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Ohio Community Colleges Push to be Able to Award Bachelor's Degrees

Photo of drone demonstration
Todd Simpson, left, shows his students at Sinclair Community College a Bebop drone.

The Ohio Department of Higher Education predicts nearly two-thirds of the jobs available in the state by 2020 will require post-secondary education, whether that’s a college degree or an industry credential. The statistic is at least part of the reason Gov. John Kasich has pushed programs he says will create a more educated workforce, including one that’s increasing tensions between Ohio community colleges and their larger university counterparts. StateImpact Ohio’s Ashton Marra reports.

“Getting to fly the drone, it’s like playing a video game," says Carter Makiewicz, a 20-year-old Dayton native who’s in his second semester at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, his hometown. Makiewicz spent a year working on a theater degree at the University of Toledo before transferring to the UAS program at Sinclair. UAS stands for unmanned aerial systems -- drone technology.

“It is very exciting to know that within the next few years I could be in a field that a lot of people are going to want to be in, but I’ll already be there.”

Makiewicz is working on an associate’s degree, but that could soon change thanks to a provision in Ohio’s most recent budget bill. It's a move that started in the Legislature about four years ago, according to Stephanie Davidson, who oversees the process for the Ohio Department of Higher Education to allow some Ohio community colleges to offer applied bachelor’s degrees on their campuses.

Legislature opened the door
“It’s really a two-step process. The first step is for institutions to tell the chancellor what their plans are, what programs they’re considering.”

Davidson says the department is coming to the end of that first step. Six schools, including Sinclair, have applied to offer nine degrees. At Sinclair, faculty like Dr. Andrew Shepherd have been working to create a bachelor’s in UAS, which will build off of the existing associate’s degree. 

“So, the students will go off not just knowing how to fly the aircraft, but then applying the aircraft more specifically in real world scenarios.”

More than drones

'Will a two-year student work? The answer is yes. Will a four-year student give me more capability?Very much so.'

Those real-world scenarios could include hands-on experience inspecting bridges, conducting ecological health surveys, or piloting emergency rescue operations during a natural disaster.

Sinclair’s UAS proposal seems to meet all of the requirements of the Ohio law governing it. It isn’t offered by any other four-year institution in the state. It’s financially viable for the college to not just create, but operate into the future. There’s a demonstrated workforce need—100,000 jobs are expected to be created in the field over the next 10 years. And it has the support of local businesses, like Unmanned Solutions Technology. Kent Tiffany is the Dayton company’s founder and CEO.

“I’m always in search of good people.”

Tiffany’s company conducts drone missions, but designs and builds the technology, too. He says at any given moment, a new contract could double, triple, even quadruple his staff of six overnight, and he needs highly educated people ready to come on board.

“Will a two-year student work? The answer is yes. Will a four-year student give me more capability? Very much so. If there’s more of that background knowledge, that helps us go pursue that work.”

Reservations about the expansion
But not everyone in Ohio is as excited about the expansion of bachelor’s offerings. Dr. Martin Abraham is the provost of Youngstown State University.

“The concept, I mean, it sounds good. Tuition is lower; it’s going to save students money. The challenge is that there’s a reason that tuition is lower.”

Tuition is lower because the quality is lower, Abraham says. Four-year institutions challenge students with a higher level of thinking and broaden their base of knowledge. But more than that, Abraham says a number of the degrees being considered are already offered.


'We're creating this internal competition that's probably not healthy for the state, and certainly not healthy for the state budget.'

Maybe there’s not another UAS degree, but the two-year school North Central State College wants to create one in mechanical engineering technology, and Abraham says Youngstown State already offers the same thing, less than two hours away. It’s repetitive, he says, in a state where the resources to support higher education are hard to come by.

“So we’re creating this internal competition that’s probably not healthy for the state, and certainly not healthy for the state budget.”

The Ohio Department of Higher Education has recently wrapped up the public comment portion of its review process. Stephanie Davidson says next comes department approval and outside accreditation.

Fall of 2019 is the soonest Shepherd says Sinclair could get its bachelor’s degree off the ground. The school has most of the equipment, but will need to write additional courses.

Sinclair student Carter Makiewicz will have completed his associate’s degree by then, but says he’d come back for the four-year program. He wants to work in agriculture, tracking soil levels or monitoring crops, but knows in an up-and-coming industry, he has the opportunity to do almost anything.