For more than 50 years, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College has been a household name for local students seeking certifications and associate degrees in everything from nursing to welding. But the school is now offering its first-ever bachelor’s degrees, in land surveying and culinary and food science. The move is not simply a matter of paperwork: It marks an important shift in the college’s history and in Cincinnati’s landscape of higher education. Cincinnati State has been a place to skill up in a field, change careers, or ease the transition to a traditional university. And now it’s a place to get a four-year degree.
“This is new for the state of Ohio, too,” explains Cincinnati State Provost Robbin Hoopes. “Ohio changed the law so that community colleges could have this opportunity.” That was back in 2017, when a state budget bill approved the process for community colleges to propose bachelor’s degree programs, which they were formerly prevented from doing. But the schools couldn’t just propose anything: The prospective programs needed to meet specific guidelines to help the state workforce expand in targeted ways that would keep it competitive and agile. The change is driven by some compelling labor data: The Ohio Department of Higher Education predicted that, by this year, 64 percent of the state’s available jobs will require some kind of post-secondary education.
The state strictly limited the number of accreditations it granted to community colleges—Cincinnati State was among just a half-dozen or so—and there were specific limitations placed on which degrees could be offered. Starting in August, the school will be the only place in the region where you can earn land surveying and food science bachelor’s degrees, and that’s by design. “We had to show the state that there was a need for the people that we would produce,” says Doug Bowling, dean of Engineering and Information Technologies. Using labor market data and direct feedback from local industry partners, Cincinnati State was able to demonstrate exactly why they should expand programming and what effect it would have. And since 85 percent of Cincinnati State graduates stay in the area, there will be a direct and nearly immediate impact on the local workforce. “We’re a community technical college and we service the community,” Bowling says. “That’s part of our service: We keep people in the community. It’s part of our mission and our value.”
Surveying and culinary arts are nothing new at Cincinnati State. “We already offer the two-year associate degree,” Bowling says, “and then we would send students off to the University of Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky University to get the coursework for a bachelor’s degree. But we thought We could offer all that, too, and we already do all the heavy lifting.” The school needed to demonstrate that it could expand some of its existing general education courses, like English composition, to achieve accreditation for the bachelor’s degree programs. And since none of the area colleges currently offer surveying or culinary and food science bachelor’s degrees, Cincinnati State’s new programs only add to the region’s educational offerings. Still, Bowling anticipated pushback from traditional universities in the area, admitting that most of them don’t love the idea. But he stresses Cincinnati State’s commitment to a collaborative approach. “We don’t look at it as adversarial,” he says. “We’re looking to work with them. They’re our sister programs. We want our students to go to those four-year schools.”
Local industry, however, is all in. “The flavoring and food science industry is very large in this area,” Bowling says. “Perfetti Van Melle, Wild Flavors, Kroger. They need people with a bachelor’s degree who not only understand culinary—which we’re very good at with Midwest Culinary Institute—but who also understand the science.” As for surveying, candidates who seek to work as professionals in that field must possess bachelor’s degrees. Before Cincinnati State’s expansion, the closest school with that option was in Akron.
The Department of Education initiated this process, but they’re cautious about expanding it. The hope is that once they see gains in the state’s workforce development, they’ll allow qualifying schools to propose more bachelor’s degree offerings, such as aviation maintenance, which Cincinnati State currently offers at the associate degree level and which would also complement existing industry here.
Ultimately, Cincinnati State isn’t totally changing its stripes. “Our bread and butter is associate degrees,” says Bowling. “It’s what we do, what we were founded on. But we also try to adapt. What we are will always be whatever the city needs us to be.”