For many, the path to a bachelor's degree starts at community college and ends at a four-year institution.
But Jamal Roberts took the opposite approach. The 21-year-old spent his first three years of college at Kent State University in Ohio before transferring to Pasco-Hernando State College.
On Tuesday, he became the first PHSC student to graduate with a baccalaureate degree.
"I would be one of 1,000 to get a degree from Kent State if I were to graduate there," Roberts said last week before his graduation. "But when I graduate from PHSC, I'll be the first. The one and only to get a (bachelor's) degree this year. So I kind of feel like that's more of an accomplishment."
PHSC started offering four-year degrees in the fall 2014. Its selection is limited to bachelor of applied science in supervision and management, the degree Roberts received, and a bachelor of science in nursing.
Roberts was a scholarship defensive back on the Kent State football team and was within only one year of earning his degree. But when his mom, a PHSC staffer, told him he could come home to earn the degree, and be the first one to do it, he jumped at the chance.
"She informed me with the opportunity and we masterminded the plan and we got it done," Roberts said. "I loved Kent State, I'll be a part of the Golden Flash family forever."
State law limits colleges like PHSC, which traditionally offer two-year associates degrees, from offering a wide range of four-year baccalaureate degrees, said Ed Goolsby, dean of workforce development at PHSC. There has to be a need within the community for a certain kind of skilled worker, and that need can't be being met by other colleges or universities in the area.
The University of South Florida asked PHSC to consider adding the supervision and management degree because the university's program was being inundated with applicants.
"They were turning away students," Goolsby said. "So we met with them and they asked us to consider adding that program to take in students they were not able to accommodate."
But even before USF approached the college, administrators had been weighing the idea of expanding the college's academic offerings. Goolsby said administrators implemented the nursing degree to help meet the nationwide demand for nurses with four-year degrees. Traditionally, he said, a nurse would earn an associates degree and then take licensing classes.
Currently, there are 342 students enrolled in the two programs. In order to graduate, those in the supervision and management degree program need to take a seven class core curriculum, followed by a seven course concentration in one of three areas: organizational administration, public safety/public service or health care management.
For many students, Goolsby said, the proximity to home is the most important part. Some students are working adults who take classes part time and wouldn't necessarily be able to attend another institution.
And for the students out of high school who might otherwise go the more traditional route of getting an associates degree and transferring to a four-year institution, the new degree programs offer an alternative.
"It's a very unique opportunity for our students to earn a four-year degree without having to leave home, without having to travel, and at a more affordable tuition cost than they would have to pay at even a public university," Goolsby said.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @josh_solomon15.