Community colleges looking to offer four-year degrees

Coming just shortly after the UC Regents’ increase in tuition making it difficult for middle class students to get a four-year degree from a UC school, California community colleges are hoping to award bachelor’s degrees as part of a new legislation. 

The legislation, formerly known as Senate Bill 850, authored by San Diego Senator Marty Block, will allow up to 15 districts to establish a “pilot” baccalaureate degree program. These “pilot” degrees will be in a wide variety of vocational fields such as Airframe Manufacturing Technology and Bio-manufacturing. The law was enacted in order to help California meet the growing need for highly skilled individuals with technology or medical based degrees. 

There is also the hope the legislation will increase college participation rates while also improving workforce training opportunities for local residents who are unable to relocate to a UC or CSU campus because of family or work. According to a recent study, California needs to produce 1 million more baccalaureate degree earners by 2025 in order to remain economically competitive. As of a Nov. 19, 36 districts, half of all schools in the community college system, have submitted letters of intent, which indicate that they are interested in hosting these pilot degrees no later than 2017. 

However, only 15 total districts are able to establish these pilot degree programs so applications are under strict review. The applications are reviewed by the chancellor’s office staff, a member of the business and workforce community, a representative from CSU, UC and community college administrations, and faculty and staff from the community college districts that did not apply to host a program.

The districts will be considered based on distribution of the programs, ability for the schools to establish a rigorous enough program in that field, diversity of the pilot programs, and that the proposed program will meet the workforce requirements needed in order to start and maintain the program. After the team makes a decision regarding the pilot degree program, they will tell the Chancellor who will then decide which applicants will be submitted to the Board of Governors for final consideration and approval. 

The board is expected to make its decision by Jan. 21, 2015. Under the law, these four-year degree programs must be up and starting by no later than the 2017-18 academic year. However some districts may start their programs as early as the fall 2015 semester. 

Sonoma County Community College District has applied with the intent to create a Computer-Cyber Security program as well as Solano County Community College District with Engineering Technology and Napa Valley College with Respiratory Therapy. 

“The districts’ strong interest in building baccalaureate degree programs is heartening. They are pioneering a new mission for the California Community Colleges and opening up pathways for Californians who may not have had the chance to a earn four-year degree,” said California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice W. Harris in a statement published last month by Harris’ office.   

Harris looks forward to creating such four-year degree programs at California community colleges that will graduate marketable and highly trained students.

These pilot programs are also expected to not only be big money savers but also moneymakers. According to the Chancellor’s Office, many of the proposed pilot programs are in fields where graduates with associate degrees can already expect to earn $60,000 annually within a few years of graduation. 

Because 21 other states already allow their community colleges to offer bachelors’ degrees, California is hoping to add to the initiative of creating a more economically competitive state. 

With the overwhelming response by the districts, the state is eager to fulfill their goal of providing higher education to those who are unable to attend a CSU or UC institution. This is an important piece of legislation that will help adults all over California get the education they need at an affordable price and with a economically competitive degree.