The American community college has been in existence for over 100 years. Throughout its existence, it has continuously served the needs of both the local community and society as a whole. Furthermore, in order to remain in alignment with its missiont
Mississippi community colleges have always expanded to meet the needs of their students and the local community as well. It is necessary to determine if a changing economic society has resulted in the need for another major expansion; the offering of baccalaureate degrees. According to Young & Ewing (1978), Mississippi community colleges, since their beginning in 1922, have consistently expanded in a variety of ways in order to accommodate the educational needs of individuals from all junior college districts. In today's changing times, there is dire need for increased access to the baccalaureate degree. According to Walker (1997), although there is currently a rising demand for the baccalaureate degree, the rising demand is accompanied by increasing costs which results in limited access. Walker explains that the economic health and social welfare of our nation depends heavily on widespread access to higher education and if community colleges expand their mission to include the baccalaureate degree while maintaining their open-door philosophy and responsiveness to community needs, the problems of rising demand, access and cost might be resolved.
As a result of an extensive case study conducted on Westark College's baccalaureate degree initiative, McKee (2005) found that, among other stakeholders, Westark Community Colleges' faculty, students and administrators recognized the need for a manufacturing technology baccalaureate degree and, through a combined effort, successfully initiated the establishment of the manufacturing technology baccalaureate degree program.As a result of the baccalaureate degree program, according to McKee, Westark was successful in meeting the employment needs of local manufacturing companies as well as providing employment opportunities for students that they may not have otherwise received. Thus, it is necessary to determine if students, faculty and administrators at Mississippi community colleges might benefit similarly from such an expansion.
According to Walker (1997), regional universities are not always regionally, geographically or academically accessible to the masses. Currently, many potential baccalaureate degree candidates are denied access due to financial, geographic and academic barriers. As an increasing number of college students are economically, time and place bound as a result of family and job responsibilities, they may not be able to pursue a baccalaureate degree through the traditional means of enrolling at a four-year institution (Fanelli, 2007; Smith & Holcombe, 2008). Moreover, according to Walker, the lower tuition costs and convenient geographical locations offered by community colleges would accommodate more potential baccalaureate degree recipients.
This study is important because it will aid in determining if the growing needs of community college students are currently being met in Mississippi. In addition, this study will offer statistical data that may aid Mississippi community college leaders in making informed decisions regarding the future direction of Mississippi community colleges. Currently, there is limited literature relating to the community college baccalaureate degree and there are few studies that have been conducted as a means of determining the necessity of such a degree. Therefore, this study will add to a very limited body of research on a topic that is important to the higher education field. Additionally, this study will increase awareness of the community college baccalaureate degree as knowledge of this degree is not yet widespread. Another important aspect of this study is that it will aid in determining if there is a rift between faculty, students and administrators in the realm of what they perceive to be important to the educational success of Mississippi community college students, and if such a rift exists, aid in determining the possible cause.
Many individuals who have a desire to obtain a baccalaureate degree are simply unable to because their financial, academic or geographical predicaments create impossible barriers. Icek Ajzen (1991) proposed the Theory of Planned Behavior, which explains the links between one's attitude toward a particular behavior, the social norms surrounding that behavior and one's control over being able to engage/participate in the behavior. Ajzen explains that one's likelihood of engaging in a particular behavior is dependent upon three things: attitude toward the behavior, subjective norm relating to the behavior and perceived behavioral control. Ajzen (1985) states that if one's attitude toward a particular behavior is positive and the behavior is socially accepted as positive, one will likely engage in that behavior but only if one has perceived behavioral control. Simply put, even if a person's attitude toward a particular behavior is overwhelmingly positive, they are only likely to engage in the behavior if they have complete control over the behavior or, in other words, they don't perceive that any particular barriers will prevent from engaging in the behavior (i.e., financial, geographical, academic, etc…). In many cases, individuals are denied access to baccalaureate degrees because, although they are in favor of seeking the degree, their lack of control over individual barriers prevents them from obtaining the degree. Community college baccalaureate degree programs seek to eliminate those barriers and give individuals behavioral control in the realm of degree attainment.
