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Butler community college opens 4-year degree options

| Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015, 6:56 p.m.

Finishing a four-year degree will be easier for many students enrolled at Butler County Community College starting next school year, as six institutions will offer bachelor's degrees in seven academic fields.

The arrangement allows students to complete bachelor's degrees at the community college. At a time of declining enrollment, it's one way for the school to keep students.

“We have always heard from students that they would like to finish four-year degrees here,” said Francie Spigelmyer, vice president for academic affairs at the Butler school.

For the four-year schools, such offerings are a way of casting a wider net.

“It is one of the ways Pitt connects to the general community,” said Christina Ruggiero, associate dean of the School of General Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, which offers a degree in administration of justice at the community college.

Next year, the school will have four-year degree completion programs with Clarion University in accounting; Robert Morris University in organizational leadership; Franklin University in business administration; La Roche College in psychology; Youngstown State University in social work; the University of Pittsburgh in administration of justice; and Chatham University in nursing.

Penn State Shenango will offer a bachelor's degree in several fields at the Linden Pointe campus in Mercer County.

The degree programs offered are those most in demand, said Bob Morris, dean of admissions at Butler County Community College.

“I think this is part of a trend. It provides students with a chance to get a four-year degree without having to travel an hour to Oakland,” Morris said.

Tuition varies by program and the university offering it, Morris said. Some colleges, such as Chatham, La Roche and Robert Morris, have lowered tuition for students in the Butler program.

“Parents have a lot of concern about student debt. This is a way to alleviate some of that concern,” Morris said.

Under Pennsylvania law, community colleges can't grant bachelor's degrees, though the schools work closely with four-year schools on matters like curriculum and course credit transfers.

“Other states like Florida and Texas are moving in the direction of four-year degrees in community colleges,” said Drew Murren, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Commission for Community Colleges.

In recent years, Bloomsburg University has offered four-year education degrees at community colleges in Reading, Harrisburg and Northampton.

“This is something that many community colleges are looking at. They are looking at ways to create higher graduation rates,” said Samantha Schear, director of community college partnerships for the east region at Franklin University in Columbus, Ohio, which will offer on-site classes at 12 community colleges, including Butler County's, this fall.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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