MELBOURNE, FLA. — Cynthia Leto earned her associate of arts degree in 2008 from the former Brevard Community College, and she has since logged three years of experience as a full-time bookkeeper.
But when fall classes resumed Monday, the 28-year-old Port St. John resident returned to the newly renamed, rebranded school — Eastern Florida State College — as one of the inaugural students pursuing a bachelor's degree.
"I eventually want to open my own business, and I'm trying to hone my skills. The community college was great, and you could get basic information — but having that degree is going to be a whole different experience," Leto said.
"It's closer to home. … I'm really excited about getting that university feel 20 minutes from my house," she said.
Eastern Florida adopted its new name and logo July 1. Why? A core mission change: The institution now confers four-year degrees in health care management and general business management, which Leto is pursuing. Eight more baccalaureate programs will debut next August.
This reflects a national trend. Florida is one of 21 states across the USA where community colleges are expanding into the baccalaureate world, according to the Community College Baccalaureate Association.
Executive Director Beth Hagan said three primary factors are pushing the USA's two-year schools to expand: increasing demand for nursing students with four-year degrees; a lack of qualified teachers; and workforce needs.
In December, Michigan legislators authorized a quartet of technical bachelor's degrees — culinary arts, energy production, concrete technology and maritime technology — for the state's 28 community colleges.
"It varies greatly from state to state in terms of the scope and breadth and type of degrees," Mike Hansen, president of the Michigan Community College Association, said of the nationwide baccalaureate trend.
Not all states are proceeding at the pace of Florida or Michigan. North Dakota's two-year schools confer only a single four-year degree: energy management at Bismark State College, Hagan said. Two New York community colleges host baccalaureate programs, while Texas has three.
Neale reports for Florida Today in Melbourne.