It would benefit the state of Mississippi to know if the population that is served by Mississippi community colleges believes that implementing community college baccalaureate degree programs would be vital to assuring baccalaureate degree attainment. Understanding the reported need for community college baccalaureate degrees is vital to understanding the path Mississippi community colleges should follow in order to maintain their reputation for expanding their curriculum to meet the needs of students and the local community. As the purpose of this study is to determine the reported need for the community college baccalaureate degree, the results of this study will indicate whether Mississippi community college students believe that the implementation of baccalaureate degree programs at their respective community colleges will increase baccalaureate degree access. Furthermore, if the student attitude toward the community college baccalaureate degree is overwhelmingly positive, one can be assured that it is more likely than not that the positive attitudes toward the need for such a degree would lead to enrollment in baccalaureate programs should they be implemented in the Mississippi community college system. Azjen & Fishbein's (1975) Theory of Reasoned Action indicates that whether or not a person engages in a certain behavior is dependent on the person's attitude toward the behavior. According to Azjen & Fishbein, whether a person will voluntarily engage in a particular behavior can be foreseen based on whether or not the person has a positive attitude about the behavior. Thus, if student attitudes toward community college baccalaureate degree programs are positive, they will likely participate in such programs if implemented. According to Sheppard, Hartwick & Warshaw (1998), the correlation between attitudes and behavioral intentions are extremely high.
Statement of the Problem & Research Questions
A significantly important issue guiding the direction of this study is access to the baccalaureate degree. As society continues to evolve on a global and economic scale, access to the baccalaureate degree becomes more important. Many community college leaders believe that allowing community colleges to implement baccalaureate degree programs would increase access to the baccalaureate degree. This study will investigate whether community college students, faculty and administrators believe that the implementation of baccalaureate degree programs at their respective community colleges is vital to student's ability to obtain a baccalaureate degree. Through the distribution of survey instruments it is presumed that the following research questions will be answered:
1) How aware are Mississippi community college administrators, faculty and students of the community college baccalaureate degree? 2) How do Mississippi community college administrators, faculty and students report the need for the community college baccalaureate degree? 3) Is the student, faculty and administrative reported need for the community college baccalaureate degree different? In what ways is it different? 4) Is the Mississippi community college student reported need for the community college baccalaureate degree affected by race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, geographic location, distance from closest four-year institution or family status? 5) Is the Mississippi community college faculty and administrative reported need for the community college baccalaureate degree affected by race, years of experience, gender or age? 6) Overall, how accepting are Mississippi community college students, faculty and administrators of the community college baccalaureate degree? 7) What are the attitudes of members of the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges toward community college baccalaureate degree programs?
The researcher will implement both the quantitative and qualitative research methods as a means of evaluating the research questions. The quantitative method will be applied when evaluating students, faculty and administrators. The independent variables will include College Status (is the individual a student, faculty or administrator), race (Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Multicultural) gender (male or female), age, socioeconomic status (income, parent's educational attainment, occupation), family status (if the individual has family responsibilities), geographic location (where the individual lives), years of experience (for faculty and administrators ) and distance from the closest four-year institution. The dependent variable will be “reported need”. The qualitative method will be applied when evaluating members of the State Board for Community & Junior Colleges as these individuals will be interviewed.
Data will be collected from students, faculty and administrators at each of the 15 community and junior colleges in Mississippi and several employees from the State Board for Community and Junior Colleges. Survey instruments will be distributed to 50 students, 25 faculty members and 25 administrators from each community or junior college in Mississippi using both the Cluster and Random sampling techniques. With the instructor's permission, students will be surveyed during a regularly scheduled class period (cluster sampling). Students from at least three different classes from each community college in Mississippi will be surveyed. The sample of students that are surveyed will be representative of the entire institution. The 25 faculty members and 25 administrators will be randomly selected from each community or junior college in Mississippi. The selected sample will receive their survey instruments by mail. The sample of faculty members and administrators that are surveyed will be representative of faculty and administrators of the entire institution.
The researcher will design two survey questionnaires. Students will receive one questionnaire and faculty and administrators will receive a different questionnaire. The researcher will review literature that is pertinent to the study as a means of determining appropriate items to include on the survey. Additionally, the researcher will enlist the assistance of experts in the field as a means of determining appropriate survey items and validity and reliability. The survey items will be crafted in such a way that responses to the survey items will yield answers to the research questions. Prior to actual implementation, the survey instrument will be piloted on a group of respondents that are similar to the intended target group.
Permission will be obtained from the Institutional Review Board (IRB) prior to data collection.
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Ajzen, I. (1991). The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179-211.
Ajzen, I. & Fishbein, M. (1980). Belief, attitude, intention and behavior: An introduction to theory and research. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Fanelli, S. A. (2007). Bringing the community college baccalaureate into focus. Retrieved February 18, 2009 from www.acenet.edu
McKee, J. V. (2005). Westark's workforce baccalaureate. In D. L. Floyd, M. L. Skolnik & K. P. Walker (Eds.), The community college baccalaureate: Emerging trends and policy issues (pp. 129-138). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.
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Young J. B., & Ewing J. M. (1978). The Mississippi public junior college story: The first fifty years, 1922-1972. Jackson, MS: The University Press of Mississippi.