15 community colleges to pilot four-year degree programs

By Katie Jolgren | Staff Writer

A pilot program will allow 15 California community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees.

With employers looking for more college-educated workers, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed Senate Bill No. 850 to fill the growing workforce demand.

The law allows the Chancellor of the California community college system to choose 15 institutions to confer baccalaureate degrees in fields not usually offered by the University of California and the California State University.

Such programs would be career-technical education, such as dental hygiene, automotive technology, allied health technology and emergency medical technology.

“Of the current vocational programs we have, the only one that would make sense to potentially become a bachelor’s degree is nursing,” said Arvid Spor, Ed.D, Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs.

The bill would require a district baccalaureate degree pilot program to commence by the beginning of the 2017-18 academic year and would require a student participating in a baccalaureate degree pilot program to complete his or her degree by the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

SB 850 is based on the prediction that California needs to produce one million more baccalaureate degrees than the state’s current production of nearly 1.5 million to remain economically competitive in coming decades.

The bill asserts that there is demand for education beyond the associate degree level in specific academic disciplines that is not being met by California’s four-year public institutions.

“Employers in California seek candidates with advanced credentials and many struggle to fill positions in some of the fields that will be covered under the new program,” said Brice Harris, California Community Colleges Chancellor, in a statement.

“This law will help us to meet California’s workforce needs, does not duplicate CSU or UC degree programs, and gives more Californians access to affordable higher education that can enable them to obtain well-paying jobs.”

The law allows for only one baccalaureate degree program per participating district and must be limited to one campus so as not to duplicate degrees offered by UC or CSU.

State Sen. Marty Block (D-San Diego) co-authored SB 850. He said the lack of job prospects for students with associate degrees inspired him to write and propose the bill.

“One of the worst things…was seeing students cross the stage when they graduated with their two-year associate’s degrees, knowing they weren’t going to be able to get jobs, because they needed a four-year bachelor’s,” Block said.

In Sept. 2014, the Public Policy Institute of California conducted an analysis, which concluded that at the current pace, the state’s demand for college-educated workers would surpass its supply by 2025.

The institute’s projections show 35 percent of adults in California will hold a bachelor’s degree in 2025, but 41 percent of jobs will require that level of education.

Throughout the United States there are 21 other states that allow community colleges to confer bachelor’s degrees, especially in sciences and applied technical programs. Citrus College would have to submit a proposal before, Nov. 12, 2014.

“While we haven’t made a final decision about it, it’s less likely that we would submit a proposal,” Spor said. “If we could come up with the right degree that wasn’t offered locally and there was a labor market demand, we would go for it.”

The bill states that community colleges would have to raise the per-unit fee from $46 to $84 for upper division classes. However, this would average out to a total of $10,000 for a bachelor’s degree from a community college, rather than the average price of $13,200 at a UC.

“This is a landmark legislation that is a game-changer for California’s higher education system and out workforce preparedness,” Block said. “SB 850 boosts the focus of our community colleges on job training and increasing the accessibility and affordability of our state’s higher education system.”