Chemeketa to become first community college in Oregon to offer four-year degree

Four years after gaining approval from the Legislature, Chemeketa Community College is preparing to be the first community college in the state to award an applied bachelor’s degree.

The degree will be in leadership and management. Students must first obtain a two-year associate degree to be accepted into the program, providing year three and four of a bachelor’s degree.

Coursework toward the new degree will start in the fall. 

Tim Ray, dean of the agricultural sciences and technology department, praised the Legislature for passing Senate Bill 3, which granted the state’s community colleges authority to offer applied baccalaureate programs. 

“It’s a nice little feather in our cap (to be the first) — we’re very proud of that — but the more important piece is the opportunity that we believe it represents for the people living within our service district,” Ray said. 

Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who was a co-sponsor of the legislation, wrote in an email to Salem Reporter that she is “thrilled” to learn Chemeketa will be the first community college to take advantage of the legislation. 

“These programs will give students a pathway to higher level work in their field and equip students to better serve our local workforce,” Thatcher wrote. “I especially look forward to seeing how Chemeketa’s implementation of these programs will positively impact the rural communities in Senate District 11.”

Ray made the distinction that the applied baccalaureate is not a bachelor’s of science, which are typically awarded at four-year institutions. 

“It means that it is applied; it is not theoretical,” Ray said of the former. “There are actual skills that they’re practicing.”

The program is ideal for people who have earned an associate’s degree in a particular field and would like to move into management. Ray used an auto mechanic as an example. 

“They decide, for some reason, ‘being a mechanic was fun, but as I get older, I’m not really sure I want to be on my hands and knees. I think I’d like to be a service manager,’” Ray said, “‘A four-year bachelor’s degree in leadership and management would give me tools to move into a position like that.’”

Marg Yaroslaski, an instructor who was hired byChemeketa just a few weeks ago, said the bachelor’s program is what attracted her to move from Kansas to Salem. 

“I think it’s a really innovative way to help successful working adults break through the paper ceiling,” she said. “We have lots of people out there working really hard who can’t take promotions or greater leadership because they don’t have that degree. I think Chemeketa did a really nice job figuring out how to address that need.”

Since the degree work is tailored to students who are holding down a job, classes for the program will be scheduled at night or over the weekend. Chemeketa is still working out the schedule, Ray said.

“They come in the evenings or weekends … and they pick up these leadership, management, writing, math — all these other skills and classes to get them to that bachelor’s level,” he said.

The decision for the first degree to be in leadership and management was made after gaining feedback from stakeholders within the community. 

“We’d pull groups together and ask them what is needed  in terms of a four-year degree,” Ray said. “When you boiled all of that down, the common denominator was organizations wanted to grow their own next set of supervisors and leaders.”

Yaroslaski, who will teach half of the program’s courses, is heavily involved in preparing Chemeketa to offer the degree. This includes meeting with an advisory group that created the program’s application form, faculty who helped design courses and community stakeholders, who will meet during a conference this month.

“We’re going to quickly orient people to the style — we’re not going to be lecturing for hours and then you take a test; it’s going to be an active and engaged classroom,” Yaroslaski said. “It’s a great way for people to figure out what the work is that they would be doing (in this program.”

Aside from that outreach prior to the program’s launch, Yaroslaski must “fill in the details” regarding the course curriculum.

“We’re targeting working adults who are very busy. We don’t want a lot of busy work, so we have to make sure every assignment is useful and accessible,” she said. 

It is estimated that 25 to30 students will be accepted as the first cohort this fall.

Yaroslaski noted she will deploy her “active and engaged” style of teaching, which she believes is one reason she was hired by Chemeketa to launch the program.

“That’s the learning environment we’re going to bring into,” she said. “I want (students) to think about that with excitement and energy, because that’s how we’re designing it.”

She encouraged business managers to consider who on their staff might be ready “for the next step.” 

“Partner with us on moving those people into this program and help us ensure we give them the skills they need to help their organization go to the next level,” she said. 

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Tim Ray, dean of agricultural sciences and technology at Chemeketa Community College. Salem Reporter apologizes for the error.

STORY TIP OR IDEA? Contact Reporter Kevin Opsahl by email at [email protected].

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Kevin Opsahl is the education reporter for Salem Reporter. He was previously the education reporter for The Mail Tribune, based in Medford. He has reported for newspapers in Utah and Washington and freelanced. Kevin is a 2010 graduate of Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington, and is a native of Maryland.