Senate considers bill to allow associate degrees at Bluefield State, WVSU

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill being considered in the state Senate would allow Bluefield State University and West Virginia State University to offer associate degrees.

Robin Capehart

SB 602 is on its way to the Senate Floor after passing the Senate Education Committee last week.

Bluefield State President Robin Capehart told MetroNews they’ve tried to offer associate degrees in the past, but kept getting turned down by the state Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) and the Community and Technical College Council (CTCC).

“All they do is say ‘you can’t offer them because you’re not a community college,’ so we got turned down even though no one else is offering them,” he said about specific degrees.

According to the bill, Bluefield State and WVSU would be allowed to offer associate degrees on their campuses without approval from the HEPC or CTCC.

Capehart said the bill would return them to where they were before the creation of the community college system in West Virginia. He said it can be expensive for community and technical colleges, who don’t offer four-year degrees, to find the money to offer new two-year programs like engineering or nursing.

“To do just a two year engineering program and try to get faculty, you have to have economies of scale that is spread out over a four year program. That’s the same thing with these health care programs we want to offer,” he said.

It could be a turf war and create competition with community schools if the bill passes, Capehart said.

“They seem to be more concerned with some kind of internal consistency where ‘you get this program, you get this program’ than recognizing the unique nature of Bluefield State and our ability to offer two-year programs,” he said.

The bill said the associate degree offerings at Bluefield State and WVSU is “due to the need to fulfill their historical mission as historically black colleges” and that each institution “shall be authorized to offer associate degrees on their campus as were permitted prior to the establishment of the current system of higher education.”

Capehart said it would encourage students to seek further education.

“A lot of times you can get a student on campus who is not really sure where they want to go to college, but if you can get them into a two year program and they get their associates, they’ll go on to get their bachelor’s degree,” he said.

The bill could pass the Senate as early as this week.

The 2023 Regular Legislative Session runs through Mar. 11.

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