region, 6,000 students each year finish associate degrees but don't transfer to universities, Floten said.

An additional 3,600 students finish technical degrees that can't be used toward any existing four-year degrees.

The UW plans to oppose the BCC plan at a Senate hearing in Olympia on Friday.

UW spokesman Norm Arkans said the university supports expanding statewide access to education. But the state decided 20 years ago to do that through university branch campuses, he said, an effort never properly funded.

"We think that before the state decides to expand other institutions, we ought to finish the job we started in Bothell and Tacoma," Arkans said. "We think it's still a work in progress. Clearly they have the capacity for additional growth."

Arkans said if the state were to put more money into BCC, it likely would result in fewer resources for the rest of the university system.

Blaming overenrollment and budget reductions, the UW's Seattle campus decided it would not enroll about 370 students this spring who would have been accepted under normal circumstances.

About two-thirds of those students would have transferred in from community colleges like BCC.

A spokesman for Eastern Washington University, which offers several degree programs on the BCC campus, said EWU is watching developments closely but not taking a stand on BCC's expansion proposal at this point.

Floten said the bill before lawmakers doesn't ask for any money over the next two years, but rather grants BCC the authority to begin making the changes.

Over the next decade, she said, the plan would cost the state about $42 million to build a new teaching facility and to upgrade BCC science labs.

The college would ask the state for the same reimbursement rate for juniors and seniors as that given to other universities.

There is plenty of room for expansion on BCC's 96-acre campus, Floten added.

While such a hybrid-college model has not been tried in Washington, Floten said, it has been used successfully in Florida and British Columbia, among other places.

State Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, who is sponsoring the House bill, said she doesn't think BCC's plan would encroach on the UW's turf.

"I think we know that the capacity is there," she said. "Students who need to enroll in baccalaureate degrees can't do so."

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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