Jose Thompson arrived at Miami Dade College in 2005, ready to pursue an associate degree. On a student visa from the Bahamas, his longtime dream was to go to pharmacy school in the US and return to the Bahamas to open his own pharmacy. But after the celebration for earning his associate degree quieted down, a problem came to light. He’d taken most, but not quite all of the prerequisite classes needed to apply to pharmacy school.
Jose worked for a while and even thought about earning a different associate degree to meet all the prerequisites for pharmacy school applications. Another issue was that Jose was paying out of pocket for college, since he was on a student visa. Tuition at local universities was too high for him to manage, so none of their programs could do him any good. But Jose was in luck. The state of Florida had been pioneering a type of program that was just the ticket: the opportunity to stay at Miami Dade and earn a bachelor’s degree right there at the community college.
The conversation around community college baccalaureate programs in Florida started in the 1990s, as leaders were pondering how to address the state’s position as one of the lowest states in the nation for bachelor’s degree attainment. The state set out to employ several strategies to increase access to bachelor’s degrees, and one strategy that quickly took hold was authorizing community colleges, like Miami Dade, to confer bachelor’s degrees.
When legislation authorizing community college baccalaureate degrees in Florida passed in 2001, these programs were nearly unheard of. But today, 23 states now authorize at least some community colleges to confer limited bachelor’s degrees, and all but one community college in Florida offers at least one bachelor’s program. Lots has changed around the topic of the community college baccalaureate in the last two decades, but the focus on providing access to bachelor’s level education through these open access, locally-rooted institutions has not.
Jose was one of the first students in Miami Dade’s BS in Biotechnology program when it opened in 2009. “The program came just at the right time,” Jose remembers. For Jose, the program was more than a way to tick boxes on his way to graduate study. The bachelor’s program brought him research experience, helpful guidance, and outstanding faculty mentorship. The professors who taught Jose, many of whom met him and offered support through his applied research experience in an on-campus biology lab, were instrumental to his success. He says, “They all had a big impact on me continuing on and passing all of my classes.”
Since graduating with his bachelor’s degree from Miami Dade, Jose earned his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at Palm Beach Atlantic University and is now practicing in the West Palm area. While life as a pharmacist comes with its challenges, it brings plenty of joys as well. “If I help one person, it makes my day,” Jose says. And if you ask, he’ll tell you his long term plan to move back to the Bahamas and open his own pharmacy is still very much on the agenda. The path to career goals, wherever it may lead next, can look different from student to student. For Jose, the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s at Miami Dade made the next step in his education and career possible. “I’m happy I’m here,” he says, “and I’m very grateful to everyone who helped me along the way.”