Giving Compass' Take:

• As community colleges offer competing degree programs with public and private four-year universities, studies show that the private universities' degree output is decreasing.

• How are community colleges changing to be better suited to some students? 

• Read about how to accurately measure the success of community colleges, beyond graduation rates. 

When Florida opened the door 17 years ago for two-year colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees, they expanded rapidly into a host of new areas: business, nursing, teaching, and more.

By 2014 nearly 6,000 students a year were earning their bachelor’s degrees from a community college. Despite their popularity, many people feared that the 28 taxpayer-financed community colleges were unnecessarily duplicating programs at the state’s 12 four-year public universities—and then awarding them substandard degrees. As a result, Florida’s legislature put a one-year moratorium on new programs, and then officials slowed down the creation of new ones after 2015.

Now a team of University of Florida researchers has looked back at the results of this experiment and come to a surprising conclusion: four-year state schools actually saw an increase in business even as two-year institutions expanded into their terrain. But for-profit, private universities generally took a big hit.

The private for-profit universities saw their degree output fall 45 percent when a nearby two-year institution posed direct competition.

Why B.A. degrees increased at four-year state schools, such as Florida State University or the University of Central Florida, is a puzzle. Less surprising is that the community-college competition hurt for-profit schools, which have been under attack for saddling students with large debts. For-profits tend to market to the same group of low-income and older students as community colleges. Students suddenly had the option to complete a B.A. degree for, say, $130 a credit instead of $800.

What matters most, after all, is whether community colleges’ expansion into new terrain is helping them produce a more educated citizenry capable of joining the middle class.

Read the full article about the rise of community colleges  by Jill Barshay at The Hechinger Report