California Community Colleges Expanding Bachelor Programs

Advocates and community college leaders in California applaud the state’s new legislation that allows two-year institutions to award four-year degrees.

Assembly Bill 927, promulgated by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Oct. 6, makes the piloted baccalaureate programs at 15 community colleges permanent and allows other community colleges in the state to create the programs as well. The law allows the California community college system to offer up to 30 new bachelor’s degree programs per year, provided the programs meet different workforce needs than programs already available in university systems. of State.

“We believe this really gives our community colleges the flexibility and authority to continue designing programs to meet the needs of California’s ever-changing economy and workforce,” said David O’Brien, Vice Chancellor of Government Relations for California Community Colleges.

Star Rivera-Lacey, president and superintendent of Palomar College, a two-year institution north of San Diego, said the legislation will provide students with affordable bachelor’s options at colleges where “they’ve already made it” without having to meet new obstacles when transferring to a four-year university.

“For us, it’s like Christmas,” Rivera-Lacey said. “Community colleges have always been a place of accessibility. To add a bachelor’s degree to that, I think it’s a game-changer, and I think California has been waiting for it for some time.

The new legislation allows community college administrators to submit proposals for new bachelor’s degrees to the chancellor’s office of the community college system in two annual cycles. Fifteen programs per cycle will be reviewed and must pass a review process by the Chancellor’s Office, California State University and University of California system administrators, and the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities. . The number of bachelor’s degree programs offered by a community college district must be less than one-quarter of the number of associate’s degree programs in the district.

The restrictions are designed to ensure that the chancellor’s office is not overwhelmed by the proposals and that community colleges do not duplicate programs already offered by the state’s university systems, O’Brien said.

Two dozen states currently allow community colleges to offer bachelor’s degrees. Many did so only after fierce battles between supporters and opponents of such programs. Leaders of the university system have often resisted these measures, arguing that community colleges would offer similar programs and compete with them for students or undermine existing transfer channels and partnerships. California law, however, had no publicly declared opposition.

“The University of California will continue to assess the impact of AB 927 on the educational mission of the University,” read a statement from the office of the president of the system. “While the university has not taken a position on AB 927, we appreciate the legislature’s interest in improving the educational outcomes of students across California. “

Alison Wrynn, associate vice chancellor of academic programs, innovations and faculty development for the CSU system, said leaders in Cal State were concerned about duplicate degree programs and called for a comprehensive review process under the bill.

“We are concerned that there is an overlap, which is why the bill addresses this problem,” she said. “I wanted to be sure that CSU had time to do a review of the proposal, and if we saw an overlap, we had a process by which to express that and have a conversation about it and come to an agreement. We feel like we have the opportunity to have these conversations.

She said the review process creates “a little more work for my office and my staff”, but otherwise “there should be no impact.”

The idea of ​​bachelor’s degree programs at community colleges in California has not always been so widely accepted. Constance Carroll, president and CEO of the California Community College Baccalaureate Association and retired chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, said the pilot programs, which were created seven years ago, initially met with opposition similar to that of other states. But the pilots – who underwent two assessments by the state’s legislative analyst’s office – also gave stakeholders the opportunity to see the effects of such programs for themselves.

She also believes the pandemic has revealed how community colleges could play an important role in meeting the state’s labor demands alongside four-year-old institutions.

“California has so many unmet job needs, job needs, which peaked during the pandemic… so now is the time, too,” she said.

Carroll also noted that many areas that previously welcomed graduates with associate’s degrees have shifted to requiring entry-level employees to have a bachelor’s degree, forcing community colleges to phase out some of their two-year programs. Community colleges now have the ability to adapt to the job market and offer students cheap degrees that lead to jobs, she said. Tuition for a bachelor’s degree program at a California community college is capped at $ 10,560 for all four years.

“It’s more than affordable,” she says. “It’s the best deal imaginable.”

Angela Kersenbrock, president of the National Baccalaureate Association of Community Colleges, said community college bachelor’s programs also allow students to continue their education in their local communities rather than move to an institution elsewhere.

“It’s in your local community college – you’re already comfortable there, they’re aligned with industries in your community,” she said. “For the community, you’re not going to have someone who leaves, who leaves for two or three hours and never comes back, so that helps the communities as well as the families.”

Community college leaders are now eagerly preparing to reflect on and introduce new bachelor’s degree programs.

Judy Miner, district chancellor of Foothill-De Anza Community College in Northern California and chair of the board of the California Community College Baccalaureate Association, said she felt a combination of “ecstasy, relief, d ‘excitement’ when the bill became law.

Her district hosts one of the pilot programs, a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene at Foothill College, and she hopes the district will also be allowed to offer bachelor’s degrees in respiratory therapy and automotive technology. She also believes conversations with Silicon Valley employers will lead to more ideas for new programs.

Supporters of the legislation have noted that they may want to renegotiate parts of it in the future. For example, O’Brien of the Chancellor’s Office said community colleges could help four-year institutions by offering some of the same programs in areas where they are struggling to meet demand.

Miner noted that the law prevents community colleges from offering bachelor’s degrees in nursing even though universities don’t have enough places to accommodate all future nurses seeking training, but she plans to focus her efforts on what the law allows.

“I’m sure these will be conversations in the distant future,” she said.

In the meantime, the passage of legislation in an influential state like California is a victory for the larger national movement to legalize community college bachelor’s programs.

“Given the size and importance of the state, California being a part of this effort will certainly strengthen the national movement,” Carroll said.

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