WASHINGTON — Starting in fall 2019, students at Ohio’s Sinclair Community College will be able to enroll in a four-year degree program in unmanned aerial systems, also known as drones.

They’ll learn mission planning, maintenance, laws, data analytics and more. Working on drones is a new field, and the college is eager to expand its program to meet the growing demand for graduates.

Just up the road, Youngstown State University offers a somewhat similar four-year degree, in mechanical engineering technology – but tuition there is double Sinclair’s.

Sinclair is one of a growing number of community colleges that have embraced the practice of two-year schools conferring four-year degrees.

As college costs rise and state officials look to accommodate nontraditional and low-income students, more are turning to community colleges to develop programs for industries with a lot of need – sometimes irking officials at four-year universities in the process.

About 90 two-year colleges are offering about 900 baccalaureate programs across the country, according to Beth Hagan, executive director of the Community College Baccalaureate Association, a Florida-based trade association.

But officials at four-year universities are balking at what they see as community colleges encroaching on their turf, and competing for scarce resources from the state.

Many officials would rather partner with the two-year schools than compete with them.

Ohio is one of 19 states that allow at least one two-year college to offer a four-year degree, and a half-dozen states could be moving in the same direction.

Most community colleges in those states can offer only baccalaureate programs that are narrowly tailored, rather than offering many programs across a wide swath of disciplines.

The community colleges still offer associate degrees and other certificates to students who want to complete their studies in two years, but those who want a bachelor’s degree stay for four.

“These are very much niche degrees when there is a local workforce need,” Hagan said, “either for skills that need specific training and require a bachelor’s degree, or for someone who has those skills and wants to advance into a supervisory level.”

“These are people who can’t leave their families, or their jobs … to go away to a university and get a degree,” she said.

“Some are younger students who live with their families in a culture that’s not conducive to going away.”

Despite limits on what they can offer, some two-year schools are offering baccalaureate programs that officials at four-year schools see as competition. Their programs are commonly found at four-year colleges and universities, ranging from nursing and education to information technology and human resources management.

In California, 15 community colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in health and technology subjects such as biomanufacturing and health information management. In Georgia, students at two-year schools can get their bachelor’s in nonprofit management and respiratory therapy.

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